A word that paints a picture

L-R: Dr Robert Power (Campaspe Family Practice), Fiona Hussey (Kyneton District Health), John Mitchell (chair, Kyneton Men's Shed), David O'Keefe (deputy chair, Kyneton Men's Shed) and Daniel Butterworth (exhibition artist).

L-R: Dr Robert Power (Campaspe Family Practice), Fiona Hussey (Kyneton District Health), John Mitchell (chair, Kyneton Men's Shed), David O'Keefe (deputy chair, Kyneton Men's Shed) and Daniel Butterworth (exhibition artist).

"What word do you use to describe your depression?"

Last year Kyneton artist and 2016 Archibald Prize finalist, Daniel Butterworth, put this question to people in his rural community.

Their responses - mostly anonymous - led to a thought-provoking collection of 20 self-portraits, When the Black Dog Bites.

Now, a joint initiative of Kyneton District Health and Campaspe Family Practice will bring these paintings into the community that inspired them, at an exhibition to prompt important health conversations.

Daniel has been touted and recognised as a finalist in national art prizes, but he didn't expect that these works on depression would touch so many people.

"After their first display at La Trobe, the feedback I've had, and people coming up to thank me, makes it feel like this is the most significant thing I've done as an artist," he said.

The seed was a news reel remark from the mother of a returned soldier whose son told her he had taken his head out of a noose that day. Thinking about people he knew who experienced depression, and an idea of the impact of mental health in the community, prompted Daniel to ask questions.

The experience of transforming people's words into art transformed Daniel himself. His expressions on canvass come from embodying feelings. So it's not surprising that these works had an emotional impact at the time of making. But the process and reactions to the works have also altered his approach as an artist.

"I've always expressed something authentic in my self-portraits but doing this series has steered me more towards social issues. It's given me the courage for my art to be a bit more political."

Daniel is immensely proud of When the Black Dog Bites and feels privileged to paint a picture of what depression can feel like. He also reckons that his community hospital is the perfect place for it to be seen.

Statistics show that the majority of people experiencing mental health illnesses don't access health services.

KDH board president Peter Matthews hopes that this exhibition can encourage community conversations about depression, to tackle the stigma that prevents people from seeking support.

At Campaspe Family Practice - where some of Daniel's art already hangs on gallery-like walls - they know that the warning signs for depression are often missed by people.

Practice manager Jackie Power hopes that this initiative encourages people to access help and talk more openly with family and mates.

One place for men to do that is at a local Men's Shed. Daniel is donating 50 per cent of the exhibition sale proceeds to the Kyneton group.

The exhibition at Kyneton Hospital opens with a breakfast launch at 9am on Saturday, March 11.

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