“Lithium Signature” — The art of bipolar artist Adam Daley Wilson

Conceptual artist and painter Adam Daley Wilson talks about one of the realities that an artist with bipolar 1 faces with age: His oil paint lettering has a unique brushstroke due to chronic tremors in his hand arising from 22+ years of prescribed lithium to treat bipolar 1 — As he describes in this article, his bipolar 1 creates not just the ‘notions’ upon which he builds layers of meaning in his art — it also creates a unique tell-tale physical ‘lithium signature’ brushstroke.

This brief article starts to explore one artist’s relationship with a diagnosis with the mental illness of bipolar 1.

It’s crucial to make a distinction: What I do — what I make — is not about my experience with bipolar 1. Rather: What I do is informed — in part — by the bipolar. Along with my life experience, my liberal arts education, my law degree, everything else. Informed by. Not about.

As to the physical, that’s the “Lithium Signature.” In one sentence, all these years of prescribed lithium to treat the bipolar results — for almost everyone — in chronic worsening hand shaking until a plateau is reached. My hand shaking is not there yet. It’s progressively worse the past 10 years. I used to be able to paint letters one inch tall / small. Now there’s no way I can paint a letter less than three inches tall. But the shaking is starting to stabilize. Also, I have developed ways to stand when I paint. Ways to move the whole canvas to the best angle. Ways to hold my hand steady. Ways to modify my paintbrushes.

Another way of saying it: My hand oil paint lettering on my pieces has a unique brushstroke due to my chronic tremors in my hand arising from 22+ years of prescribed lithium to treat bipolar 1. So, the bipolar 1 creates not just the conceptual ‘notions’ upon which I build my layers of meaning in my art — it also creates a unique tell-tale physical ‘lithium signature’ brushstroke. You’ve got to look close on some of my pieces, but there it is.

Still, you will see a lithium signature, and it’s proof that I painted it. No one else is going to have the same shaking just like this. It’s a fingerprint.

So that’s the way that the diagnosis informs — or impacts — the physical.

Which leaves the conceptual — the framework for how the bipolar provides a unique something intangible.

I get visions. Not delusions. Visions. I see my art process and works as building towards larger layers — across works, over time. Levels of connectivity. Sometimes I get a glimpse and this is what I see:

— Yes, each piece is a stand-alone work — but each also comprises a larger conceptual work that will take years. I see cumulative layers of meaning — thousands of total layers resulting in new meanings, offering new interpretations by the curious — as the larger work takes shape, one individual work at a time, as long as I can go, these next 20 years.

— My art process — building layer upon layer, when multiplied by 50 to 100 pieces, will create a compilation of thousands of layers across works — mapping the observations of what is deemed an abnormal mind. A map of this now, as perceived by a disordered mind. A network of interpretations and connections put together by a mind that notices and connects in ways unlike most.

— Individual works coming together one way, then another, in temporary bonds — impermanent in their periodic mixing or curation — I think these will establish not just new layers of meanings but also new interpretations — alive and flexibly relevant in the next decades, and more — because for the curious they will offer connections, across subjects and times, to consider, in new contexts, what happened in this time.

So I see glimpses of a growing work, conceptual and physical, made of individual pieces of dispersed stand-alone artworks, with collectors acting in a kind of stewardship, with each piece bringing dozens of layers of meaning into the closing work. An intertwined, living network that survives even if one piece or many pieces are unavailable or disappear. A mapping of observations and imagination, 20 years long and 100 works wide. Layers of lines, all directions, about contemporary being — now — as perceived by a fundamentally differently-wired mind.

I hope this work that I get glimpses of, with its thousands of layers, may create useful and beautiful meanings. I hope the interpretations may be useful and beautiful too. And I hope they may both be taken as art created by artist, collector-stewards, and interpreters together.

A lot of this is fleeting. And a lot of this is growing. I am able to speed read about 1500 to 2000 pages of all kinds of material a week, give or take. And absent a deep depression, “notions” tend to spill out at a rate of 5 to 50 a day. So wherever things are now, what is being created now, is not going to be where things are next week, and certainly not next month or next year. Let’s see.

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