Mental Ideas sat down with artist Shawn Coss to discuss his often controversial artistic depiction of mental disorders, which have raised awareness of mental illness globally.
Philippe Joly: You seem to live and breathe art.
Shawn Coss: I always breathe art, but yeah, I have my hands in a lot of different baskets. I occasionally do nursing at an ER in my city, as well as run a clothing brand called Any Means Necessary. I’ve been doing both those gigs for the past 10 years on top of my art career.
PJ: What inspired you to speak up about mental illness through art?
SC: Initially, it was suggested by a fan back in 2016 when I was searching for topics beyond just the standard inktober prompts. I have a lot of fascination with the brain, and mental health. Once I started on the series, it became a pivotal point in my own realization of the mental health struggles I’ve battled with my whole life. It took this long for me to come to terms with it. Since then, I’ve become more aware of my own issues, along with those around me.
PJ: Where do you get your inspiration from?
SC: We all have people and things that are inspiring, but defining inspiration is like defining the shape of water. It’s something that happens and I really have no answer. My brain just thinks in a certain way. It forms images with ideas.
PJ: Is there anyone who influenced you to make artworks based on mental illnesses in the beginning of your journey?
SC: Surprisingly no. Art is my passion. When I was first starting out, my influences were all you could see. I hadn’t found my voice yet, or the style that so many of us search for. When diving into the inktober series, I set a goal of creating a simpler style to focus more on the mental illness, rather than creating an elaborate piece of art for the message to get lost in.
PJ: Where do you find information on mental illnesses that you are unfamiliar with? Are there any people you’ve interviewed to get their side of the story?
SC: I use a lot of reference books in the medical field, as well as case studies from government health websites. I do have an art therapist friend who helped furnish me with facts on some of the more obscure disorders to help me find the right design.
PJ: Is there any specific piece that stands out to you on an emotional level?
SC: Honestly? Not really. When I create, I tend to zone out and detach on some level. I’ve grown up very separate from my emotions because I was brought up in an environment where boys weren’t supposed to show weakness or anything besides strength.
PJ: You have received some hate at times. How did you react to the abuse directed at you after your artwork gained the world’s attention?
SC: In the beginning, I reacted poorly. With my own attacks and insults. Because I wasn’t looking past the words from those who took issue with my work to see what they were really saying. Now I understand my art won’t always nail everyone’s symptoms. I try to explain that I would never have the ego to think I could take something so complex as mental health and be able to capture every detail of every symptom. Each of us who struggle with mental health issues share some similarities, as well as different symptoms.
PJ: Is there any specific category of mental illnesses that you focus on?
SC: Not really. I keep open to the more commonly known ones and the most obscure.
PJ: What’s next for Shawn Coss. Any projects, new ideas, books?
SC: There’s always work to be done. I’m constantly creating for books, games, myself, and the clothing brand.
PJ: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for Mental Ideas!
SC: My pleasure.