HARLINGEN — From the darkest of times emerge the brightest of times.
Such is the beauty of suffering when dark turns to light, and that’s what Mario Leal tries to communicate in his artwork.
So powerful is his visual message that his piece “Lost in Space” has been named a winner in the Texas Mental Health Creative Arts Contest.
“It was a self-portrait of sorts and highlighted some of the darker moments I’ve been through,” said Leal, art teacher at KEYS Academy.
The piece depicts man’s face overwhelmed by his extended hand, the pale blues and tragic darks with spinning white stars conveying the shattered vitality ripping through his mind.
“It was made during Spring 2019 during some very rough times, constantly waking up in a depressed state from high anxiety, stress and lack of sleep,” said Leal, 37. “At that point I had been divorced and a single father for about two years. The toll and stress of all that really put a lot of strain on my body and my mind.”
The father of two children, a son and a daughter, had just begun teaching at KEYS, which was a godsend for his many sorrows.
“It was very challenging some of the pressures we were going through,” he said. “Finding a job, getting that financial security to be able to take care of my kids, it brought a lot more positive outlook. That kind of gave me some outlet for it. I’ve always been an artist and I’ve tried to put myself into my art work as a form of therapy of sorts.”
He has transformed his struggles into empathy for his students at KEYS who have real challenges of their own.
“Whenever I talk to my students, I try to encourage them to create art with a purpose,” he said. “That’s usually what I do with mine.”
His numerous references to his students revealed a sincere love for them and their individual circumstances.
“I work with a lot of students that struggle with all kinds of difficulties at home in their own battles,” he said. “I kind of use my own struggles to encourage them, to tell them they are not alone in this. There are healthy ways to express and work through your troubles. I feel like it’s a blessing of sorts that I’ve gone through that and I’ve come out of something that a lot of people haven’t.”