Roger Dolin on the Art of Recovery

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Roger Dolin is a Los Angeles-based artist who spent the past three months leading our teen clients in a Mural Project at the Phoenix House Academy of Los Angeles.

Phoenix House: How did you start working on mural projects?

Roger Dolin: I got into art and painting in high school, and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. Now I work with Create Now, an organization that pairs up artists with at-risk youth to do collaborative art projects.  Create Now’s founder, Jill Gurr, has dedicated her career to this groundbreaking work, and I feel very fortunate that she trusts me to make these positive experiences for kids.  I’ve worked with kids on artwork in public parks, at schools where they don’t have art programs, places like that. I was excited about the opportunity to work with kids who are in treatment for substance abuse, because I knew this would be a great outlet for them.

PH: How did you kick off the creative process with this particular mural?

RD: I sat down with the kids and I said, “This is your mural, you can say what you want to with it, so what do you want to say?” Right away, they had so many ideas. I was really impressed by their passion and by how they were truly invested in the treatment program in their own recovery, even at such a young age.

PH: Where did the metamorphosis/butterfly imagery come from?

RD: Our first idea was to do something with the image of the phoenix, but that wasn’t necessarily going to jive with Phoenix House’s brand and logo. So then one kid came up with the metamorphosis theme. It was amazing because his face really lit up when he suggested it; he started explaining the idea in very visual terms, and everybody liked it.

PH: How did you foster a collaborative atmosphere on this project?

RD: Throughout the whole process I showed the kids the different steps of mural-making, but it was really them who guided the project and forged ahead as leaders. They mixed all the colors, over 70 different ones; it took us one whole night and day just to mix all the paint. I showed them how to blend and grid and all the different techniques to get a drawing up on the wall, but they’re the ones who did it.

PH: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the kids so far?

RD: They’ve loved the whole process. There’s a certain level of confidence that they have now, because they know they’ve achieved something substantial with this mural. We’d be there for a whole Saturday and people would constantly walk by and compliment the kids’ work—I never get tired of hearing that stuff, and I know the kids don’t either. They’re all very proud.

PH: What connections do you notice between creativity and recovery?

RD: I think both are things that these kids have in them already, things that can now be accessed more readily. I work with so many kids, and it’s such meaningful work to show them something I love to do and to pass that along to them. I’ve struggled with substance abuse all my life, so I can really relate to what these kids are going through. But I know that you can replace those addictive, destructive behaviors of your past with something positive, something you love to do. I went to therapy from about age 17 to 25 and that’s what really saved my life, big time, and helped me get a handle on things. And art is its own kind of counseling, it’s own kind of therapy. You won’t always have a therapist or a friend nearby to talk to, but you will always have yourself. And if you can channel your own thoughts and emotions into something creative that you can be proud of and feel good about, you’ll always have that to turn to, no matter what’s going on outside in your life. These kids know this now, and they’re taking the skills they’ve learned on this project, and they’ll use them throughout their lifelong recovery. As for me, I’m always amazed to see what kids are really capable of when we just give them a chance.

To view more photos of the mural project, please visit our Facebook album.

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