National News

Salt Lake artist sheds light on mental health through paintings

Posted May 5, 2018 1:40 p.m. EDT

— Salt Lake artist Cara Jean Means loves to paint people.

"I am very much drawn to art that has stories behind it or some sort of narrative, especially with people," she said.

Cara Jean Means recently created a new series on a topic very close to her heart. She painted a series of people who struggle with mental illness, including her husband.

Admittedly, she said, "He was the hardest one for me to paint.

"For many years we've dealt with mental illness in one shape or another in our family," she said.

After 17 years of marriage, she said they know each other so well. She wanted to make sure she captured her husband's story accurately.

"We would go on walks. We would go take the dog and walk around the neighborhood and talk about it," she said.

They found art could express his emotions in ways doctors couldn't diagnose. In describing his battle with mental illness, her husband, Marc Means said, "When you're boxed in and you're fighting with something, but there's no one to point out. There's no reason in your life why you should feel this way."

Cara Jean Means' painting was the only black and white piece in the series. It depicted a giant hand in front of Marc Means' face. It portrayed his illness as his own worst enemy.

Cara Jean Means met with each subject individually. "I would actually say to them 'if you had to visualize your mental illness as a giant hand that's manipulated you, what does that look like?'" she described.

It was different for everyone. One illustration shows a lady walking a giant hand as if it's a pet.

Cara Jean Means shared empathy for her subjects after battling her own fight with mental illness after her father passed away.

"I know what that feels like and I'm really sorry you have to feel that all the time," she said.

Cara Jean Means represented her illness with a finger pinning her to the ground. She described her emotions by saying, "When you feel like something is sitting on your chest holding you down."

Cara Jean Means' collection is called the GRIP series. She said the name has many connotations including the hands gripping individuals, "losing grip, get a grip."

It's designed to generate discussion. Each painting poses questions for spectators to answer. "I hope that the conversation starts to happen a lot more deeply within our culture," Marc Means said.

The series is on display at Salt Lake City's Art Access through May 9. Cara Jean Means hopes to continue the conversation about mental illness through her artwork by taking the paintings on tour.

To learn more about funding her project visit her website The series will be on display again in August at the Eccles Gallery at Salt Lake Community College.