Our medicated lives, on exhibit

'Grandma's Pills' by John Ilg
'Grandma's Pills' by John Ilg.
Courtesy of Instinct Art Gallery

A new art exhibition at a Nicollet Mall gallery explores the prevalence of prescription drugs in people's lives, and how they can work miracles and wreak havoc.

To illustrate the widespread presence of drugs in daily life, John Schuerman, director of Instinct Art Gallery put together "The Meds I'm On," a show that explores both the burdens and blessings of medicated life.

The piece "Not Getting Better" features 11 syringes filled with hundred-dollar bills. Another artist created a mobile using all the prescription pills her mother refused to take. A photographer documented the five years it took for her doctors to find the right cocktail of medications to make her migraines bearable.

Schuerman likes to put together art exhibitions that are socially relevant and topical, so it is perhaps fitting that he drew inspiration from his walks on downtown Minneapolis streets.

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"I overheard someone say, 'The Meds I'm On,' and then I was gone and didn't hear the rest of the sentence," Schuerman said. "But I knew instantly that I wanted to do that show."

According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of Americans take at least one prescription medication. That number has been increasing steadily over the past decade.

Schuerman said nearly everyone is affected.

"A lot of us are dealing with aging parents, a lot of us are taking a fair bit of medications ourselves," he said. "We go to a party and wonder what everybody else might be on that's completely legitimate but still influencing the situation."

One of the artists in the show, a painter who goes by the name Sammy thrashLife has worked on a canvas in front of the Instinct Art Gallery. Sporting a shock of blond hair and an impish grin, thrashLife has a presence that verges on performance art. He lives out of a van with his girlfriend, touring the country selling his paintings in any gallery that will have him.

Artist Sammy thrashLife
Artist Sammy thrashLife has set up his easel outside Instinct Art Gallery in downtown Minneapolis for the duration of the show "The Meds I'm On."
Marianne Combs | MPR News

"I started painting while I was in in-patient treatment for the better part of two years for heroin addiction and borderline personality disorder," he said.

ThrashLife plans to paint in front of the gallery for the duration of the show, which runs through May 16. His paintings are brash and colorful, mixed with small-print streams of consciousness and topped with a larger, more snarky or witty comment to grab the eye.

The message of one paintings he is working, he said, is "I'm really getting sick of not being famous."

In a visit last summer to Minneapolis, thrashLife showed his work to Schuerman, who called him when assembling the artwork for "The Meds I'm On."

'Shamrock' by Inna Valin
'Shamrock' by Inna Valin
Courtesy of Instinct Art Gallery

"At the time I was only on psycho-stimulants," thrashLife said. "But since then I had a crisis and I had to go back on anti-psychotics and anti-depressants so I fit in now more than when I was invited!"

Through his art and medications, thrashLife has managed to make a decent life for himself that is far healthier and more stable than his heroin days.

For Schuerman, who plans to host panel discussions and video screenings, the exhibition has taken on more personal significance than he intended. Over the course of the past year he was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a stomach condition that he is treating with more than five medications.

"Collectively we have this uneasiness," he said. "I'm hoping that through experiencing this work, people talking about it become a bit more comfortable telling their own story, dealing with family members, that sort of thing."