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The art of James de Blas.

On his way to becoming an author of children's books, James de Blas also became an actor, a comedian, and a self-described mythical surrealist artist.

Mr. de Blas, who lives in Myocum, Australia, finds inspiration in the surrounding landscape and tries to incorporate his country's icons--such as Uluru/Ayers Rock--into his work.

"I go and take pictures, he said. "I work from pictures a lot because it's a bit difficult to go out and be there."

By using a collage of photographs, graphic design software, and acrylic paint, Mr. de Bias creates paintings that are vivid and edgy. Some of his paintings are influenced by Aboriginal art and religion, particularly his use of half-man, half-animal figures.

But he is careful not to tread that path too closely. "I'll keep to my own creative ideas," he said.

He studied art and graphic design at traditional art schools, but it was his time at the unconventional Epi-Centre School of Encouragement that provided the turning point.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he credits his art with enabling him to stay on his medication, out of the hospital, and away from cigarettes, alcohol, or recreational drugs for the last 12 years. Two hours of meditation each day also help keep him focused.

"I think meditation is really important," Mr. de Bias said. "I never miss it. My therapist is a fan of it. I'm one of his success stories, I suppose."

Currently, he is illustrating "The Blue Hairy Boy" and "The Legend of the Planet of Humopia," a story that he envisions as a potential computer game and film. He calls his stories post-modern adult fables.

Mr. de Bias says his stories are about facing fears, overcoming adversities, and in the end, finding redemption and freedom.

On his Web site, www.jamesdeblas.com, Mr. de Bias says he uses "narrative to give meaning to his paintings." An exhibition of his illustration for the story "The Golden Grasshopper" will start in October in Melbourne and then move to Sydney.

His gift, he says on the site, is that of imagination. "If you can imagine, you can be free," he writes.

BY DEEANNA FRANKLIN

Associate Editor

RELATED ARTICLE: The Artist's Reflections

I grew up in Tasmania, and I stayed there with my family until I was about 30. We had a checkered time. When I left home, things started to improve. When I started to do art, my family gained respect for me, and I get on with them all now. I don't have any sort of baggage with them anymore--nothing that I can't handle, anyway. I'm 45 now. I wasn't very productive during that time. I used to go into hospital every year for schizophrenia. Then I left everything behind and first I went to Nimbin.

There I met an Aboriginal man, and he later introduced me to a group of artists at the Byron Bay Epi-Centre. I've always written stories, and I wanted someone to illustrate them, and they just encouraged me to do a bit of art, and then gradually, I did more and more. I moved in and stayed there for quite a few years. I worked mainly at night--that's how I got started. It was very hard at first.

I've always had a bent toward art. I went to art school at different colleges, but I couldn't stay. I was diagnosed in 1979, and until about 1984--the drugs, there were a lot of side effects with them. While they made it so I wasn't psychotic or ill enough to be in hospital, they didn't really take away the inner psychosis. It was in 1994 that

I got on to clozapine, and that was really good for me. I found I was able to formally study, and I did acting for a couple of years. I went on and illustrated all of the stories I had written. I've nearly finished my third book now. I haven't got a publisher for them yet, but I'm hoping to at some time.

I called the Epi-Centre the School of Encouragement. People would just voluntarily come along, like the sculptor and painter Roland Weight and [the painter] Bernard Moore. It was on the site of a whaling station to begin with, and then they built an abattoir there, and then some people who owned [the salt brand] Saxa Salt bought the place. One of those people was an art collector, and he let artists with very low incomes live on the site. He was a really good teacher, and he's still teaching community art. There were quite a few experienced artists there.

I stayed for 3 years because it was fun, and it gave me a sense of purpose. Until then I didn't really have a purpose. They helped me to feel that I was an artist. Also, I was a bit mad with the drugs. Before clozapine, I really was living in a psychotic world. At that time I was on pimozide, but I still had to deal with a lot of psychotic phenomena. But I just lived with it. It was normal for me. I didn't know anything else. It's a struggle. I've always had attention-deficit disorder, so I need to be very stimulated to work for periods of time to get focused.

At the Epi-Centre, we could do anything we wanted. We could do paintings of Old Masters or anything ... and Roland would help us to achieve it. He was a professional painter and sculptor, and sort of a teacher. All of the teachers I'd come across before him couldn't tell you how to do things. They were a bit vague. They weren't really able to teach. He was the first guy that could actually teach you how to achieve things and give you an actual understanding of what was behind it all. And he understood a lot about the Old Masters and their techniques. He was very clever.

After that, I went to Lismore. Clozapine had just become available in Australia, so I went down to Sydney, because you couldn't get it anywhere else. Then I went back to the Epi-Centre. I was interested in comedy, and there was a lot of theater going on at the Epi-Centre. It was a theatrical place, because we all just behaved like that. It was very much of the arts. I wanted to be a comedian. The English actor, Derren Nesbit, moved to the area and started teaching acting. I got into his course, and it was really good. At the time, I was on a disability pension to support myself. I also worked as a cleaner.

I've seen a psychiatrist from that time on. I've been seeing him ever since. He's really good, because he has always allowed me to adjust my medication and to decide what I wanted to do as far as medication is concerned. It's been over 20 years now for me. You do get to understand your body and the drugs and what they do. I'm taking Zyprexa and Solian now. They work fine. I've got a bit of a skin problem, but that's about all. I'm also taking an antidepressant. For years I had suicidal depression. It would come and go, but since I've been on an antidepressant, I don't get that at all.

I get up fairly late. After meditation, I'll usually do whatever I need to do during the day, and in the evening, I'll get into painting. Where I have my television in the lounge room is where I have my paintings. I'll be looking at the television and looking at my painting, and going back and forth. When I'm actually on a painting, it gives me a lot of stimulation when I look at it, and if you don't work on it for a day, it stops talking to you. You have to do a bit every day to keep it talking to you, you know. It takes about a month on average to do one painting.

I come up with the stories for my books as I go along. When I'm painting I also use a computer. I used to do collages. I used to make a collage and use that as a basis to do a painting. Usually, I have to find a design that really turns me on, and that keeps it happening through the whole process of the painting. Now I do Photoshop collages, and that's how I work out my paintings. I like to keep it open as I go, so it's a living, creative thing all the way through to the end.

I've exhibited in Barcelona at the Sala Barna Art Gallery. I sent some work there. I'd love to be exhibiting in America, but it all costs money, and I just haven't got any. But VSA [VSA Arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington] is having a transformation exhibition, and I've submitted five paintings.

I've sold a lot of grasshopper paintings. They're very popular. I've got people who want the "Hairy Boy" ones. I've sold one of those and the dinosaur ones. I've sold one of the Humopia paintings--the eagle-headed man. That was very popular. I'm starting to get a public profile this year. It's all starting for me now. It's all starting to happen.

As told to Deeanna Franklin by James de Blas.
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Title Annotation:diagnosis, care and treatment
Author:Franklin, Deeanna
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1562
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