Haunting, visceral, vast. These are a few words that float up from the subconscious when viewing the work of Sarah Spiezio. You feel that you've trespassed somewhere intimate, and yet the artist shares these visions with us freely. In fact, she says a foundation of her work is "exploring the uncomfortable." As a neurodiversity-affirming therapist and someone who is multiply neurodivergent and chronically ill, she is uniquely qualified to help us meet ourselves.
Spiezio has been drawn to creating for as long as she can remember. Even though she never colored inside the lines of her coloring book, art was her candle in the darkness. She credits some of her early foundations to having the same art teacher for multiple years in school. This gave her the confidence needed to try out multiple mediums and methods. Later, attending Lesley University's holistic psychology program, she discovered the world of art therapy. Though she tells a very relatable story of her painting professor not understanding the way she painted, she also speaks of that season with excitement:
"At the time, my autism was undiagnosed, as well as my dissociative disorder, but I had just received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder the year prior to starting. I was just beginning to navigate into my own mental health for the first time. Because of this, moving into art therapy felt like a natural progression. Most of the undergraduate classes are focused on learning about mental health and exploring your own mental health experience. I was able to understand myself and my mental health in a way I never had before, and I documented the learning process through art along the way."
With all this learning, Sarah makes no claims of having it all figured out. She tells us about her struggles with imposter syndrome, the days when Ehlers Danlos makes it too painful to sit and engage, and "many nights applying paint onto the canvas as I’m falling in and out of sleep." She shares a very nuanced understanding of creative blocks with us, one that asks for gentleness and acceptance.
"I have found I have to first start with some internal processing before my creativity can be utilized. There are periods I go months blocked creatively. When this happens, it results in frustration and sadness because I can’t externalize the experience. But it's because I don’t know enough about it yet, I haven’t explored it enough internally. I can create from a place of chaos or overwhelming pain, but I need to approach it from the right angle to access a creative flow. In order to know how to approach it, I need to fully see and accept the situation for what it is."
Sarah gives the same kind-spirited advice to people who want to follow in her footsteps and use their work to process their pain. "You need to be ready to face what comes up when exploring or, at least, have tools to support yourself through that process." She suggests additional therapy if accessible, relying on your support network, and being an observer of the process instead of being swallowed up by reliving old experiences. Though it's not for the faint of heart, "Art as therapy is absolutely beneficial for integrating pain."
Sarah tells us, "The only goal I’ve ever had for my art is for it to be a conduit that connects me to others." At the writing of this article, she was doing just that, starting art classes with autistic community members. With the wisdom, kindness, and visual skill she brings, we know she'll get to be part of much more connection and healing. "Communication and connection are how we process through [the] discomfort. I want to normalize that experiencing such deep pain is part of being human, and it can be transformed into beautiful strength."
Embrace the beauty of art and kindness by following Sarah Spiezio on Instagram at @painted.hands.hippie.hearts.