Artist Profile: Maxwell Callaghan Challenges Mental Illness Stigmas

Emerging artist Maxwell Callaghan wants to remove the stigmas associated with mental illness through his work.

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Visual Arts (BVA) from the Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA) last year, Callaghan has received many accolades including being selected for this year’s Hatched: National Graduate Show – a significant milestone for any emerging artist.

On completion of his BVA, Callaghan also received the 2016 James Martin Award and the 2016 Board of Governors Award for Excellence. He also received a 2017 Bachelor of Visual Art (Honours) Scholarship, supported by the Arkaba Hotel.

Earlier this year Callaghan’s work featured in the exhibition At the End of the World at .M Contemporary in Sydney, a new initiative showcasing the talents of graduating students from around Australia.

While Callaghan was keen on drawing when he was young, he was more interested in becoming a professional soccer player. It wasn’t until he finished school that he turned to art and only started painting when he began studying at ACSA.

Callaghan’s practice is very personal as he channels experiences and thoughts from his memory. In his recent work he is examining and processing his experience with mental illness and his subsequent hospitalisation. “It’s hard to talk about these things in language or five-minute conversations,” he says. “Painting was a way I could condense this stuff down into one place.”

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Max Callaghan, Thrown into a fluorescent void… (shortened title.)

The two works, which feature in Hatched (opening this month at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts), are Thrown into a fluorescent void… and Concrete enclosed imminent doom. Concrete enclosed seclusion room… (shortened titles). These works are what Callaghan describes as the “climactic paintings” in the series, they embody what he was trying to show the audience.

“I was trying to show people what they don’t always get to see from these experiences,” he says.

The full titles of the paintings (around 100 words in length) form part of the artwork, as Callaghan presents them in a poetic way. “The paintings are showing what is happening and the titles are articulating what is happening in the paintings,” he says.

Callaghan looks to Australian modernist painters like Ian Fairweather, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan as well as contemporary artists such as James Drinkwater for inspiration. He cites Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg as important literary influences as well as jazz music and dance as other inspirations – his dad was a dancer and his uncle was a dancer and choreographer.

While Callaghan’s paintings explore personal experiences they are also commenting generally on society’s attitudes to mental illness. He hopes through his work he can help remove the stigma often associated with mental illness and encourage others to talk about their experiences.

Header image: Max Callaghan, Concrete enclosed imminent doom. Concrete enclosed seclusion room… (shortened title.) (detail.)

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