Head And Heart

Head And Heart

Artist chronicles fight for mental health


Theatergoers in Northwest Arkansas know Blakeley Knox for her strong, sure voice and her sweet, gentle performances in Pilot Arts productions like “Mamma Mia,” “Freaky Friday” and “Little Women.”

But Knox has a world of different talents she’s also pursuing — as a businesswoman, an artist and an advocate for mental health.

Growing up in Fort Smith, “I performed in my first musical when I was in fourth grade and immediately fell in love,” she reminisces. “‘Peter Pan’ was my first show, and I’ve done many since. I studied in New York at Camp Broadway, Stagedoor and Cap21 through the years as well as staying involved in community theater. I then went on to Oklahoma City University on a voice scholarship, where I studied for a year before transferring to Ouachita Baptist University to study musical theater. I finished school at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., and studied illustration.”

That’s the first clue to the talent that is Knox’s livelihood.

“I moved home to begin the process of starting my own company, Rooney B, where I create the designs I have manufactured onto swaddle blankets. They are primarily sold online, but they have also been carried at several stores here in Arkansas as well as Texas. I also started my own company where I sell wrapping paper, cards, prints and state prints. I also personalize state prints for weddings and baby gifts that have initials, names and event details on them.”

End of story, beginning of successful career, right? But Knox hit a bump in the road, and instead of hiding it, she began to open up to something no one would have suspected.

“I was initially diagnosed with depression this past summer after going through a rough time,” she reveals. “I had no energy, cried a lot for no reason, was just overall exhausted all the time and had suicidal thoughts.

“The first thing I did was that I reached out to my parents,” she continues. “I told them that something just wasn’t right, and I needed help. They ended up helping me find a doctor and schedule an appointment. I would advise finding someone you trust, whether it be a family member or a friend, and talk to them first about how you’re feeling. That way you have a support system walking you through any diagnosis, medication trials and any misdiagnosis.

“I was initially diagnosed with depression, but after trying different medications, it seemed to only get worse. This was what led to the diagnosis of Bipolar II. It took awhile to find the right medication, but once I did, it’s like everything is leveling out. I still will go through moods, but they will be less extreme with the help of medication.”

As for her art, Knox says she had no plans of using it “to help work through my diagnosis until Natalie Freeman [owner of the Freckled Hen Farmhouse in Fayetteville] suggested I create a series based off a larger piece I had made a couple years back.”

“Visual art has been a part of my life for quite awhile now, but I had no plans of depicting my disorder through art until this opportunity. I had a painting that I made when I knew I wasn’t feeling quite right but had absolutely no idea what was going on with me. I told another friend about the opportunity but shared my reservations about opening up my story. He convinced me to dive head first into it and paint different moods I experience.”

So Knox went back to the proverbial drawing board — and to a studio in her apartment.

“The paintings truly create themselves,” she says. “I don’t confine myself to anything before starting a piece. Instead I allow it to transform as I go. I start with a blank canvas, I then add texture with the use of glass bead gels and coarse gels. I choose a background color, and once that’s in place, I start meshing colors together to create a mood.

“Oftentimes with mental illness, you can feel as if you have to put on a million different faces to get you through a day,” Knox explains. “This is where the faces in my pieces come in. After I have the base colors and faces painted, I then use gold/silver leaf for detail. The paintings themselves are an expression of different moods that I experience day to day.

“After I feel a painting is finished, I attach a mood to it,” she adds. “Color is such a strong inspiration for me. I love using color to express moods and emotions. I don’t plan color schemes out before I start painting, but instead I let myself just go with it and truly paint what I feel in that moment.

“Art has been my livelihood and way of expression for awhile now,” Knox says, “but this series has gotten me back into painting, which I’m thankful for. It’s definitely made me want to be a voice for mental illness and continue the conversation throughout my life.

“I want people to become more comfortable talking about their mental health. It’s such a common thing people struggle with, so instead of attaching negative stigmas to it, we should all be more open to talking about it. Talking about it is the only way people will get the help and support they truly need.”

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Art by Blakeley Knox



Categories: Maker Space