“What was it like for me to paint these? It was difficult... I am manic depressive and suffer major hospitalized bouts of depression. During the time I made these, I was still at home and just wanted people to understand what I felt…
…that even though I could smile, carry on a conversation, I was turning to pulp inside. I wanted people to feel what it’s like to be at the place of desperation–of wanting to take your life and not succeeding.
I guess what it all boils down to is…
I just wanted to be heard.
I am a pretty mild mannered, soft person and I don’t speak much, so that was my voice.
I received letters from people telling me how hard it has been trying to explain what it’s like for them to others …but when they show their families my work, now they get it…Hearing this made me feel that I had done something right.
Of course I also got negative comments: people telling me, ‘If you feel this way, go kill yourself already!’ But such is life and there will always be those who are going to respond that way.
I felt at first this overwhelming guilt for painting these; but the more and more positive comments I got, the more I realized I had done something to help others–to not to feel so alone. That is why I call these ‘Portraits of Hope;’ because I survived and I hope that others would too.”
~April Mansilla, USA
“Women who do not hide in their work, but expose their own all-too-human nature, I find amazing.
For myself, I use my work not only as a voice for those without voice, but also as a hiding place. Even as I am being frank and direct, I am hiding. My most personal poems are a mirror to the world; it is only with that feeling, as I am composing my thoughts, that I can write those poems in which I am so exposed.”
~Carolyn Srygley-Moore, USA
hunting words to fit a viscous,
fragile mood – fragmented sky and
messy clouds, we’re tastin’
ink, touch my skin – tornado,
cobweb or a twinkling eye, the
artist’s brush, wet oil, alone – we
fly, dark dancer on an empty
stage, crave, make ‘em love us, no
regret, so tear my flesh, press heavy
on my soul and move
inside the turbine of my breath
these verse will win us, tear
our seam and spark; ejaculate
into our heart, splash torrents, lust-
washed cries, we scream the words
that toss and flood our aisles -
whitewater – clingin’, squirmin’ – short
of breath we close this bleeding gap
of unreached stars
to shattered small print
amongst rumpled sheets
~Claudia Schönfeld, Germany
“I’ve done things that took a lot of courage, I think, or craziness–I’m not sure which.
If I wanted to study something and I couldn’t find a teacher who taught it, I’d teach it myself. I wrote the kinds of plays I’d want to be in, with the characters I’d want to play.
We all have the capacity to be creative. We can think, and we can imagine. Creativity is about the process, not the product.
At this point in my life, I don’t care that much anymore what people think of me.”
~Kaycheri Rappaport, Nia Black Belt teacher and yoga instructor, actress and writer, age 78, Oregon, USA
Look deeply into the faces and artwork gathered here: dancer, poets, photographers, painters –visionaries all–and witness what happens when a woman, even a young girl, experiences herself as someone with something to offer this world. More than a feeling of independence–although that’s certainly an important part of it–this vibrates much, much deeper…
“I don’t need to wait for a boy to notice me anymore!” Faith, my seven-year-old daughter was clearly still glowing from the success of the school newspaper she’d spearheaded that morning. The best part for her: collaborating with the posse of young reporters she’d corralled (one boy, a poet, she suspected had joined for reasons perhaps a bit more romantic).
Slipping on her pj’s, my daughter continued:
“Last year I was always liking one boy or another; but you know, if someone doesn’t come up and talk to you, it might just be because you’re not the right fit for each other.” My daughter squeezed out the toothpaste, looked up and made a face in the mirror. “I know who I am and I’m not ready to have a boy in my life right now. I’m just a little girl. Maybe I don’t even want to be with a boy when I’m grown up. For now, anyway, I’m just going to like someone as a friend.”
Such a declaration at the age of seven is enough to make a tired mother grin, but not all of it for the naive sweetness of her ideas. What my daughter was articulating that night reflects a growing sentiment expressed in the work of females around her: We don’t have to check ourselves to make sure we’re desirable to The Other. Who we truly are, audience or not, is really quite interesting…even when we don’t resemble the idealized images of females one still finds rampant in my daughter’s ever-popular princess tales.
