Downtown: Concord artist debuts comic, Main Street installation quiet

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones talks about her comic "Emo Bunny" and the healing she has found through art. She hopes to publish her series and continue using art to start conversations about mental illness and bullying. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones shows off some of her fan art of Instagram celebrity cat The Dark Lord at her Concord home on July 9. Gitten-Jones is working on a comic series about mental illness and wants to use art as a way to start the conversation. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones's "Stages of Anxiety." Amaranthia Gittens-Jones—Courtesy

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones’s “Anxiety Looms, part 3” from her comic “Emo Bunny.” Courtesy of Amaranthia Gittens-Jones

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones's "Anxiety Looms, part 1" from her comic "Emo Bunny." Amaranthia Gittens-Jones—Courtesy

  • A reference sheet for the Anxiety Monster from Amaranthia Gittens-Jones's comic "Emo Bunny." Amaranthia Gittens-Jones—Courtesy

  • Amaranthia Gittens-Jones’s “Social Sensory Overload,” featuring her character Sarah from her comic “Emo Bunny.” Courtesy of Amaranthia Gittens-Jones

Monitor staff
Published: 7/21/2019 7:29:41 PM

The white bunny in the image is hunched and shaking, terrified of the predator looming above her.

Snarling, teeth bared, the monster has the upper hand until a fluffy white cat comes to the rescue, chasing the monster away – for now.

Amaranthia Gittens-Jones knows how the bunny feels. She and “Sarah” – an anthropomorphized rabbit who is the star of Gittens-Jones’s “Emo Bunny” comic series – live similar lives.

For instance, they both love alternative fashion and have experience as a model, and they are both people living with generalized anxiety disorder. At times, Sarah is so stymied by the “Anxiety Monster” – who changes form depending on the situation and the severity of the emotion – she’s unable to move or speak.

But through “Emo Bunny” and art in general, Gittens-Jones has learned how to exorcise her demons. She still deals with anxiety and depression, but the pens and paper that cover her desk at her Concord home have given her voice.

She hopes her drawings will help others too. Her work is currently featured on the website SquidInk Gallery, and she’s fundraising money for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America through her merchandise on teespring.com.

“I think it’s important for people to see that it’s scary having a mental illness, having an anxiety disorder,” she said, noting the comic was inspired after reading a story on more teenagers experiencing anxiety. “I want people to be able to understand that outside of people who are in the mental health community because otherwise, it’s not going to make the right impact.”

At 19, Gittens-Jones is cheerful and open about her art in person, showing off her original works that range from her personal projects to fanart for Instagram animal celebrities. She’s knowledgeable about Japanese mythology, manga and pop art themes that populate her work.

She’s also resolute that art will be her career. But there was a time when Gittens-Jones and her art were locked away in her heart.

Her influences reach back to her childhood. Born originally in Massachusetts, Gittens-Jones’s family spent a few years in Tokyo when she was little. In between participating in Japanese culture and school, Gittens-Jones had moments of modeling success.

One shoot at age 5 is particularly significant for Gittens-Jones. She modeled for Tezuka Productions, founded by Tezuka Osamu, a critically-acclaimed manga artist, cartoonist and animator perhaps best known for his “Astro Boy” series. At the time, she didn’t realize how close she was to such a well-known Japanese institution.

Her return to the United States at age 8, first to Connecticut and eventually to New Hampshire, was rough.

Gittens-Jones is African-American and Caribbean descent and her family practices Buddhism. In Japan, she was surrounded by children of expats who came from all over the world. She knew how to wear a kimono and flashed peace signs in photos.

In America, living in mostly white suburbs made her feel “alien,” she said. She was mocked for her interests and her mannerisms. Her family’s faith also made them stand out – many people tried to convince Gittens-Jones to go to a Christian church, she said.

When she got her first show – a gallery at Beaver Meadows Elementary School in fifth grade – people started engaging with her about her work. And Gittens-Jones found it wasn’t impossible to talk about.

Without realizing it, she had found a way to connect with others and herself.

“People started talking to me and I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually helping me,’ ” Gittens-Jones said. “I didn’t really know what art therapy was or anything, but I just knew this is making me feel better, this is helping me get back into the community a bit.”

With the encouragement of her family, Gittens-Jones started exploring art more. She received the Haley Rae Martin Scholarship, kimballjenkins.com/haley-rae-martin, from Kimball Jenkins Art School, where she took classes on human figure, watercolor, acrylic and illustration from ages 12 to 16.

By seventh-grade, the trauma from the reverse culture shock and the bullying caused her family to enroll her in online homeschooling. Symptoms of generalized anxiety didn’t help either, although Gittens-Jones wasn’t formally diagnosed until two years ago.

Since then, Gittens-Jones has received top recognition from the Scholastic Awards and TeenInk, and her work has been shown in the greater Concord area. She still isn’t a fan of talking on the phone, but she no longer trembles when talking to people.

“Emo Bunny” isn’t just Gittens-Jones’s story – it’s reclaiming all the things that made her different, or embarrassed.

“I guess I use ‘Emo Bunny’ as an outlet for not only those experiences (of dealing with anxiety) but just my interests that I was always kind of made fun of for or kind of ignored for because it was seen as weird, I guess,” Gittens-Jones said.

While she still pays homage to her influences – Tezuka and Jamie Hewlett, an English artist who created the comic book “Tank Girl” and the virtual band Gorillaz – she said her style has started to take its own distinct shape.

One day, she hopes “Emo Bunny” will hop out of computer screens and into the glossy pages of a real comic book.

Downtown vision

Speaking of art, the space above Pitchfork Records has been kinda dark recently.

It’s where Tom Devaney’s “The Eye” – literally, Devaney’s eyeball projected onto a 3-D canvas – used to spy on the Pleasant/Main Street intersection. Last year, it was replaced with “The Faces of Concord,” an art installation consisting of a human bust projected onto a 10-foot tall plaster cast in Devaney’s studio. An optical illusion makes it seem as though the person is watching passersby.

The installation hasn’t been running lately, but Devaney said it’s because he’s been out of town recently. Plus, he thinks Main Street has been quiet during the month of July, so there’s no point in operating the piece.

“It’s no big thing at this point,” he said.

But the artist is getting a little tired of “The Faces of Concord,” which he said isn’t generating as much buzz as “The Eye,” possibly because its field of vision isn’t as broad.

No changes are in the works at this point, however. “I’m going to give it a little more time, you know?” he said.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)



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