In the past few years City Arts have mounted seven exhibitions at the University of Nottingham’s Institute of Mental Health. The latest, ‘A Journey: Loneliness, Hope & Resilience’, is another challenging and moving exploration of art produced by people living with, or affected by, mental illness.

This year, for the first time, we selected pieces from an artist working outside of the UK: Susan Spangenberg, a painter, writer and actor who lives and works in New York. Her work offers a unique perspective on mental health services and systems that are quite different to our own. To celebrate this we asked Susan some questions about her practice and her inspirations:

Shower On The Psych Ward 12 x 16 mixed media on canvas 2015 by Susan Spangenberg

Shower On The Psych Ward, 2015 – Susan Spangenberg

What motivates you to create art?

I often feel a compulsion to create to get rid of a burning emotion or thought in my mind. When I do not act on my creative impulses, I feel worse. Having an artistic outlet has always kept me sane and safe. Some work is more thought out than others. There is a conscious awareness of the work I choose to do. There is also the unconscious motivation to create, that I do not see sometimes at all, but rather reflect on afterwards or someone may bring it to my attention later on. I always find the unconscious more interesting believing very much in these forces and how unaware we are of most of what we do.

Are there particular themes that run through your work?

My themes are mental health, race, incarceration, animal rights, police brutality, women’s rights, personal iconic heroes and my personal struggle in life.

Are there any particular artists that inspire you?

Yoko Ono, Munch, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Gentileschi, Klimt, Schiele, Brunthaeler, Rauschenberg, Bolek Greczynski, and so many others.

Why did you submit work for this particular exhibition in the UK?

I submitted because I wanted to expand showing my work outside of NYC and The United States. On a personal note, I am passionate about being an advocate for mental health and sharing my experiences with others, creating a dialogue for change and lessening the stigma of ‘mental illness’. I am a psychiatric survivor in The U.S. where the system failed me and harmed me.

‘A Journey: Loneliness, Hope & Resilience’, runs until 23 September 2016 at Nottingham’s Institute of Mental Health.

Main image: Patient Area Keep Gate Locked, 2011, by Susan Spangenberg