When I first asked Tyler Mahoney is she would let me paint her, I didn't expect the level of openness she would give me regarding her bipolar journey. Yes, she discusses her diagnosis and key challenges and successes of her daily life in her podcast "Let's Unpack That", however she was kind enough to allow me to ask her pretty much anything I wanted, and was honest and forthcoming in her responses, all with a level of grace and insight beyond her years.
As we sat over lunch one afternoon in Kalgoorlie, she gave me an understanding of the way her "brain works" - although I am not going to say here that I know what she's describing as I have never lived with bipolar; I can attempt to empathise and acknowledge at the same time that I will never truly understand, as I am not Tyler. Hence the birth of the metaphor that is this painting.
Tyler elaborates about manic episodes describing everything as heightened, colours, euphoric emotions, movement, and everything moves at a crazy pace; fast thoughts, fast ideas, fast decisions (with a total lack of comprehending any risk). In my feeble attempt to make sense, I likened this to feeding those pond fish (I think they are Koi) when they are frenzied from the food. Her response: "That's exactly it". In her manic episodes, Tyler also describes feeling invincible, every idea is a winner, she is destined for fame, fortune and greatness and nothing can stop her (even herself). In many cultures, fish symbolise the unconscious higher self, as well as wealth, creativity and rebirth. Tyler attributes some of her business ideas and successes to bipolar mania, albeit at the expense of her overall mental and physical health.
Below her in the portrait is dark water, seemingly reaching up ready to engulf her into bleak depression. Under dark water there is a total lack of stimulus, very opposite to the experiences described above. Tyler was very clear in the fact that she "doesn't feel like I'm drowning", but the water cloaks her in a dark cocoon, where nothing is nothing. Just nothing. This depression is a weight which keeps her in the dark.
Despite all this, in fact quite possibly because of it, Tyler is an intelligent ideologist who is on a mission to not change the world, but change the way we think about it. She cares about the big issues and is not afraid to shout her opinions to the world, as well as call out those who demonstrate injustice or harm. If I have done nothing more than to help raise awareness of positive mental health and the ability for those experiencing challenges to be successful, formidable and influential, then hopefully this portrait is a success. Like Tyler "the Ascendant".
Thank you to Chuck Thomas of Remote Digital Imagery fo the amazing reference photo, and to Tyler Mahoney. You can find her podcast "Let's Unpack That" anywhere you find podcasts, watch her on Discovery Channel's Gold Rush and Aussie Gold Hunters, or check out The Prospector's Club where she shares her family's prospecting knowledge, experience and advice with members.
Scroll down for a glimpse of the creation process for 'The Ascendant'.