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Artwork Spotlight: Yas Martinez – “Untitled”/ “I’m sorry I am trying”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Yas Martinez (she/her) will be sharing her piece “Untitled” or “I’m sorry I am trying.” 

Yas took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about Yas:

Photo of the artist, Yas Martinez. Her art is inspired by her experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts.

Yas is a self-taught artist based in southeast London who also splits time in Spain. Yas is proud of her Spanish heritage. She works with ink, clay, and charcoal, using her lived experience as a key theme within the art.

Yas participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

A square pot - pottery that is stamped with words. Shades of blue.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health.
Yas Martinez, I’m sorry I am trying or Untitled. Air-drying clay and acrylic paint. January 2021.

What first drew you to art?

I’ve always been a big fan of art. I was really lucky as a child; my grandparents worked at the national gallery and took me to work with them, and I’d sit with all the amazing paintings. I fell in love with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Following that, I’ve always been drawing and doodling. I’m never without a sketchbook in my handbag – it’s the only thing that I feel like really allows me to “talk” about how I’m feeling.

What is the name of this piece?

It doesn’t actually have a name. It was an experiment that I love! I think if I were to name it now, I’d call it ‘I’m sorry I am trying.’

A square pot - pottery that is stamped with words. Shades of blue.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health.

How did you create the wording and lettering on the pot? I like the remnant of squares around the letters.

I use a little box of hand stamps to make the lettering. It’s possibly one of the best impulsive buys I’ve made! 

Thank you, I like that, too! When I started making the lettered pieces of work, I was getting so frustrated trying to get rid of the remnant squares and make the wording straight. When I got rid of the remnants of squares, I didn’t like the work as it was too precise and time-consuming. I like to get the words down quite quickly; otherwise, I sort of separate from what I’m trying to say, and then I pick it apart. 

The ombre of blue is gorgeous. How did you select your colors and bring this piece to life?

I don’t actually know how I got to using blue. There are around 60 pieces in this series now, all made using cobalt blue and cerulean blue, and I still don’t think I’ve worked out why! 

I dilute the colours down with water and just wash the colour on. It is a pretty messy affair! I usually make these pieces when I’m not feeling at my best. I think the layering of the watery colours helps me get rid of some of the nervousness or upset that I’m feeling. 

The colours just calm me. It kind of makes my head feel less claustrophobic. I’ve been told it’s like looking at the sky when people look at my work, and I like that.

Blue panel art. What it feels like to have depression.

Mental health through the arts.

Can you describe the process you used to create a piece like this?

I spend a lot of time walking and thinking (possibly stomping). I like to let my mind wander and try to think about how I can summarise these feelings. I sort of take myself away from people and get right down into the dark place so I’m honest with myself. Then when I get the right words in my head, I rush to write them down so as not to forget them. When I’m ready, I wash my canvases with blue watercolour and stamp away. I’m not precious about it – it’s kinda like spitting out a tasteless bit of gum.

What mediums do you work with?

I mainly work in charcoal and ink. I like the foggy quality they have. Charcoal is also super great to blend with if you feel like you’re making mistakes. They sort of have a mind of their own, and I like that.

I also really enjoy working with clay and printing.

Blue panel art. What it feels like to have depression.

Mental health through the arts.

How would you describe your art?

Oh, wow. I’ve been spending a long time thinking about this, and I keep coming back to morbid! 

A lot of it is heavy, but it’s a reflection of how I feel when I’m feeling depressed, anxious, or just full of self-hate. It’s quite sad, really, but I feel so much clearer and lighter once I’ve made a piece. 

I think by spending time making, I’m processing and really thinking about how I’m feeling, which actually makes me feel more confident. It’s my therapy – I am such a firm believer in making to better your mental health!

Although, if you look at my collage work, they’re really fun, I think, and I love that I have an area of work that helps me daily – one that just brings me pure fun!

Collage art. 

Mental health through the arts to release anxiety.
Yas Martinez, Take me to a place I’ll love. Collage on A3 heavyweight paper.