Norway artist, Daria Endresen.
“It is strangely empowering to know you have the ability to communicate visually. I’d never experienced this before. But it also made me feel more vulnerable. When you use yourself as subject matter, this is inevitable, I think.
Each of my images is very personal and deeply connected with events in my life. I could say that my life is my main source of inspiration, and also a sort of therapy. When I feel I have something to say, I pick up my camera and start shooting.
Opening up was never easy. I remember experiencing an overwhelming feeling of fear the first time I published a nude self-portrait. However, the outer nakedness is something I stopped caring about rather quickly; showing everyone what’s inside of me is much more difficult. It leaves you bare and visible to anyone. At the same time I would like my viewers to perceive these stories as their own, to see and recognize themselves.
In Norway there is a strong cult of high self-esteem. Kids are taught to love themselves from a very young age, and in my opinion it’s a good thing. On the other hand, the massive usage of photoshopped glamor pictures and general propaganda of “plastic” beauty pushes us to constantly compare. Everyone needs to know that they are loved and they are good enough, no matter what. And my message for all the girls out there would be this: Dream, believe in yourself and never give up.
Vulnerability and strength are the two most important things that I would like to be able to express.
Some people see my work as overly dark and depressing; but if you take time to look closer, there is always hope and that special inner strength that I believe each of us has.
Women and especially young girls are most receptive to my images, because in most cases, I ‘talk’ about love. Men tend to be less sentimental and sensitive. The nude aspect for men probably plays a more significant role. But those who are interested in looking deeper, manage to get past the nudity, which is never the point in my images.
My ideas take time to grow. Sometimes it takes months to have them clear in my head; but if I am in some kind of emotional turmoil, I can work very fast as well.”
New York painter, April Mansilla:
“I think people need to see real women and real emotion; not just pretty skin.
I just battled two years of deep depression; the last six months I spent inside a psychiatric hospital. I’ve been out for a month-and-a-half now and haven’t yet been able to paint my portrait. Maybe the more I heal, I will.
But for now, this is my new project: to capture in a hopeful way these fighting spirits.
I am so close to my daughter, Alix Maria. She has saved my life.
I had her when I was 18. At 19, I tried to take my life as I didn’t want her growing up with a ‘crazy’ mother. I thought I was being unselfish; but I am happy I survived because I am a great mother, if nothing else. Since then I have fought so hard to keep my balance because of her. She was my first born and an old soul. The day she was born she could hold her head up and look around. Her first world was hello. She grew fast and smart. When I was in the hospital, she took over as mom to her brother. When I would want to sleep all day from depression, she is the reason I woke up. It saved me looking after another I loved so much.”
by Carolyn Srgfley-Moore September 2011
I have done wrong: true.
I have done wrong. Back when I was flailing
through bloodlets of beveled fog
she said “you must have done
many bad things in your life.” Such is the premise
of guilt & of redemption.
I will hold my hands into the light.
I will hold my hands into the light.
You cannot take the warmth away from me.
Poet Claudia Schönfeld, Germany:
“I write to connect with myself, to capture the joy, pain, emotions, the moment. I have no big goals for my writing other than touching the reader – just for a moment – maybe just with one line, and invite them to look at things from a different perspective, maybe have them breathe a bit faster, smile a bit deeper… If I manage to accomplish this, it makes my day.
The greatest gift I handed my children was probably teaching them to look at things from different angles. This is what poets tend to do; and I think I was doing this all my life without really realizing.
My childhood was a time of fights and struggles. My father drank and I tried to survive somehow…first by creating a world of dreams where I felt safe, then by fighting hard to manage life and hoping to be able to escape the poverty and desperation. Later, it was by rebelling and totally losing grip as a teenager.
As a child I spent hours in our local library and it was a place of treasures, wonder and adventure. I loved to read Erich Kästner and Enid Blyton. Also Hitchcock’s three investigators. Made me want to live in a trailer on a junkyard. I also read all the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, and J.R.R. Tolkien when I got older. I read no poetry though, except for at school.
