Melancholia, in my experience, is the lurking feeling of an impending depressive episode. It has roots in romanticism and the gothic, and is a more reflective and poetic rumination on the individual’s relationship to their physical and mental world than depression. The feeling of melancholy is the canary in the coal mine, portending a downward spiral or a deep philosophical reckoning with one’s emotions. Navigating melancholy is an attempt to redirect a dive towards depression to more stable ground. 

The work on these pages serve as an attempt to visualize aspects of that downward spiral—the “invisible” disease of clinical depression—and to develop a visual vocabulary for future work. Part of the vocabulary is subtle and symbolic, enclosing paintings in aluminum frames, for instance, where aluminum (so common in the cookware of my youth) is increasingly found to be linked to various cognitive issues.

Despite the assumptions of gloom or unrelenting sadness, depression is a multi-dimensional and contradictory illness that can often highlight moments of great beauty and wonder at a higher intensity of experience. This positive sensitivity contrasts with the melancholic temperament and often, ironically, intensifies the despair of the depressed person. It is a slippery, monstrous condition that can be fascinating, debilitating, and terrifying simultaneously.

No matter how it manifests itself, depression is a condition of extremes and these don’t exclude humor. The ruminations, self-doubt, fatigue, and emotional pain that accompany a depressive episode can reach a level of paralyzing intensity. On better days, dark humor becomes a fleeting temporary respite from the negative thought patterns.

Previous to this exploration I had been interrogating wonder—in my artwork, in my classes, and as a curator. Depression is the opposite of wonder. Its darkness is an engagement with the world. In researching wonder I was amazed to discover that there had been no thematic exhibitions and hardly any attempts to articulate wonder in relation to the visual. Likewise, while hundreds of writers have addressed depression, I have found a glaring lack of artwork that represents the vagaries of depression. The subjectivity inherent in both experiences resists iconic representations that often, unfortunately, results in horribly clichéd images in both respects.

This body of work and research has become an intriguing challenge of developing a visual vocabulary—imagery for an abstract condition that is fundamentally un-representable. The work on these pages varies in appearance and media in an attempt to develop new, personalized, and unique visual analogues to the concepts of melancholy in particular and depression in general.