How do you approach starting a piece?

I’m not really sure. I know when an idea or feeling barges into my head, I splurge it onto a canvas or piece of paper. I don’t typically plan what I’m doing; I just go for it and I won’t start another piece until one is finished. 

That’s too much chaos for me!

I love the blue collection and the backdrop it provides to thoughts. Yas tells us that it is okay to have thoughts and we are the better for processing together. Thank you for sharing, Yas! You can see more of Yas’ work on her website!

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Artist Spotlight: Savannah Calhoun

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. Their works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. In this post, we are featuring Savannah Calhoun (she/they).

Savannah uses different mediums and structures to play with photographs and infuse them with new context.

Photo of the artist, Savannah Calhoun. Her art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Savannah Calhoun is an image-based artist residing in Cedar Rapids, IA, and from Indianapolis, IN. Her work playfully addresses image culture given the circumstances of the internet from a queer and feminist perspective. She received a BFA in Photography from Herron School of Art and Design in 2019 and an MFA from the University of Missouri in 2022. She currently teaches photography at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Savannah did a Q&A with The Layered Onion (TLO), talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say my style could be described as colorful and eccentric, but heavily borrows from cyber-based aesthetics as well as still life.

With what mediums do you work?

I work with photography, installation, new media, and digital collage.

You recently had a show called “cyber fantasy.” How did you get the idea for the show?

A photo of Savannah's gallery show - cyber fantasy. Plays with digital and electronics. Explores art and the internet.

Art for mental health/art and mental health.

Before this work, I was making still lifes and self portraits. I found ways to kind of cross those concepts over within this work by including objects, arms, and hands. It started mostly because I was visiting the University’s surplus warehouse where they place everything that they don’t use anymore/have replaced, etc. I found tons of old tech there and started photographing it, thinking about how the obsolescence of technology resembles Vanitas still life.

Photo from the installation in Iowa. Iowa artist. Overlapped images. Video and multimedia art. AI voice and AI vocals.

The show features some interesting layered works – super neat. What inspired you to use more of the walls in that way?

I got the opportunity to see Everywhere there is splendor” by Farah al-Qasimi at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and see her artist talk. I was really stuck by something she said about the connections of the color pink between the mural photos and the framed photos that were superimposed on them, and how it was bodily, thus inherently, tied to identity. This then made me consider the connections of materiality and source material to photography, which led to those layered works.  

I also saw your video, Glitch, on Instagram – do you often work with videos? What led you to video? How did you generate the AI voice? 

I work with video and new media pretty frequently! I started making video art when I was an undergraduate because I enrolled in a video course. From there, I just really grew to love it as a second medium to work with. I generated the AI voice using an online text to speech generator, with the text from Glitch Feminism pasted in, and recorded the speaking with a microphone.

I’m drawn to this piece (below) where you mention “thinking about cameras as they relate to the body” and your inspiration for the future. What an interesting concept! What direction are you thinking about going in?

I think in Cyber Fantasy and the work I’ve made since, I have wanted to address photography itself. That includes all of the working parts of a photograph – the camera, the digital tools used in post production, etc. The working title of my current project is Portals & Hauntologies. I consider this piece a part of it, and in that work I’m thinking about transmission to the internet as well as nostalgia.

Photography. A camera and digital tools. Mental health through the arts. Work with Photoshop.
Savannah Calhoun, Camera Eye. Digital Collage, 2022.

You also teach – what kind of topics do you cover? Is it inspiring to work with students?

I teach Design and Photography courses. I really love teaching and working with students, it’s a pleasure to share what I love with others.

Any advice for fellow artists looking to get started with this type of art?

Allow yourself to spend some time in photoshop really just playing and being curious. 

The blend of future with past aesthetics and the play on size draws you into Savannah’s work – I’m excited to see where she goes from here.  Savannah’s work is also on display in TLO’s shows! You can see more of Savannah’s work on her website or her Instagram @sav.calhoun. Thanks, Savannah!