By Daniel Arimborgo

Throughout the ages, many artists have been viewed as being mentally ill: Monet was chastised for not using black paint; Van Gogh was so enamored of a woman that he cut of his ear and mailed it to her; Dali dabbled in lunatic landscapes; Picasso went through a period where he would only paint using blue; Toulouse-Lautrec was a pedophile and a drunk.

Their ideas have been called absurd, but over time their genius, regardless of any mental instability, has proven to be a source of wonder

Today, a great collection of art made by mentally ill artists is on display at the Queens Museum of Art in the exhibit, “In the Flow: Artists from The Living Museum,” on view through July 7.

The exhibit comprises a collection of art created by talented artists at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in their Living Museum art studio.

Begun in 1983 by the late Polish artist Bolek Greczynski and Creedmoor psychologist and Living Museum director Janos Marton, Creedmoor’s 40,0000-square-foot Living Museum studio and gallery is the first in the United States to establish a collection of art by its patients.

“Flow” refers to a desired state of mental concentration artists get into when at their most creative – call it creative bliss. Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock are just two well-known artists who attained this desirable “zone” while realizing their creative potential.

“Mental illness and art are a natural combination,” Marton said. “People who have a mental illness are extremely blessed with artistic creativity.”

“Use your vulnerabilities as a weapon,” Greczynski used to advise patients.

This has become the Living Museum’s motto.

More than 500 Creedmoor patients have participated in the program since its inception. An 80-minute video of an HBO documentary on the Living Museum plays continuously on QMA’s second floor.

An artist know only as Joe (1907-1992) was one of the first at the living museum. He spent most of his adult life at Creedmoor, and discovered art late in life. His untitled ball-point pen and watercolors on paper include writings about his institutional life.

Another artist, identified only as Lenny, created “Bags,” cardboard luggage that he constructed for actual use. The plaque also says Lenny gets all his materials from the street.

One of the most striking collections comes from formally trained artist Issa Ibrahim. A musician, poet and writer, Ibrahim has worked in many mediums. The 37-year-old Jamaica, Queens, native’s interest in the politics of race, pop culture and mental illness, round out his range of subject matter.

Of the 10 paintings of Ibrahim’s on exhibit, five – some of his most recent creations made this year – are a series of pairs of faces, one black, one white, with near opposite emotive expressions, similar to the two-faced comedy/tragedy image associated with the theater. They are decidedly iconic figures themselves, lacking any hair on their heads, and with no other part of the body visible. Ibrahim gave these paintings clinical textbook psychologically-termed titles: “Schitzophreniform Disorder,” “Substance-Induced Psychosis,” “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” “Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified,” and “Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type.” Indeed, one gets the feeling he may have gotten his inspiration from perusing a text.

Ibrahim’s other, thought-provoking collection is a series of paintings depicting contemporary figures and characters from the 20th century. “Superman on the Rocks,” shows the hero sitting in front of his TV on an easy chair with five-o’clock shadow. With a cigarette in his mouth, a TV remote in one hand, and a beer in the other, he slouches in his chair, his navel exposed. Just a relaxing evening after a hard days work, or is he morose about something? It's hard to tell, but study his almost sullen face and remember the title.

“Autopsy of the Damned” gives a chilling image of a corpse shortly after the start of its autopsy, its chest cut open. Where its heart should be, there is only a red void.” Follow the Leader” is fun to interpret. Modeled after the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover, the painting shows Adolph Hitler, Malcolm X and Elvis Presley all following Jesus Christ across the now-famous crosswalk. The painting seems to say that all three needed to find Jesus.

“Oh, My!” shows “The Wizard of Oz”’s Dorothy Gail in a revealing scene. Sitting on a fence, her skirt hiked up, she is surrounded and leered at by her clearly lecherous male companions.

Sabita Neron’s Marilyn Monroe series are sketches of the tragic actress brought to life along with other diva types using charcoal and brilliant pastels. There are hints of personal pain and sadness in some of the superb portraits of Monroe.

John Tursi, who uses the pseudonym “Dirty Tursi” utilizes a French curve template to make hundreds of seemingly simple one-dimensional acrylic figures laid out on endless lengths of canvas. With protruding tongues, the characters, which resemble court jesters, display various degrees of erotic behavior. Tursi’s work covers an entire large wall in the museum. Claiming his goal is to cover every copulative configuration possible, one wonders if he's ever heard of the Kama Sutra.

James Correa’s paintings are uncomplicated, one-dimensional images seemingly from a child’s perspective, depicting fishing excursions, and small fish being chased by bigger fish. The bright colors and shapes conjure up feelings of happiness and excitement.

Graffiti artist James Kusel’s work is painted on the side of the museum’s ramp linking the first and second floors. With the defiantly fat signature “insane,” his work fluidly manipulates color and space. The words in his art are phrases and quotes from his favorite pop music. Ones like “Not Fade Away” and “Maybe I'm Amazed” are two which seem to reflect on his life.

Helen Sadowski’s chalk on paper series “Lines, Lines, Lines (1998)” are meticulous arrangements of adjacently organized colored lines making rainbow patterns, on a black background. The work was inspired by the years of Zen Buddhism she has studied.

The Living Museum’s artwork on exhibit at QMA is just a small sample of the collection at Creedmoor itself, Valerie Smith, QMA's director of exhibitions said, adding Creedmoor welcomes visiting art lovers to their Living Museum. “I think it's really well worth going there,” she added.

“The place is huge. They’ve got lots of great stuff. It’s really a working museum, that’s why they call it the Living Museum, because it’s not just for art that’s already been done and [hanging] on walls – it’s in progress.”

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