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I am the sand and the sea

The painting is at once turbulent and calm, moving and still, smooth and textured. It is titled, “I am the sand and the sea” and it is very much a description of the artist’s life’s journey – at times turbulent, other times at peace. The creativity that has lain dormant within Clive Altman has been awoken by the opportunities that have come his way since he’s come to terms with the ebb and flow of life’s circumstances.

detail of Clive’s art piece titled “I am the sand and the sea”

Clive is one of 24 artists and poets participating in See and Hear: Art and Poetry for Mental Health, a unique exhibit presented by Communitas Supportive Care Society and showing at the Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford until June 27th.

Twelve artists were asked to create an art piece that expresses their journey with mental illness. Each artist was then paired with a poet who interpreted that art piece in words. All the artists and poets have lived experience with mental health challenges. Participating in this exhibit, seeing his work professionally installed in a beautiful gallery, gave Clive a real sense of pride.

Participating in this project gave me a goal to work on and achieve, something I haven’t been able to do for a long time due to my poor mental health. Creating beautiful objects gives me a sense of accomplishment. I can say ‘Yes, I created that.’ – Clive, artist

He is grateful that this creative expression can be a catalyst for a discussion around mental health. Clive says he’s realized that recovery is an un-ending process. Much like the ebb and flow of the sea, it is an experience of discovery, progress, setbacks and breakthroughs. He says that there are similarities to his journey with mental health and his experience of coming out.

“Both mental health and coming out have similar challenges for me,” he says. “Who do I tell? Who do I not tell? Should I disclose to employers? What will people think of me? How do I handle people who are mean or don’t understand?”

He is careful to point out that this is not a cause-and-effect relationship – coming out as gay did not cause his mental illness, rather his mental health is impacted by his life’s experiences.

One of the tools he uses to maintain his mental health is creative expression. In the past, he has sung in choirs. He’s been painting for less than a year and in the last six months he has also found a voice in stand-up comedy through Stand Up for Mental Health, a program that helps people turn their mental health experiences into stand-up comedy material.

“Neither art nor stand-up feel like diving into something new and foreign,” Clive says. “It’s more like revealing things that were already there, laying dormant until now.”

Clive says that having his painting on display at the Reach is validating

Clive finds the creative process to be deeply immersive, meditative and satisfying. It has allowed him to grow and improve his skills, and because the process is driven from his own ideas and direction, it is very motivating.

“It’s the best therapy and medication in the world!” he exclaims. “I get so focused on what I’m creating, my mental health challenges fade into the background. It’s a huge relief, even if it’s only for a while. The more time I spend on a creative project, the better I feel.”

Another source of encouragement for Clive is Centennial Place, a mental health clubhouse in Mission facilitated by Communitas. The clubhouse provides support to people who are striving towards mental wellness through a variety of programs. Clive has participated in their ongoing yoga and meditation classes, education opportunities, and their occasional art projects.

“Staff and members are very complimentary and encouraging,” he says. “It empowers me to continue growing and improving my creative skills. I receive validation for what I’m doing, something I’ve not received before.”

Clive is looking forward to talking about his art work at the upcoming See and Hear Artist Talk and Poetry Reading to be held June 20th at the Reach. He hopes that people in the community will attend this free event.

“I would love to have the public meet us and hear about our lives, our struggles and our accomplishments,” he says. “We want our art to open conversations around the stigma of our mental illness and around the stigma of parts of our lives that affect our mental health, like addictions, homelessness, gender, sexuality and more.”


The See and Hear Artist Talk and Poetry Reading happens Thursday, June 20th at 7 pm

at the Reach, 32388 Veterans Way in Abbotsford.

Admission is free, all are welcome.