Daniel Butterworth pushed himself to the brink for his new exhibition – a graphic representation of the words that sufferers use to express their feelings of depression.
The Archibald finalist created 20 works featuring his reactions to the words supplied from people living with the black dog of depression.
But the experience took a toll, compounded by his practice of using self portrait to tell the story.
“My partner told me I had to stop, and luckily I was toward the end of the series because it was having an effect on me which I didn’t realise.
“At the start I was happy to embrace that but at the end I didn’t realise the impact, and it was people from the outside looking in. These people trusted me with their words and for me to do them justice I had to get in to their heads.”
When the Black Dog Bites comprises 15 self portraits as an experiment in ekphrasis, in which Mr Butterworth internalised the actual experiences, the words, and the emotions of those who struggle with depression.
“I had an idea of doing something for depression, but it never seemed right, but one day I came in from the studio for some lunch, the television was on and there was a woman talking about her son who had just come back from Afghanistan and had tried suicide,” he said.
Around the same time, a friend also tried to take his own life.
“I thought I’d put it out there if anyone was interested in giving me words to describe depression so I could paint myself reacting to those words,” he said. “I knew a few people with depression but didn’t think I could just go and ask, so I made it anonymous with drop boxes or people could tell me on Facebook.
“They gave me their words and I read them one at a time. Sometimes it hit me and I knew exactly what I would paint in response to this word, other times I would leave it in my head for a week before deciding what to do.”
The confronting images had an emotional impact on some viewers.
“I’ve had people walk in to the show, turn around and hug me and burst in to tears, I’ve had people walk out because they thought they were ready but weren’t, and I’ve had people so confronted that we closed an exhibition at Kyneton Hospital early because they asked for it to be taken down,” he said.
But he’s also had feedback from local doctors that people came to see them and were diagnosed with depression after seeing the exhibition.
Mr Butterworth considers all responses to the paintings are positive.
“I believe every reaction is a positive one, whether they are getting emotions out or being able to talk about it.”
- Lifeline 13 11 14