Cara Jean Means ‘GRIP’ series has a hand with anxiety-inspired art
Cara Jean Means’ “GRIP” Series is a 10-work acrylic on canvas series that depicts people fighting with and taming giant hands.
The Salt Lake City-based painter took her inspiration for these paintings from what it feels like to have anxiety.
“When I first experienced anxiety and the shifts in my mood, it felt like I was being impeded as if something had a hold of me,” she said. “I felt like a heavy weight was holding me down or gripping me from behind and preventing me from functioning.”
The “GRIP Series” paintings will be among other pieces submitted by local artists that will be displayed during the Images of Resilience lecture that will be given by Dr. Scott Langenecker, a neuropsychologist and professor of psychiatry, on Wednesday, May 22, at the Park City Library’s Community Room.
The Images of Resilience lecture is part of CONNECT Summit County’s slate of Mental Health Awareness Month event. (See story on Page C-3).
The “GRIP” works, which Means painted in 2017 and 2018, are representations of people who have told herf about their struggles with mental illnesses.
“I interviewed real people, because wanted to hear from them about what their experiences with anxiety were like,” she said. “I also wanted, whenever possible, for them to be the models of their own paintings.”
Means participated in a series of discussions with her subjects to understand what they wanted to convey.
“Sometimes it took two to three conversations before I felt ready to paint,” she said. “I worked with them to help create their own visual narrative, because I wanted those who see the art understand what it was like for my participants to experience their anxieties.”
The artist also wanted her subjects to feel empowered through the images.
“I wanted them to feel heard, valued and respected, so I was conscious not to make them feel exploited and objectified,” Means said. “It was also a challenge to not make all the paintings heavy, depressing and hard. I wanted them to be realistic, but also show some hope.”
Means took more cues from the hand motif to bring the optimism into these works.
“Along with the negative wordplay that deal with hands – ‘get a grip,’ ‘losing grip’ or ‘get a hand on things,’ – there are some positive wordplays like ‘lend a hand,’ ‘helping hand’ or ‘tender touch,’” she said. “I wanted to show that side as well.”
Means first experienced her own anxiety vicariously through her husband of 17 years, who has lived with depression all his life.
“When we were 18, we really didn’t know what it was,” she said. “Then I began feeling the symptoms after my father suddenly passed away.”
At first, Means thought she had a heart condition.
“When my father died, we discovered he had a defective heart valve, so I thought I was going have the same thing happen to me,” she said. “So I underwent some tests.”
After a month of testing, doctors told Means her heart was fine.
“Then my grandmother passed away a few months later, and that’s when I realized I might be suffering from anxiety attacks,” she said. “I talked with my husband about it, and he told me that he feels these things all the time.”
Means, who is known for her public-art murals in Salt Lake City, decided to create the “GRIP” paintings shortly after talking with her husband.
“I wanted to visually represent the grief, loss and weight of what I was feeling,” she said. “I was also losing my motivation, experiencing irrational fears and a lack of self-confidence.”
As she began planning what to paint, Means decided to focus outward and paint other people’s experiences.
Her subjects are from Texas, Nevada and Utah.
“I started painting these works when I was living in Houston,” she said. “Then I moved to Las Vegas and then Salt Lake City.”
Means said it’s fitting that her works are to be exhibited in an event called “Images of Resilience.”
“Resilience is important when you live with mental illness or when you live with someone who has mental illness,” she said.
The Park City show is the first time Means will show “GRIP Series” in the Wasatch Back.
“I’ve showed full series in Salt Lake twice, and exhibited two of the works in Orem,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to bringing them to Park City. I hope people who have mental illnesses come look at the art and know they are not alone.”
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The film captures a transparent self-portrait of the American wilderness, emphasizing the importance of communication that goes beyond listening for the sake of responding.