By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
Your Subtitle text

Voice of a schizophrenic heard through art exhibit

Photo courtesy of Phil Taggart: Rick Taggart, above, inspired the poem "Rick Sings."

April 4 2008/Ventura County Star

A gentle, frail, schizophrenic man in his 50s is the main character of an exhibit that strives to raise awareness and build compassion for those living with mental illness.

"Rick Sings," a collection of photographs and poems that reflect the life of Ventura resident Rick Taggart, includes images of other people — many of them homeless — who are forces in his life.

"The photos are remarkable because they open a world to us, one that we don't ordinarily see; they are remarkable because their vision is direct, unsparing and kind," said Marsha de la O of Ventura, co-curator of "From the Margins," a coinciding exhibit at the Artists' Union Gallery.

Upstairs, "Rick Sings" showcases poems, photographs and video by Rick Taggart's brother, Phil. Downstairs, "From the Margins" examines marginalization and extreme states in which artists within the community responded to the theme in a variety of forms.

"This exhibit, too, is extremely moving," de la O said.

Together, both exhibits have a double impact.

"They are a reminder of the power of the artistic experience to speak to the deepest part of our being," de la O said. "The poems themselves are both minimalist and powerful, ordinary and extraordinary; these poems speak directly to the heart."

"Rick Sings" was written by Phil Taggart, 55, of Ventura, whose mentally ill brother showed up on his doorstep about 25 years ago, and has lived within a few blocks of him ever since.

"As a writer I wrote about him, first unconsciously, then consciously, pulling all the work together into The Rick Poems,'" Phil Taggart said. "I melded the poems with photography and also photographed the homeless as they are a part of Rick Taggart's everyday world and subsequently part of mine."

The exhibit features 20 of Phil Taggart's photographs, including some of Rick Taggart, some of homeless folks and a couple of abstractions.

"Most of the photography is matched with my poems that are actually a part of the picture," Phil Taggart said. "There's also a video interview I did with Rick."

As children, the boys grew up in the same room.

"He's one of the sweetest guys you'd ever meet," Phil Taggart said. "He's funny. He'd give you the shirt off his back. He's opened a world to me and made it intimately mine, a world that I probably would never have known."

Rick Taggart's symptoms started manifesting in high school. By the time he was 18, "he moved in with me in Northern California," Phil Taggart said.

After about year, Rick Taggart moved to San Francisco with their sister.

"She set him up in the mental health system at that point," Phil Taggart said. "He was there for a few years, but the city was very hard on him. By that time, I had moved to Ventura; Rick followed."

At first, Rick Taggart lived with his brother and his family, "but that didn't work out," Phil Taggart said. "Mostly over the years our relationship had to do with boundaries: what I could do and couldn't do — and what he could do and couldn't."

Over the next few years, "he went through many rooms and apartments as he was so unstable," Phil Taggart said. "He was often on the street. I would have to hospitalize (him) once or twice a year for many years.

"Although still severely disabled, he's more stable now and has lived in the same room for maybe five years."

Always a significant part of Phil Taggart's life, Rick Taggart, now 51, was appearing more and more in his brother's poems.

"At some point, I decided to bring him to the front and write about him and his world and adjusted my writing style to the content," Phil Taggart said.

John Nichols of Santa Paula, who printed most of the photographs in the exhibit, said the first stage in making any social change is building awareness.

"This exhibit personalizes the situation of the marginalized and homeless in our community and brings a human face to their condition," said Nichols, owner of John Nichols Gallery. "Right-thinking people see the exhibit and are moved to take action. The combination of poetry and photography in the hands of an artist like Phil Taggart brings a much-needed message to the community and makes a deep impression."

Because of Rick Taggart's schizophrenia, his voice is unknown to most people, Phil Taggart said.

"If you saw him on the street and it was on a day he could somewhat communicate, you would probably avoid eye contact and move quickly by him," Phil Taggart said. "This is Rick's voice, Rick's world through my eyes. Rick and people like Rick are human beings."

During the opening reception of "Rick Sings" on March 22, the exhibit hall was quiet as viewers moved from image to image reading.

"Some teared up, many reflected on the plight of the less fortunate among us, those disabled by mental illness or addiction," de la O said. "A dialogue began that was unusual for its frankness, its personal revelations, its openness. The exhibit moved us toward compassion."

Website Builder