Now there are many poets I love to read:. Rainer Maria Rilke, Charles Bukowski, Langston Hughes, Ted Kooser, Sylvia Plath. My all-time favorite villanelle is Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ But if I’m on a business trip for and have only very limited time to read poetry, I mostly have Bukowski in my luggage and if I get a chance to go online and there’s just time for one poem, I’m usually heading towards waystation one. (
I almost never sit down to write. Most of my poems are born in hotel lobbies, on train rides, mountain tops, lakeside promenades, airports, walks in the woods or traffic jams. They escape like bubbles from somewhere within and I try to catch and type them into my iPhone.”
Kaycheri Rappaport, Nia dancer, teacher, actress, artist, writer, USA:
“My mother was an artist. She died from cancer at twenty-seven when I was seven. Because she was so sick for such a long time, I didn’t live with her very much at all. Instead, I was shuttled around, many of them strangers to me. By the time I was six-and-a-half, I was extremely independent because I had to know how to do for myself.
In one way, I always had the perfect mother because she was in heaven! Whenever I felt misunderstood by my aunt and uncle who eventually raised me, it was bearable that they had no idea who I was [inside] because my mommy in heaven did. I actually would write letters to her. And then I would write answers from her back. A lot of my answers were reassurance. I was very insecure.
I was a little skinny, Jewish kid living in the mainline of Philadelphia in a wealthy whitebread neighborhood. I was not invited to the sororities..
But I used to put on music in my beautiful, spacious room, and dance and dance and draw for hours . There I lived the life of an artist.
My first love was theatre. When I graduated from high school, I announced I was going to New York. But my aunt and uncle sat me down and said, “don’t even think abut it!” They said, “You have to go to college and get a degree. Anything in the arts is a hobby.” They told me only loose girls became actresses. I remember once bringing home a painting I’d done in school. They glanced at it, then looked at me. “How much to do think you could get for that?”
So I went to college. I double-majored in English and Fine Arts, with a minor in psychology, from Temple University. Oh, it was marvelous! At Tyler Art School we studied art in the most classical way.
And with my own children, I love them dearly in all ways and always gave them a great deal of support. My greatest gift to them was to recognize who they are, for we are all miracle and love, with fantastic possibilities.
I named my daughter, ‘Helen,’ after my mother, who was very important to me.
You know in the Nia and yoga classes I teach, I always first give them a questionnaire to fill out. My first question is, “Who is the most fascinating person you know?” It’s a trick question, I tell them. The answer is…Yourself!”
* * *
April Mansilla, of the USA, is married and has two children.
Her paintings can be viewed on her website:
Carolyn Srygley-Moore, New York, USA, a pushcart and best of the web nominee, cares for persons with traumatic brain injuries at All Metro Health Care.
To read a full interview with Carolyn: http://combustus.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/new-york-usa-carolyn-srygley-moore-poet/
Claudia Schoenfeld lives in Germany with her husband and three children, age 17, 19 and 20, and is co-founder of dVerse Poets Pub: (
Kaycheri Rappaport, USA, an actress, writer and Nia Black belt instructor also teaches yoga and her own,
“The Gentle Ways to Fitness,” through classes and DVDs.
To find where and when: http://www.thegentlewaytofitness.blogspot.com
Magaly Ohika, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is an artist and toy designer. (Look for a profile on Magaly here in Combustus in coming weeks
Judith Clay, Germany will also be featured here in Combustus in the near future.
You may also enjoy her pictures at:
Judith won the 2009 nomination for her picture book projects, “Always” and “The Meefisch.”
2009 Group exhibition, “The Meefisch,” Franck-house, Marktheidenfeld
2010 picture book project on “Thea’s Tree.”
Daria Endresen, a digital artist based in Oslo, Norway, says of herself:
“I’m a dead fish in a cyanide sea.
I like boys who look like girls and girls who look like aliens.”
Daria’s images can be enjoyed at: