"I know why the caged bird sings."

- Ryan Chacey

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Ryan Chacey (he/him/his)

Aurora, IL

Early on in my discovery of the arts I was able to find community. That helped me feel connected, not so alone-- but also gave me the drive to create.”

Ryan’s journey led him to the therapeutic benefits of art, which opened doors to a new future of healing. Born in Ottumwa, Iowa, Ryan grew up in the rich fields of the Midwest. As a young person, he often engaged in creative writing but struggled to find his path in life. Throughout his teens and twenties, he went in and out of mental health facilities, trying to find stability.

Ryan describes himself as “lost” during this time. For over ten years, he received assistance to meet his basic needs. He was unable to work as his mental health crisis was severe. He continued to search for help during this period of darkness. Later on, he was in a psychosocial rehab program where he was introduced to The Awakenings Project. It was a collective of artists in the Chicago area living with mental illness who used art as a form of therapy and path to move forward.

Through the Awakenings Project, Ryan found community and peace for the first time. He met other individuals who normalized his experiences and showed him he was far from being alone. Art provided him with a voice and direction for his future at a time when he didn’t know who he was. He shares, “[Awakenings] gave me the chance to express myself with various mediums and made available to me many resources, materials and eventually opportunities to show my art work.” He began to feel the benefits of creation as well as exhibiting his art. He goes on to say, “I find that sharing my art helps me share what peace and sanctuary I have experienced.”

Through his recovery – with the help of art and his own inner healing work – Ryan was able to obtain gainful employment and go back to college for his masters in social work. He eventually obtained his LCSW and became a therapist. In a truly full circle moment, Ryan is now able to give back to others who are in a similar position that he once was.

Ryan believes that his experiences and journey, both from a client and clinician’s perspective, have helped inform his creative direction. He shares, “I enjoy telling stories with my art work– and in my work I try to express hope and connection.” His goal is for each piece to tell a story or evoke an emotion, whether the story is fictional or real. Both are valuable and worthy to him.

Ryan’s work used to be dark, but through his recovery, it has become more light and free. One theme in his work is embracing brokenness and the idea of redemption. “I also try to express radically accepting the uncertainties and messiness of life – embracing the whole person”, he details. Ryan enjoys layering, using stencils, and taking his time on pieces.

His favorite materials are charcoal sticks, spray paint and acrylic paints. He loves the tactical experience of using his fingers and hands to create, feeling connected to the substrate. Sometimes he incorporates found objects into his work as well or paints on recycled book covers. When he’s ready to begin a new piece, he tidies his space and turns on the music. He typically creates in a "stream-of-consciousness" manner as the rhythms wash over him.

Ryan hopes that sharing his art continues to give him purpose, feel grounded, and provide others in similar situations with hope. He dreams of one day making large murals that stretch his capabilities while communicating grand ideas of hope and resilience. His most important accomplishment is his daughter, who he is so thankful for, along with her mother. When he’s not creating, Ryan enjoys volunteering at his daughter’s school, spending time with family, and running. He is passionate about equality, reducing poverty, and disability rights.

More Artwork by Ryan Chacey

OKAY ryan-chacey

Prints by Ryan Chacey (he/him/his)

Everything We Found After We Sung Loudly
Ryan Chacey
Flag #2
Ryan Chacey
Snowstorm in Spring
Ryan Chacey
Spring (New Beginnings/Old Friends)
Ryan Chacey

Originals by Ryan Chacey (he/him/his)

We Washed Our Hands
Ryan Chacey


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