Tuesdays With Judy

Battling mental illness with a paintbrush

Anybody who came to the art show this past October would have been surprised to learn that until recently Sergu�� couldn't finish a picture. This year, he had seven works for sale. The most impressive was a large collage he called Sergu�� Africa, featuring dozens of tiny animals: fish, birds, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, monkeys, frogs. Sergu�� had meticulously drawn them with colored pencils, and used a pair of tiny scissors to cut each one out. Then he painted a background and glued them on.

At the art show, he urged everyone who stopped by his collage to look closely. "The faces are my specialty," he said. Some of the animals were smiling, he explained, while others were angry. Pointing to the pack of zebras, he said, "They're all looking out for themselves, and they're happy to be by the water."

The collage sold in seven hours. Priced at $175, it likely could have drawn five or 10 times that much in a real art gallery. Within two days, six of Sergu�� works sold�and none were purchased by his parents.


Sergu��s Africa
by Sergu�� Lanquetot
Sergu��s Africa

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See also
  • Meet the Artists: Art as Therapy
    by Jennifer Gonnerman
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    By December, the total earnings for the Bridge Groups Artists' show had reached $4,090. Thirty of the 61 works sold, including at least one piece by each artist. Unlike other galleries, The Bridge gives their artists 100 percent of the proceeds. It was the most successful art show they had ever had.

    Over the prior year, Scott Zwiren had earned more money from art sales than the group's other members. A painting he'd been working on for more than a decade, titled The Snailman and the Mermaid, had sold for $1,000. The money didn't last long, how ever. One of the common effects of bipolar disorder is a tendency to overspend. As Scott puts it, "I went on a hypomanic spree."

    The money bought him the chance to sit for hours at neighborhood spots like Sip and the Hungarian Pastry Shop. "I spent a lot of time drinking $3 sodas," he says. "I was smoking at the time, so it was packs of cigarettes, coffee, cabs. And it was an impoverished kind of overspending: Going to the ATM machine and pulling out $20 every day."

    Scott started at The Bridge in 1988, soon after Judy arrived. Back then, he was trying to adjust to life without his right arm and with a prosthesis attached to his right leg. While he had enjoyed sketching throughout high school and college, now he had to learn to draw with his left hand. "He went through all types of emotions with me�gratitude, anger. It was an emotional kaleidoscope," Judy says.

    Scott agrees. "There were times I came in depressed, argumentative . . . feeling like I wasn't getting enough attention, feeling like I was getting too much attention," he says. There was a five-year period in the 1990s when he stopped coming altogether and instead took illustration classes elsewhere. But in recent years he's been a steady presence in room 300, working quietly on his art every Tuesday afternoon.

    Since his suicide attempt 19 years ago, Scott has accumulated an impressive list of creative accomplishments: He played one-handed bass in a band, performing gigs in the West Village; he wrote numerous short stories; he published God Head, a novel based on his own life; and he sold more than 25 works of art.

    Still, his battle with bipolar disorder continues, and some weekends he feels so depressed he can't even bring himself to get out of bed. Painting and drawing are what keep him going, along with the expectation that he show up every week for Judy's class and continue to work. "I feel more at home on a Tuesday afternoon than anywhere else," he says.


    image
    Judith Raskin-Rosenthal, an art therapist, started the Bridge Group Artists in 1988.
    Photograph by Robin Holland
    Sergu�� Lanquetot started plotting his next collage soon after the art show opening. On a recent afternoon in room 300, a pencil sketch for the new collage lies on the table in front of him. It is another African landscape. Next to it is an envelope stuffed with dozens of tiny, hand-drawn zebras. Each is an inch or two long, with black stripes, pink ears, and a pink mouth.

    Six other artists work silently, but Sergu�� is too anxious to sit. "Judy, I can't do any painting!" he says. "There's only turquoise in the set!" Judy, busy with someone else, tells Sergu�� to wait.

    A few minutes later, he starts again. "I don't want to use turquoise blue. I want to use Mediterranean blue. I want to use cobalt blue. Do you have any cobalt blue?"

    Judy walks over and begins unpacking the tubes of watercolors. "I'm not doing this for you," she says, "but this is how you do it." She unscrews one top and squeezes a little paint onto a plastic plate. "You have to start working professionally," she says.

    Sergu�� leaves the room, returns with a cup of water, pours a little on the plate, and mixes it with the paint. He dips a large brush in and makes a few broad strokes across the top of the paper, creating a sky.

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