It’s sometimes said that art is a medium used to express one’s inner emotions, feelings or experiences.
The best art, however, isn’t created under guidelines or rules, but when it’s honest and comes from within.
That’s the philosophy Whidbey artist Louie Rochon lives by, and hopes to instill that into teenagers and young adults from Ryan’s House for Youth.
“Every single person, as long a they’re approaching a project with an honest and full expression of themselves, can create good art,” Rochon said.
“I got it squarely across to them, if I can do this, with what I deal with and where I’ve been, then they can as well. I think that’s an important message.”
Ryan’s House is a Coupeville-based outreach program for at-risk and homeless youth.
Rochon has volunteered his time for two painting workshops with Ryan’s House. He is very clear that this isn’t an average workshop; he doesn’t teach form, technique or other classical skills. Rather, he focuses on honestly translating one’s inner thoughts onto canvas, even if it isn’t clear which direction the painting is headed.
Rochon’s abstract work screams unvarnished expression, as his experiences living with bi-polar disorder and clinical depression show through in his work’s often aggressive, ridged, yet warm qualities. For him, it’s important to paint outside the lines.
His message hit home.
“It was different from what I was expecting because instead of instructing us, he gave us materials and let us run free,” participant Sarina Adderly said. “I feel like being instructed can sometimes dampen creativity. He helped us process our own creativity but didn’t tell us what to do.”
Ryan’s House Office Coordinator Nicole Sorensen says Rochon’s story of art as an outlet for his bi-polar disorder resonated with those in the workshop. By the end of the session, there was a hint the young adults were surprised by the quality of their art. They engaged with each other about what the painting might be saying, even if it the artist wasn’t sure. Rochon then took their canvases and held them on the wall alongside his own pieces, and he went on to say they didn’t look out of place.
The pieces looked at home.
For the Ryan’s House members, who are in the program because they may be homeless or at-risk, the exercise proved to be either healing or reassuring for their confidence.
“Art is something that allows you to experience therapy in a creative and usually fun way,” Sorensen said. “They were able to take a break from what they were going through and just have fun. They really poured their souls onto the canvas.”
Prior to his pupils coming into his Langley studio, Rochon created a chart that tied emotions to different colors. For example, red symbolizing passion, love or even danger, and green representing new beginnings. He felt this was important to map out, since “a lot of young, depressed and bi-polar people don’t know their own emotions because they’re locked up inside.” It led to the budding artists starting with an idea before painting whatever colors felt right.
All of the paintings went in directions the kids couldn’t fully explain, and they tried to unravel them when the paintings were completed. If they didn’t finish their piece, Rochon invited them to come to his studio.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going with mine, I just let whatever happens happen,” participant Liz Mickelson said. “It looks like mountains behind a body of water. Maybe that idea came from looking at the mountains earlier today and finding beauty in them.”
For Rochon, seeing the teens’ final product and watching them reflect on the meaning of their work nearly brought him to tears, he said. When they left after the first session, he added he saw smiles as they walked out the door.
However, Rochon was caught off guard by one detail all the paintings shared: the colors used conveyed positive energy. Despite whatever might be going on in the youth’s personal lives, they all remained positive, hopeful and with an eye toward the future.