SIDNEY — Art speaks to people in different ways. Most people attending the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services’ 13th annual Art of Recovery exhibition were moved and voted to choose a painting addressing how social media appears to affect a young woman the show’s People’s Choice.
“Social Dysmorphia,” by Austin Pearson, of New Carlisle, also spoke to Sidney Police Chief Will Balling. The People’s Choice painting stood out most to him at the exhibition and he asked Pearson if his painting could be displayed for a while at the police department.
“It means a lot and I was surprised I was asked,” Pearson said of how he felt about Balling asking his art to be displayed at the police department. “I think the city is lucky to have a chief of police that wants to be light to mental health issues.”
His painting depicts a young woman with tears running down her face while sitting in shallow water with tree limbs, leaves, flowers and bubbles containing various social media notification icons, spiraling behind and around her.
The exhibition of paintings, drawings, photography, poetry and music which Pearson’s work appeared at was held in October at Edison State Community College. Artists from Shelby, Miami and Darke Counties who have been impacted personally, as a family member or friend, or anyone whose art reflects recovery from mental illness or addiction were invited to submit. Upper Valley Interactive media students also submitted artwork. The farthest submission was from Cincinnati.
The goal of the program is to bring awareness to the importance of good mental health, provide opportunities for people in recovery to express their experience and reduce stigma, according to Brad Reed, Tri-County Mental Health director of community resource development.
The Best in Show, based on artistic merit, and the Director’s Choice, which is selected by the Tri-County Board staff for the piece that best exemplifies wellness and recovery, is also handed out at the annual event.
Pearson’s work and several others have hung outside the Emergency Operations Center/Training Room on the second floor of the Sidney Police Department over the years since Balling first attended the show after becoming chief in 2012.
“Social Dysmorphia” will remain at the police department likely until the early spring of 2020, Pearson said.
Pearson is self-taught and never took any classes or had any type of instruction. He stressed gratitude for his parents support in developing his craft.
“I felt very honored as an artist (to win the award). It felt great. Over 100 paintings were there, and I won by one vote. As an artist, I never feel like my stuff is good enough,” the 30-year-old said, who only took up painting in 2011. “And I was so happy to have my parents there. They have been very supportive of my painting.”
“It was amazing,” he continued. “It was the first time that I have won anything. I have been painting since 2011. Bob Ross was the first painter I watched.”
The oil painting’s theme, he said, focuses on mental health issues surrounding social media. He wanted the contemporary realism painting to appear “so complicated, so that people would be overwhelmed when they looked at it, and it could cause anxiety. And people would be overloaded, like they are with all of the information technology of today.”
He admitted his paintings are usually of women, so when he noticed how women are sometimes affected by social media, and often compare them selves to one other, that is where the idea of the painting originated. But he also drew from a negative, personal experience on social media.
“I was trying to draw from something personal from mental illness. But I got the idea of the bubbles (containing the notification icons) first. (The painting) makes itself as it goes along, and changes,” Pearson said. “I tried to take a bad experience and turn it into something good.”
Sidney Police Department has displayed six pieces of art in the building, with two pieces retrieved by the artist after a period of time on display. Balling said most of the pieces displayed there have won an award, but he is not aware of that at the time he asks the artist if their work could be displayed at the department.
“I normally just look for what speaks to me or I can relate to,” Balling said. “I believe there are too many people suffering from addiction and/or mental health issues and feel we should all do whatever we can to help remove the stigma from it and provide everyone an opportunity to express and feel good about themselves.”
When asked how he started displaying artwork from the shows, he said a piece, dealing anxiety, by Abagail Browning, at the first show he attended spoke to him. Balling related to it, thought it was a great piece of art, and was given permission to display it at the department.
“I wanted to display (the artwork) outside of our Emergency Operations Center/Training Room because I wanted to remind the officers and other individuals using our building what some people go through. I wanted to ‘de-police’ the area somewhat — by not just having all police artwork or historical pieces — and show another side of things that we have to deal with. From that point forward I have attended the show every year and always found something I liked and asked the artists if we could display their work,” he explained.
Balling said he believes everyone knows someone struggling with something.
“Twenty percent of the population deals with anxiety which is a mental health issue. As for addiction, there are so many different types of addictions, I believe we all know someone who is addicted. With my job, I have seen people at their worst with addictions, but I have also had the opportunity to see people recover and just do amazing things while in recovery,” he said.
Pearson said he thought entering the competition would be a good opportunity to “put a spotlight on mental illness that is caused by social media and the information-age, in general, of information overload. Learning new skills and pursuing your hobbys and interest will help fill the void in all of us and find our true selves.”
To learn more about Pearson’s work or follow his art in future exhibitions or competitions, visit is his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AustinPearsonFineArt
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.