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Whitehall Shows Hope for Mental Health with Help From The World of Art

 

Preface

Every now and again, someone special comes into your life. Someone, or something, that perhaps isn't or wouldn't be in your typical known circles. Isn't this frightfully exciting in itself? Doesn't this sum up exactly how we, as humans, grow? If you stay in your lane, when are you ever going to grow, learn, explore, evolve? One of those fascinating characters is New York born artist, Thomas Bucich. Call it chance, serendipity, or maybe just a nod to the strength that female relationships can form - arguably better than me. For context, our co-founder, Su, worked previously in a holistic health clinic in Sydney's Potts Point, Healthspace.

And not to forget where you, or we, have come from. Married duo and owners of Healthspace, the one in a million, Nick & Kate Wood, were a huge influence on Su's first phase into the wellness industry. Trailblazers in their own right, and hugely inspirational people, who we owe a lot too. And isn't that another important thing to have in your life, mentors, inspirations, and just good people? That is applicable both personally and professionally. But to tie this part all up, it was actually the forenamed Thomas's wife, Kylie, nutritionist and health coach herself, that worked in Healthspace with Su, where both her and Neil met Thomas, and well, here we are.

Art and the connection to mental health

We reconnected with Thomas and Kylie late last year around their Whitewall Art Prize. Situated down on the southern highlands of New South Wales near the leafy town of Bowral, a popular retreat to destress from busy Sydney life, Thomas is passionate about mental health. That's how he and I connected more deeply, in additional to his art. We spoke about this connection of art and its impacts on mental health. How one can influence the other, both ways. A passionate personal topic of my own, as a sufferer of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, it made a huge amount of sense for us to connect on this project that he and Kylie have been organising now for over four years, as a proud sponsor.

Annually, the Whitewall Art Prize, Into the Light advocates for mental health awareness, and this year, their fundraising efforts are directed toward supporting The Stress and Trauma Clinic. Carol Gutierrez (Registered Psychologist) and Amanda Jones (Accredited Mental Health Social Worker) facilitate an exceptional program known as the Cool Kids Anxiety Program, which was developed by Macquarie University. This program teaches children (ages 7 - 17 years) and their parents how to better manage a child's anxiety.

Whitewall Art Project

We sat down with Thomas to ask him a few questions about the prize and also to dive a bit deeper on that interwoven relationship that art has with mental health. If anything, more attention should be drawn to it. I myself was know full well what this means, after being a participant on ABC's Space 22 fly-on-the-wall documentary show in 2022. I received a headfirst view of how art therapy can be used to delve into your own story, approach unresolved trauma in a compassionate way, and from my point of view the most important learning for me, how to express myself and my story in ways I couldn't imagine.

Often in life, we are limited to one, maybe two, forms of expression; words and speaking, and listening. Whilst both are vital to our everyday, often they aren't enough. Every think, 'Gosh I will just call you as text comes across the wrong tone"? Well, go one further and think, have you every thought, someone just doesn't understand me, or what I am saying? One example of art's striking power was a task we were set where each participant was asked to paint certain emotions and feelings; loneliness, sadness, happiness etc. The former stands out for me. How do you paint loneliness. The way I expressed it was painting a black dot in the middle of a page, with what felt like a million other dots that were coloured. See what I mean? That still brings me back...

Look, I was a sceptic to start, I really was. But if you are reading this and struggling a bit, feeling not much is working. Maybe give art therapy a try. It certainly changed my thoughts on it and many of the things I learned over the four-week shoot I still use today when I need them. And, it would be remiss of me not to mention Noula Diamantopoulos an Australian psychotherapist, artist and author, and co-host of the show with Natalie Bassingthwaighte. This Greek goddess came into my life like a Hera lightning bolt from Zeus himself. Words cannot express how much this lady helped me in this period and beyond. To know when you are struggling that someone sees you and can guide you and can give you long lasting tools to move forward in life, priceless. 

So how does art really impact our wellbeing, and support expression of our mental being? Let's delve into the chat with Thomas to find out.

Tell us about the Whitewall Art Prize? Whitewall Art Prize - Into the Light began 4 years ago over a phone chat between Thomas and an artist / colleague where we discussed mental health and the exhibit was born.

How did you get involved and how long is it running? I felt mental health for artists as well as art viewers was such a big topic and area that needed to be talked about, and more awareness needed to be brought to the forefront in our industry.

What's your background?  I’m the creative director of the gallery and an artist myself.

Why was mental health important as an issue for you?
Along with my own awareness of my own mental health - I realised how many of our artists suffer with a variety and various scale of issues within the industry.  I want to make our gallery a place where we can discuss these things and see our artists thrive and not only survive.
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Where do you see the positive impacts art has on our mental wellbeing? 
For artists, making art is its own form of meditation and ‘medicine’ - it has tangible healing qualities and keeps many creatives grounded. For art viewers, art somehow creates a sense of connection with the work, its theme or mood.  It has a healing effect.
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Is art therapy something you believe in?
Absolutely - art heals, as it connects us with ‘Source’ the root of all creatively which grounds us.
Thomas Bucich wide shot
Do you have your own mental health journey you'd like to share?
Personally, along with a regular meditation practice, art keeps me grounded and allows me to experience using my skills to bring something to the world that comes through me, and connects with people who identify with the work. 
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What is one thing you'd recommend people to do in their day or week to improve their mental health?
Learn to ground and focus within, meditation is the one thing that helps us go within rather than looking outside of ourselves for the answers.  We already have within us all that we need.
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How can people get involved in this year's project?
Each year we open our prize for artists to submit work online around 3-4 months prior.
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What a pleasure it was and is to have met Thomas, Kylie, their impacts and also the art. In fact, you'll see several of Thomas's pieces and artworks providing some colourful and electric backdrops in our Nimbus Co Airbnb above our Bondi studio. Shown below and available for purchase.
https://whitewallartprojects.com.au/
0420718775

About Thomas Bucich

Thomas Bucich, a New York native and permanent resident in Australia, has pursued his professional career running a  multi-disciplinary studio in Art and Design since 1990. From classical fine arts training at The Arts Students League and a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Architectural Design from Parsons School of Design in New York City, Thomas’s career has spanned across the architectural interior and fine arts markets in New York and Sydney.

Following nearly three decades producing luxury interior residential and commercial environments, while also maintaining an active fine art practice; Thomas has now committed to a full time pursuit of expanding his art through commissions, working alongside art consultants and producing exhibitions. His works are created in a variety of mediums including cast bronze, carved stone, and manipulated found objects through to works on paper and canvas.

Whilst exhibiting in various galleries in Sydney and Regionally, Thomas has won major sculpture prizes and commissions including the Thredbo Sculpture prize with permanent placement of a life size cast bronze in the Thredbo Village Green, The Moss Vale Veterans War Memorial - an 18 metre long relief mixed media sculpture, and recently a commission for over 200 wall sculptures for Midnight Hotel, Canberra.  His works are also in the permanent collections of several international hotels, corporate offices, restaurants and private collectors.

Words: Neil O'Sullivan, co-founder, Nimbus Co.

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