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Summer Solstice 2018

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January 23, 2018

Cleveland's Basquiat?

by Langston Wesley and Peggy Barnes Szpatura

In April 2012, Langston Wesley came to Hopewell. Valedictorian of his high school class in Chicago, he had been awarded a scholarship to Stanford University. Episodes of manic behavior escalated during his junior year, and he had to drop out. When he could not stop running through the subways of Chicago wearing a Batman mask, “fighting crime,” he was hospitalized for 31 days. It was then his mother learned about Hopewell.

Langston says, “My mom helped me a lot through traumatic experiences. I’m glad she found Hopewell for me. First thing I remember about coming to Hopewell was the grounds. I thought that space could help me free my mind and my spirit.”

First admitted to Hopewell in April 2012 with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Langston did well and remained at Hopewell until September 2013. He was readmitted in June 2015, this time with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. He transitioned to independent living in September 2015.

Since then, Langston has lived independently in Cleveland, Ohio. He is working hard, preparing for the first major exhibition of his works as a professional artist. James Corcoran, owner of Corcoran Fine Arts, one of the region’s most prestigious galleries, says, “Langston is the first living Cleveland artist I have shown in 20 years. His work is particularly interesting and meritorious. I wanted to be the one to give him his break.”

By age four, Langston already was working in acrylics. By 4th grade, he was winning art contests. By high school, though, his interests were elsewhere. It was not until he came to Hopewell that his love of creating art was rekindled. When he walked into the Art Room, he felt “at home again.”

“At Hopewell, painting was a means for catharsis for me,” he remembers. He could devote as much time as he wanted to reconnect with and exploring his talent. After his time at Hopewell, he continued to paint, developing his technique and devoting himself ever more strongly to his work.

Like his favorite artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Langston Wesley’s pieces often contain autobiographical information along with text and images, codes, numbers, symbols, abstraction, historical references and reflections on current social, political, religious or cultural trends. Also like Basquiat’s works, they often resemble graffiti, fused with evocative images in beautiful colors. They depart from Basquiat in their compelling juxtapositions and personal expressions that are unique to Langston’s “catharsis.”

Langston was born in 1988. (That number appears in his paintings.) It was also in 1988 that Jean-Michel Basquiat died, at age 27. A Basquiat exhibition was on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art January through April 2017. By coincidence, an exhibition entitled “New Directions: Langston Wesley” opened a short distance away, from March through May at Corcoran Fine Arts. One of the pieces for sale in the exhibition was a multi-media collage that was created by Langston while at Hopewell.

When asked to comment on his stay at Hopewell, Langston responded:

"When I got to Hopewell, my life was in shambles. Almost five years later, I’m making headway, doing things I never thought I could do.

Mental illness is a very difficult circumstance. It is often misdiagnosed and almost always misunderstood. I have been hospitalized about a million times and given about a million prescribed medications. It makes you feel like a lab rat. Now I take only one medication, and I live on my own.

I want to tell people out there who are going through things with their mental health, and their loved ones, that there really is a way out. I had to advocate for myself and communicate about my problems. Ultimately, I became the greatest factor in eliminating my symptoms."

Hopewell helped Langston re-find the tools he needed to take control of his life and to pursue a fulfilling career. He shares his name with Langston Hughes (1902-1967), the great American poet, activist, novelist and playwright from Cleveland, who wrote, “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” At Hopewell, everyone is encouraged to believe in and work toward their highest potential.

(Of special note: James Corcoran has been a friend of Hopewell for many years. In fact, he has staged the silent auction for Summer Solstice! Corcoran Fine Arts is located at 12610 Larchmere Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44120, just off Shaker Square. Visit www.corcoranfinearts.com. A portion of the gallery’s proceeds from Langston's exhibition benefitted Hopewell.)

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