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An Online Exhibit by Meghan Clarkston ~ Part 1

Words and works by Meghan Clarkston

Clarkston is a visual artist, author, writer and mental health/eating disorder advocate. She owns and operates Abbatoir Lane Studios in Halifax.

First time I can recall creating art was when I was about 7 years-old; drawing children’s books in class at James Wood Elementary in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Perhaps I was a late bloomer...

I tend to explore art forms that intrigue me in a sense of the unknown. Recently I’ve adopted the art of pyrography as my main love. But in short I have four loves; pyrography, ink, water-colour and photography.

It’s always interesting for me when I read or hear about a fellow artist’s approach to the process of their work. Often I feel rather “broken” hearing how intense their steps are to the final piece, knowing that my methods are rather unconventional. My process really depends on the emotions of the moment. For me, that’s where the imagination or creative energy derives from; emotions. I often joke that I can’t create unless I am angry, which ironically isn’t a joke at all. Hand me a pencil and ask me to produce a quick doodle and I am lost. But, find me in a moment of mental unrest or stress, anxiety, or in the depths of depression and more often than not I will be racing to a sketchbook or canvas with my pen in hand.

The painting Arabian Seahorse came about in a state of an anxiety attack. Often when emotions become overwhelming I tend to seek sanctuary on the floor of the bathroom; neutral area where I can experience no outside stimuli and collect my wits. On one particular attack I was breathing heavily on the bathroom floor, counting down from 100 in my head ( I find it’s a good way to gain perspective, slow down, and pace my breathing ) while staring at the bathroom tile, when I saw patterns in the design and mumbled rather quietly “That’s an Arabian horse right there...”. Suddenly my mind shifted from anxiety to creation and I bolted from the washroom to my studio, sat down with my sketchbook and drew the design in a matter of minutes. So, my process relies heavily on my emotions, art being a method to control or shift that negative energy into something calming, productive, and at times rather beautiful.

When I am not engaging in my art, I am often working on my writing or mental health advocacy work. I am an arts editor for an online publication called Zouch Magazine; collections of poetry, literature, fiction, and the arts. In life we often stumble into opportunities of great wealth and happiness, and for me, stumbling into Zouch was one of them. Here I am connected with different variations of artists from around the globe who each have such an intensely original style to their creative process. It’s a selfish honor I tend to profess, being this person on the receiving end of submissions. 

Then I operate my blog Laughter Silvered Winged which is revolved around my own journey with my eating disorder and experience living out and proud as a mentally ill Canadian, as well as a platform to explore and share new advances in the world of eating disorder or mental health research. This is where I also document my life through my second passion, photography, and share the intimate details of my journey. I tend to see my photography as an extension of the blog, a means of continuously capturing images of the often mysterious life that is that of the unknown individual living with bulimia, and who has a history of self-mutilation. Both are two very prominent aspects of my life which do take up quite a bit of this “free time” we often talk about in our lives.

I often find the most challenging aspect of being an artist is finding the crowd where your work will be understood, or appreciated. The hardest questions I find needing to be answered by curious viewers is “What is it?” or “What does this mean?”, because more often than not I have no idea where the image came from; it just is. Having to explain my work is a melting pot of emotions at times because I at times am just as lost as the viewer, but I know looking at the art makes me feel complete. 

When I decided to create Disordered Control - photographic documentation of my bulimic rituals - I was in a point of my life where those closest to me knew about my bulimia, but didn’t understand what it was to have an eating disorder. It was one thing to talk to those on the outside about the rituals, but to have a stranger to my dark secret view it in words rather than a visual seemed counterproductive. At the time I was enrolled in an advanced photography course at NSCAD where we had a semester to explore our own directed body of work. Fate seemed to align in the moment and I jumped into the idea before fear or anxiety could overwhelm my senses and shut down the thought.

Creating the body of work was a journey in itself, coming to terms in a heavily predominant
student saturated city, that eating disorders were still a very extensively hidden problem. I learned that Halifax, at the time, had little to no resources in terms of information, advocacy, support groups or health care facilities catered to helping those afflicted with an ED. Suddenly the piece became a very powerful and publicized story with a wide reaching media grab, which, I won’t lie, was very overwhelming. Sharing my own rituals, right down to showing my body before a binge, during, and after a purge, was not a moment I regretted then, nor do I now. Using my body as a means to share the grotesque details that many people, both young and old, inflict onto their bodies as a means of coping or punishing was something I felt I had to do. While the risks were heavy allowing myself to actively sit through a controlled binge / purge phase for art were high, the reality was that this was a daily ritual of my life for over a decade, often conducted anywhere from 3 to 10 times a day. Art is a means to activate the viewer into a discussion, or to make the public talk; Disordered Control did just that regarding one of mental health’s most secretive and misunderstood disorders.  

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