Mario Leal, an art teacher at KEYS Academy and STEM2 Preparatory Academy won third place in the 2021 Texas Mental Health Creative Arts Contest.
His winning piece, “Lost in Space” is a black, blue, and green colored self-portrait which he created using watercolor and ink.
“My art is a reflection of my own mental health struggles and the process of understanding and coping with the effects,” Leal said in his artist statement which he submitted along with his art. “I grew up with the stigma that struggling with depression, and admitting that, is a sign of weakness and therefore I kept most of those emotions bottled up. Over the past few years, I have been using it as a way to work through my thoughts and feelings and more recently educate others about the power of healing associated with creative process.”
The state-wide contest which had more than 700 entries included categories in visual arts and writing. Participants varied from elementary students to adults. The theme for this year’s contest was, “Why does Mental Health Matter to you?”
Inspired by this theme, Leal created two art pieces that he submitted to the competition.
“I introduced and encouraged all my students to participate,” Leal said. “However, the winter storm late this winter brought unexpected hardships.”
All submissions were presented to a panel of judges and evaluated on technical skill, creativity, relevance to theme, and the emotional power behind the piece.
The winners were officially announced on May 11.
“I am very honored to represent our district with regards to this extremely important topic,” Leal said. “I hope you can join me in showing support and bringing continued awareness to people of all ages. As educational opportunities continue to grow in the medical field in our region, I feel that we should also begin to develop programs that will expand options to bring in more mental health professionals. Younger generations need more options for support and understanding which will hopefully lead to stronger and healthier adult lives.”