“This is how uncertainty…anxiety…not knowing… looks to me,” said Brent Dewell as he told me about his years as an inpatient suffering bipolar disorder and explained what it was like being housed on a state hospital’s forensics unit. “It shows how it felt not to know what was going to happen…would I get privileges; would the treatment team recommend my release to the courts; would the courts approve my discharge…”
Brent is a 35-year-old artist who has traveled from San Diego, to Corpus Christi, to Colorado Springs and Maui to find himself. Bipolar symptoms followed in tow most of his life, eventually leading to frightening manic episodes, psychosis, violence, aggression, and destructive acts that resulted both in jail and in long-term hospitalization. ”At one point I destroyed things in my parents house because I thought the devil had created them.”
“After I went to jail I was sent to a boarding school and found painting to be a way to express myself in an appropriate manner. I could do whatever I wanted on a canvas and I did tons of paintings…one every two days.” His style, though was “aggression, anger, vivid colors…rapid brush strokes. A storm of brushstrokes.”
Later, he went to art school at the Pratt Institute, “until the bipolar symptoms took over. My moods were not stable. I was taking Prozac. I became frightened and left. This was before I was prescribed antipsychotic medications.”
His symptoms improved after inpatient hospitalization when he was prescribed Clozaril (clozapine). ”But I didn’t like the weight gain with Clozaril, so my doctor at the time thought a combination of Lithium and Depakote (valproic acid) would work. A couple of weeks later I was in a manic psychosis and a serious car wreck, ending up with an NGRI (not guilty by reason of insanity) and was transferred to a psychiatric forensic unit in 1999. Horrible. I was released five years ago.”
Interestingly, Brent believes clozapine has helped him produce more “mellow, positive” art. ”I like my painting better, now. I try to capture the movement and transitions of life…you know, life moves pretty fast. I try to capture the intensity of life’s flow.” (See more of Brent’s paintings on this page of my blog.)
He describes his current work as “abstractions from my training in figure drawing; people can relate to the human figure.” Beginning with a soft wash of acrylic tone to the canvas, “often blue, I just start painting and the actual painting just evolves…a face, a back, the body.” For color, he uses “whatever I think will look good.” He uses Liquitex or Amsterdam acrylic pigments because “I like that they are thick and have a lot of pigment.”
The biggest challenge comes when Brent’s piece is about eighty percent complete. He struggles to finish. ”I have to push myself through to completion. But then it’s like a high, I’m having so much fun pushing it through.” Rarely is a painting abandoned. ”I usually try to get it to some point where I am satisfied enough to stop.”
Brent has been successful in art “ever since the third grade,” and has had many awards for his work. Now, “people all over the world” own pieces of Brent’s art.
Brent believes that his mental illness, his hospital experiences, “what I went through, the people I met, the friendship I made, everything in my environment,” have contributed to his art. ”For me now, artwork is very calming. Art helps my psyche become more balanced; shapes and colors are soothing.”
Still, his most difficult subject, he says, is a self portrait. ”Sometimes the image that emerges may not be very flattering, maybe even ugly. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes hopeful, but when it’s ugly it makes me wonder if there is some ugliness in myself.”
Most of all, though, Brent hopes that when people see his artwork they feel “a sense of happiness. I hope my art makes them feel happy and feel more balanced.”
Brent would like some day to have his art displayed in galleries New York and Los Angeles galleries, granted that people who can facilitate this see and like his art.
I certainly like his art. I hope they do to.
Other than my blog page, you can find Brent’s paintings on his Facebook page.
If you are interested in any of Brent’s paintings, please send a message to: