Seward resident takes top prize in international art contest

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Gary “Juara” Clements has been making art since the second grade. His drawing board and supplies are always with him, he said. He has taught the subject in a Minneapolis school and “carried art into every job I’ve ever had,” said Clements, a longtime South Minneapolis resident who has lived in Seward for more than two years. He has exhibited in local galleries, and he has applied in the past for — but never had work accepted into — the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute’s Annual International Art Show for Artists with Disabilities.

In 2008 — the 45th year of the art show’s existence — Clements was not only accepted, he won. His piece, along with nearly 200 of the 350 pieces accepted into the show, will be on display through May 18 on the second floor of the Sister Kenny Building of Abbott Northwestern Hospital, 800 E. 28th St. About a quarter of the works are sold each year, and 75 percent of the proceeds go directly to the artist, according to the Sister Kenny website.

The “best of show” honor comes with a $500 prize and a well-earned sense of accomplishment for Clements. In talking to him, one realizes that it his distinction as a lifelong artist — and not his particular disabilities, which include depression and bipolar disorder — that stands in the forefront.

Clements works out of his studio apartment — “No pun!” he said of his home and workspace, which gets “quite cozy sometimes,” he said, “with supplies and whatnot” — and he also works with Spectrum Artworks, the visual arts program of Spectrum Community Mental Health, a nonprofit organization in South Minneapolis that provides studio space, services and community to artists with mental illness. The organization puts the art, not the illness, first, said Amy Rice, director of Spectrum’s visual arts program.

Rice said she is “really, really proud” of Clements, but she’s not surprised he won. “The piece he did is absolutely beautiful,” said Rice. Spectrum has helped its members submit work to the Sister Kenny show for about eight years, she said.
His winning piece, Sunday go to Meetin’, is a memorial to a favorite uncle who “passed of age four years ago,” Clements said. “He was the family member who … was really missed when he wasn’t around, but when he came around, he stirred up so much energy that it was sometimes hard to handle him. But he was loved by all; he was a favorite, particularly of kids. He was very cynical and whatnot, but I really found his character to be special,” Clements said.

Clements described his art and process. He manipulates, through reprint and coloring, old photographs of family members from the past and earlier generations, he explained, then transfers the images onto fabric, incorporating them into quilting.

Clements makes art not only to memorialize others, but for himself, as well. It’s grounding, he said, and it helps him deal with his condition. “I use art as a kind of control, if you will. It helps me reduce my anxiety, and it also kind of keeps me from dropping to an unsafe level of depression.”

Ultimately, Clements described art as an extension of himself. “My father tried to teach me art for the time that he was in my life,” he said. “From that point on, it has been like an appendage to me.”

Clements spoke highly of the exhibit and the other artists in the show. “If you have never been to one of Sister Kenny’s exhibits, you’re really missing something,” he said. “For me, these other artists that competed and applied, I tell you, [their work is] equally as great as mine. I’m really honored to be there, period, with the same people,” he said.

The gallery is free and open to the public, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.
Living Beyond Poster Project:The Portrait Show
May 2–June 27
Inspire Galleries
Hennepin County Medical Center
Red Building, Level 2 (Skyway)
730 S. Eighth St.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and Spectrum Community Mental Health and Inspire Arts @ Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) are marking it with this exhibit of portraits, in a variety of mediums, by contemporary artists living with a mental illness. The works depict 20 famous and historic figures that are living or have lived with a mental illness.

Three of the portraits will be made into posters, sold and distributed to schools, hospitals, businesses, and other public venues “in order to raise awareness that mental illness is a treatable disease, that people living with a mental illness are capable of great achievements and success,” states a press release from Spectrum. “It is our hope that … knowing that these great historic figures lived with a mental illness will decrease the stigma associated with mental illness.”