I’m Good Because I’ve Rediscovered My Purpose

Rick Beerhorst - Im Good II

Rick Beerhorst is a West Michigan-based visual artist whose latest still life drawings and paintings, inspired by his own challenges, have drawn attention to mental health awareness. For more info, go to http://www.studiobeerhorst.com.

I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid, I found simple delight in making things. Some of those earliest memories are from when I was five years old.

I remember doing drawings of our cat sleeping using a ball point pen on notebook paper. I drew my mother sitting in her green La-Z-Boy recliner where she liked to smoke and stare off into space. Growing up with a mother who was bipolar and refused treatment meant there was constant turmoil in our home. As I look back, not only did I get some much needed positive reinforcement from making stuff, but I also found comfort. The more you do something, the better you get at it, and the more you are rewarded, the more your identity becomes permanently fused with your performance. Perhaps the creative zone I found became my safe haven. 

When I was a little older, I used plastic molds filled with Plaster of Paris to make Disney characters which, when dry and out of their molds, I painted with Testors enamel paint. This was the same paint I used on my model cars that I bought at the Five & Dime. The drugstore next door sold 45s which is where, in 1969, I bought my very first record: Sugar Sugar by the Archies. That February, my mother went to sleep and didn’t wake up. 

In the summer of 2016, I found myself in a serious depression made even worse by a gnawing anxiety. I stopped being able to make art. This was to be my first real artist block in my thirty-year career as a visual artist. Not only had I lost the refuge that had always been my go-to to feel better, but I entered an identity crisis because if I wasn’t making art, I wasn’t an  artist and if I wasn’t an artist, then who was I?

Along with this identity crisis came the anxious question of how was I going to make a living and continue providing for my family? After awhile, I picked up a back-breaking job remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. My role was doing the tear out and carrying rubble to the truck. I only lasted for a couple months. My next stint was a job working at a psychiatric hospital. My supervisors were all around the age of my eldest children, it was an extremely challenging environment, and I was paid very little for my diligent services. 

My wife was very kind and patient with me when I was lost in the deep, dark woods of depression. She kept encouraging me to go back into the studio and find a way to start working again. Eventually, I took her advice and began a series of still life drawings. I set up a still life in my studio of a clock sitting on a stake of books and a shell. This arrangement of items wasn’t particularly exciting, but it did become a starting point.

Every morning, I would draw the same humble still life, just as it was, not changing a thing. Using different kinds of drawing media, I let myself be playful with each session, sometimes really making a mess. I tried different things with water color, ink and charcoal that I hadn’t before.

I didn’t care anymore because I wasn’t making these drawings to exhibit or sell. They were just for me — my eyes and my pleasure alone. Each session lasted around an hour and a half. Towards the end, I would finish by writing into the drawing whatever I was thinking or feeling at the time. It was like making an entry into a personal journal where I could write whatever I wanted. With every drawing, I climbed another rung on the ladder that was slowly taking me up out of my deep hole of hopelessness. I felt completely free! 

This series of little drawings led me into an entirely new development in my painting. I got the idea to photograph my daughter, Pearl, and make several large paintings from the same photograph carrying over the same playful approach I assumed while doing my still life drawings. One year later, this new portrait series grew into the largest exhibition of my career at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids Michigan. 


Rick Beerhorst - Im Good I

Sometimes the things we treasure are taken away for a time, but then we get them back and when we do, we have a renewed appreciation. We have a fresh outlook. This is how I chose to frame my own experience. I worked my way through a paralyzing artist block and in the process, I rediscovered what helps me maintain my own mental homeostasis.  


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