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York County artist with bipolar disorder helps others with mental health issues

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Jimmy Purkey poses with his works "Ain Soph," foreground, and "What Are You Afraid Of," during a mental health forum at the York Jewish Community Center Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. The New Salem artist is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Purkey donated $300 from his most recent gallery show to the locally-based organization, Community for Holistic Integration, to contribute to its healing arts program. Bill Kalina photo

On days when Jimmy Purkey isn't feeling like himself, he likes to head over to his art studio, squeeze some brightly colored paint onto a palette and go to work on his latest piece.

Purkey, 42, of New Salem, painting primarily in the style "chaos abstract," as he put it, has made art an integral part of his life as a therapeutic pastime. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16. 

"When I get in moods I feel aren't good to be around people, I'll start painting and get it out on canvas or wood," Purkey said. "A lot of times it does work, it helps me break certain thought processes." 

Jimmy Purkey, co-founder of the UpCollective, sprays paint on a Pennsylvania Dutch distelfink at the Penn Street Art Bridge Block Party Saturday, July 29, 2017. The York Time Bank hosted the block party at North Penn and Smyser streets to kick off the Penn Street Art Bridge project. Bill Kalina photo

With a passion for art and helping others with mental health struggles, Purkey donated $300 from his most recent gallery show to Community for Holistic Integration, an organization that hosts events all over central Pennsylvania, including in York County, Gettysburg and Harrisburg.

CHI, as it is commonly known, is a grassroots organization aimed at bringing holistic wellness through connection, education and integration. Purkey's donation will go to help fund its healing arts program. 

Purkey's most recent gallery show, which generated the money, opened Jan. 4 at The Parliament, 116 E. King St., and lasted three weeks. 

The show, titled "How does this make you feel?" invited patrons to browse his art and write on a sticky note how a particular piece made them feel. Throughout the duration of the gallery show, those sticky notes accumulated for others to see.

Jimmy Purkey and Copper James, left, co-founders of the UpCollective art group, spray paints a Pennsylvania Dutch distelfink at the Penn Street Art Bridge Block Party Saturday, July 29, 2017. The York Time Bank hosted the block party at North Penn and Smyser streets to kick off the Penn Street Art Bridge project. Bill Kalina photo

To Purkey, hearing how his art has touched others is the most worthwhile part of being an artist.

"There are a lot of people fighting their inner demons, and they quell those fights through art. Knowing you're not alone is the best thing ever," he said. 

Purkey, who first began painting in 2006, also participated in theater throughout school and was part of a local post-hardcore punk band, Mismo.

He decided to try painting and hasn't gone back since. 

"It's solely mine. I create what I create on my own," Purkey said. "And I leave the product up to interpretation by everyone else." 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.