The creepy art of Shawn Coss might help you crawl out of depression

Are there certain pieces in the “Inktober Illness” series that you’ve connected to most?

Yes. When I created the ADHD, the generalized depression, and the bipolar disorder pieces, those ones hit close to home. I suppose that’s because I was drawing how I feel when I go into my manic mode — when I hit my lows.

I never really had an attachment to my work growing up. I just created what I thought was cool — you know, skulls, skeletons, all this deep, demonic stuff. I never had any emotional attachment to that work. But since I started this Inktober series in 2016, a lot of my artwork has been directed toward the human condition and emotions, like the feelings of loss and abandonment. The opposite of my work is saying, “You just need to stop feeling sad; stop feeling crazy.” Sometimes, it’s okay to say, “No, this what I feel, and that’s fine.”

In what ways do you hope these darker interpretations of mental health contribute to the conversation?

I’m not trying to intentionally shock anyone, but I’m also not painting a pretty picture of something that’s not always a pretty sight. When I’m in a manic mode, that shit is not pretty. I think why I connect to this art, and why my fans connect to this art, is because I’m not sugarcoating anything. I’m saying, “Yeah, this sucks, and I get it.”

For example, I’ve seen art representing mental health that’s, like, a cute little girl sitting down with a wilted flower in her hand. I personally have no attachment to that. But I was struck by a meme I saw that has this sort of crudely drawn creature, and there’s a blackness taking it over, and the creature is saying, “No, stop — I did everything right.” I looked at that, and in that image I saw depression.

The amazing part of being an artist is being able to create something that people are going to relate to. And it may have different meanings for different people. I think the variety of meanings someone can take from something is more important than someone saying, “This is what it is, and this is how you’re supposed to feel.”

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