Drawing of Lee by Lizz Brady
What came first for you, art or social work?
Art came first. I am an artist. Social work is what I do.
Has doing clinical social work had any profound influences on your own artmaking?
Yes. Being an artist and doing social work are not really that separate. I’ve done a series of portraits, “Hidden America,” based on corresponding with people through their personal ads. Our letters – essentially, an intimate dialogue with each advertiser – mimic the psychotherapeutic process.
What can the arts community do effectively in order to raise awareness around mental health conditions?
I understand what physical health is. I know what is meant by “mental health,” but I’m not so sure it exists because I think everyone is at least a little crazy. Perhaps artists could wear buttons stating: “I’m an artist. I’m a little crazy. I channel that into my art. If you’re human, you’re a little crazy, too. What do you do to make your craziness work?”
How have you been dealing with quarantine and feelings related to Covid19 and all the tumultuous current events?
I’ve been dealing with quarantine by strict adherence to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines, by becoming my family’s barber and, since the 14th of March, I’ve used public transportation once. My clinical practice, of course, is now on Zoom.
As for my feelings about the pandemic: I am Frightened! As for my feelings about tumultuous current events: I am Outraged!
Has your studio practice changed in light of these ongoing changes?
Not really. I’ve been doing socio/political art since the Reagan administration. What’s changed since then is that the assholes in office have gotten worse and worse.
Do you have a preferred or tried and true method for dealing with stress and anxiety?
Doing things that take and hold my attention: For example, getting into the studio and staying there. Particularly, doing work that involves repetition. For example, layering papier-maché and painstakingly glazing patterns on bisqueware.
Meditating or, to be clear, trying to meditate. Only rarely have I been able to still my mental chatter; then, only for a brief moment or two.
Reading a good book. Watching a movie.
Sometimes talking about my troubles with my wife.
Talking with a friend.
I would like to have a chat with my dog, but I’d settle for a good cuddle; however, my dog doesn’t like to cuddle.
I sleep with a fuzzy teddy bear. Admittedly, very weird for a grown man, but...
Tending to our houseplants.
Caring for the fish in my office aquarium.
Paradoxically, listening to my clients calms me down.
Feeling in communion with another soul.
What art projects are keeping you engaged in the studio?
I am working on an edition of two dinner plates: one I will keep; the other I will send to the Governor of South Dakota. She posted a video on Twitter that documents her hunting in a cornfield. She says, “This is how we do social distancing in our State.” Then, she shoots a bird – most likely, a pheasant, and says, “Less COVID, more hunting! That’s the plan for the future.” My plate will feature a pheasant medallion encircled by a series of rifles.
I haven’t written the letter that I will send to the Governor along with the plate. The concept I am mulling over is along the lines of asking her to consider the difference between a bio mass and a bio-ass.
Thank you Lee, for a really inspiring chat!
Lee is a clinical social worker and artist, living in New York City.