Masochism, mental health and mixed media: find out how art therapy pulled Michael Katchan from the depths of depression

If you could paint a picture of your own mental state what would it look like? Having used art as a therapy for depression, Michael Katchan is no stranger to finding inspiration from the depths of his own mind.

The Townsville born, Europe-based artist creates bold, colourful pieces featuring contorted corpses and skulls. Now, having used art to come back from the brink of suicide, things are only on the up for this burgeoning young talent.

No More Kings
No More Kings

Mental illness has a long history with artists, and Michael Katchan is no exception. For this Aussie, art was his saving grace.

HAPPY: When did you first realise that you had a talent for art?

MICHAEL: I first realised I had a talent for art I’d say when I was in elementary school. I’d been drawing ever since my parents gave me crayons and markers, and my peers at school would always remark on another kid and myself as the two drawers of the class. It wasn’t until further on towards the end of my schooling, though, that I decided it was something I wanted to pursue anyway.

HAPPY: What are your main inspirations?

MICHAEL: For me, my main inspirations are predominantly interior ones – I am a very introspective person. I can only see through my eyes and my mind, so it’s a perfect hunting ground for creative inspiration. My true need to draw and express myself developed during my teens as a method of dealing with my severe depression, which in turn gave me all the subject matter and conceptual basis I needed.

Finding Myself

HAPPY: Do you think your struggle with mental health is reflected in your work?

MICHAEL: It’s reflected a far lot more in my earlier work than it is now. There are underlying currents of dying vestiges from what used to flow through me hourly, shown in small ways like the bent poses I still use with my figures, my continuous use of myself as the protagonist and antagonist in most of my work, and the harsh/jagged nature of my lines.

But If you were to dig back to work I used to post to communities like Deviantart, you’d find leagues of illustrations veritably consumed with imagery of masochism to the nth degree, blunt messages on the clothing of the suicidal portraits and specific limbs and organs being removed as signs of personal self-hatreds and deep-seeded issues. The art was my method for keeping myself from doing anything else, and it was a success.

Electric Skull
Electric Skull

HAPPY: Do you have a specific routine you follow when sitting down to create a new piece of artwork?

MICHAEL: Well years ago when I was knee-deep in my self-pitying, and comfortable obsession with depression, sure! Throw on some Tom Waits, Silverchair, et cetera, pull out the whiskey, get naked, dim the lights, punch the floor for a few minutes, maybe try summoning the three demons in my head and rant with them for a few moments and laugh to myself for a while.

Sometimes I’d just punch my sketch books and tear at the pages, throwing ink at them until I saw something I could use and then run with that. It was all very much a ritual obsession bordering on the insane, but I like to think it built character. Today though, I’ve made some alterations to that routine; a pot of fresh coffee, the music’s still there – but more likely to throw on some classical, or Mogwai or witch-house or something.


HAPPY: Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions?

MICHAEL: I’m currently teaching myself oil painting as it’s always felt like the next logical step for me, and something I’ve wanted to be proficient at. Once I feel confident, I will be completing a series of pieces dedicated to discussing my history with my three demons during my depression, and the road to mental stability through a very bleak, self-imposed depression. When they are complete, I would like to be exhibiting them.


HAPPY: You said you found your life partner and fellow artist Riana Moller after “a series of radically life altering realisations.” What were these?

MICHAEL: I met Riana 11 years ago now, online, through a small invite-only art community named Rasterized. I’d known of her for almost a year beforehand, however, and had seen and admired her work from afar on another community – Deviantart. We became very close friends but with me being in Denmark and her in Australia it couldn’t really go any further than that at the time. It was in late 2014 when it dawned on me that my current relationship was coming to a close, and the following year was wide open for me in many different ways. It was at this point, when I took into account as well that I had some savings on my side to play with that these realizations hit me:

  1. I was bored of life as it was, and things needed a change.
  2. Riana was alive and well, as was I, and I now had the money to go and see her and nothing to hold me back. I had made a promise to her years ago that I wouldn’t die before seeing her at least once. Here was my chance.
  3. I was currently living within my own self-styled end. I knew the outcomes of most things, my ambitions were all but lost, and I was living with cockroaches.
  4. Life doesn’t need to be a stagnant island of comfortable, decomposing compromise.
Cthulu doing a knee slide

HAPPY: What is your favourite medium to work with?

MICHAEL: I’ll go with oils as I have deeply romanticized them and adore what they can produce but I’ve worked with mixed media from lead filings to lipstick to masking tape to blood and other things, and as long as it stains a surface, I generally don’t mind it!

HAPPY: Do you have any favourite artists who have inspired you?

MICHAEL: Ashley Wood, Michelangelo, Raphael, Jamey Hewlett, my partner Riana, Greg Capullo, Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Trent Reznor.

HAPPY: What advice would you give to other budding artists?

MICHAEL: Rebel!  And I mean, actually rebel. The contemporary status quo suggests everything you do is a rebellion, but that argument has completely fallen over itself as everything is now, and forever will and can be ‘art’. Look within yourself and find something you legitimately want to say and how you want to say it – and fucking do it. Do what makes you happy, and make damn sure it’s something you personally an aesthetically enjoy. And never compare yourself to others, unless it is to say ‘yes, I am also an artist, like you, and I also have things I wish to say.