Shared experience is a powerful thing. Through our Two Chairs Art Program, we bring this idea to the forefront of our physical spaces by elevating local artists whose mental health journeys have been integral to the formation of their creative processes. These collaborations offer yet another perspective and example of how uniquely mental health can figure into one’s personal journey, while also bringing new, beautiful, and diverse viewpoints into the decor of our clinics.
One artist we are excited to highlight in our waiting areas and therapy rooms is East Bay Area native Adrian Kay Wong. Adrian is a visual artist whose primary medium is painting. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and since graduating in 2013, he’s been living and working in Los Angeles — though you can find his murals, installations, and exhibitions thoughtfully sprinkled across the country.
We were originally drawn to Adrian’s work because his pieces convey a sense of the everyday human experience. Simultaneously introspective, intimate, and celebratory, Adrian’s work explores moments we often experience at Two Chairs: the empty waiting room, the seated figure, two individuals in conversation. As a mental health care company striving to make therapy more approachable and seamlessly integrated into everyday life, we love the specific, yet universal feel of his pieces.
When Adrian was visiting family at home recently, he shared some of his thoughts on mental health with us, and how his notions of mental wellness have evolved over time via his relationship to art and the people he’s closest with. Our conversation was a beautiful reminder that therapy is deeply personal and can take many forms.
Read more from Adrian below.
How would you describe your work?
My work explores imagery of the everyday. Often times, my approach is an investigation of representation that I call “visual alliteration.” This process manifests itself not only in the duplication of images and recurring motifs, but a repeating of basic forms that make up the subject. The combination of flatness, repeated shapes, and purposeful subversion of depth challenges visual hierarchy and levels attention between primary subject and contextual elements.
I am drawn to settings that are quieter, intimate, and sometimes mundane. But it’s in this ordinary-ness that I find beauty in subtlety, the sedentary, and sentimentality.
How have the people in your life affected your personal relationship to mental health?
My brother, Bernie, works at Mind Share Partners who helps train and advise companies on building a culture and awareness of mental health at work and in the workplace. While it hasn’t necessarily affected me directly, our conversations have definitely brought insight to my own personal creative practice and how much I take into consideration my own mental health whenever I’m working. In short, I’ve begun to recognize its role in sustaining and improving my art practice.
How does your mental health relate to your role as an artist? How does art figure into your self-care and cultivation of personal mental wellness?
Mental health has been a slow “project” of mine. I grew up in a household that didn’t address it or handle it in a very positive way. While it’s very much a factor that the way my parents grew up didn’t promote a more healthy approach, I personally always figured it was my own shortcomings or just how life goes. In a career that requires a paradoxical sense of being confident enough to work harder every day to improve, but being critical of yourself enough to not be complacent, there is no shortage of tension, stress, and work. My goal as an artist has always been to make better creative work and my priorities have always leaned toward a dedication to my practice. It’s hard when your work can be both your therapy and the cause of damage. It’s been a long road to accept that “just work harder” and “happiness isn’t a priority” isn’t healthy nor is it sustainable. While I find solitude and comfort in being completely involved and invested in my work, I’ve gotten better at acknowledging when hard work exceeds itself and the costs begin to outweigh the benefits.
How, if at all, has therapy in the traditional or nontraditional sense figured into your life?
I’ve never been to a therapy session, to be honest. But there have been points in my life when I needed it and to the point of researching therapists in the Los Angeles area. While I’ve always struggled with the balance of “working through it” and taking the time needed to consider my own health, I’m fortunate and lucky enough to have been able to create my own “therapy”. While this has been mostly through trial-and-error, I’ve surrounded myself over the years with certain friends who do that for me very well. I’ve also learned to accept that just like your muscles generally need rest after you work out, your mental fortitude needs rest too. I’ve come to not only accept but also value the time I need for myself.
Tell us about the process of creating the pieces we have on display in our clinics. Where do you take inspiration from? What do you aim to communicate?
For this particular print, I knew I wanted to include figures as a subject-matter. This collaboration is a simple portrayal of us as people. The relationship between the two figures is ambiguous because “therapy” extends beyond the therapist and individual. It could also be between friends, family, or lovers. It could even be just a mindful conversation with yourself. Because I wanted this work to be unique to Two Chairs, I took inspiration from the physical settings of Two Chairs: formulating color palette and including visual motifs directly. The work is nothing more than a conversation, but depicts also such a simple yet valuable part of our lives.
The stillness and visual alliteration of your paintings draw attention to the unnoticed moments in everyday life — a core pillar of mindfulness. How do you think about how our physical environment affects our mental state?
Living in Los Angeles, or any metropolitan city for that matter, I think it’s common knowledge at this point that the density of sensory input can have detrimental effects. The quantity of visual information, auditory notifications, music, cars honking — it all reaches a point where we don’t really get an opportunity to process what we’re receiving. It’s no surprise that I always hear people talking about vacations or finding an escape such as camping or a short road trip. There is so much to cherish around us and we just need to seek it out, firstly by just being conscious of our looking and listening. By changing these actions from passive to active, we can begin valuing events in our life such as observing pedestrians walking by at your quiet local coffee shop, or the gentle light emanating from the room where the conversations with couple friends can be heard, or even the calmness of your own apartment where the belongings you’ve obtained over the years sit on the shelves and walls. I believe we can find that there is beauty in these mundane moments and that there is beauty we miss in our busy lives. How attentive are we of the happenings around us? Taking the day-to-day just a half step slower won’t slow our aspirations and drive.
Why were you excited to partner with us?
I’m always drawn to opportunities that can contribute to areas beyond the viewing, showing, and creating of art — all of which I spend the majority of my time doing. I think what drew me to Two Chairs is their consideration of the many factors beyond what most people conceive as the typical understanding of therapy that is the one-on-one with a therapist. I can tell Two Chairs takes great care and attention for contextual details. A specific highlight for me was speaking with them about waiting rooms: a space both undervalued and often overlooked. We spoke at length about how it’s your first impression into a space and also a room you spend considerable time in. It’s the place that contributes a lot to how people feel about their visit. I sense a lot of care that Two Chairs puts into what they do.
When you think about the state of mental health more broadly, and what do you hope to see in the future?
Right now, I think we’re in a great place. We’re reaching a point where the conversation of mental health is more commonplace. While a stigma does still exist that it’s only for people who need it in the sense of “a solution to a problem”, it truly does extend beyond just a medical prescription. Hopefully in the future, we each find our form of healthy therapy. Whether it’s finding a therapist or talking with a close friend, therapy can come in many ways and it’s great to put time into finding what’s best for you.
If you would like to share about your own mental health experience, I’d love to #TalkTherapy with you. You can email me at email@example.com.
Read more from other members of the Two Chairs community:
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (415) 202-5159.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.