David Sandum is the author of the new book I'll Run Till the Sun Goes Down: A Memoir about Depression and Discovering Art. An artist, he founded the annual Twitter Art Exhibit. He grew up in Sweden, has lived in the United States, and now lives in Moss, Norway.
Q: Why did you decide to write a memoir, and how difficult was it to relive some of the experiences you describe in the book?
A: I was driven to write by my need to process what was happening to me, explain to loved ones and friends what I felt and experienced, and, not the least, to get things out of my system.
When people are in pain, they must have some kind of outlet. Many turn to destructive behaviors, like alcohol and drugs. I turned to art and writing.
It was traumatic for me to write about some parts of my book—for example, my mother’s death from cancer when I was 13, my suicidal thoughts, the side effects of medications, and my childhood encounter with a pedophile. I often cried—I still do—when reading some chapters.
As I write, I don’t necessarily think I’m talking to other people—it feels like I’m talking to myself. I just allow others in on the conversation. I still often forget that people know so much about me and my family.
Q: Throughout the book, you describe how your thoughts of various artists—including Vincent van Gogh—inspired you to persevere, even in the worst of your depression. How did these artists inspire you?
A: For as long as I can remember, I’ve appreciated art. When I was growing up, my mother often took us children to art museums. She instilled in us a desire to value “the free, simple things in life” that so many people walk by in a hurry.
I was always able to reflect and see the beauty in art. But it was not until I fell ill with depression that it truly spoke to me in ways that words could not. Artists like Munch, Van Gogh, Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani, Gauguin, and many others gave me something I longed for: empathy. The confusion, pain, and longing I experienced were evident in their work.
I could also relate to the lives of these artists. Many struggled, felt misunderstood, and wanted to express to the world how they loved and suffered. They were authentic, with the courage to speak out. When the Impressionists were rejected by the French Salon, they formed their own exhibit, calling it Salon des Refusés.
For me, it was cathartic to fight back against the system that had broken me. My paintings, like The Law of the Jungle and Depression Prayer, are examples of this.
I am not a revolutionary per se, but I wanted to stand up to those who told me to forget about the past and move on. Life is more complex than that. I wanted to express what I felt without being opposed in conversation.
Expressing emotions through painting is a critical part of my work. I studied the Expressionists and the Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) movement, as well as reading Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1909), and quickly understood the power of color.
The difference between a warm yellow and a cold yellow is vast. A greenish tint in cold yellow, as Munch so brilliantly used in faces, expresses illness and unrest. I also use complimentary colors and the power of symbolism to strengthen the emotional content of my art.
Q: How do art and writing fit together for you?
A: They fulfill different needs. Both art and writing are expressive, but art leaves much to the imagination (though some pieces, like Munch’s Scream, are utterly straightforward). Writing can be more direct, brutal, and honest.
Without saying a word, my art can convey much more about my dreams, longings, and needs. Many people comment that my work is seldom dark and depressing, although I may feel that way inside. But did Van Gogh use black solely? Being able to express the full range of my emotions on canvas has been a godsend.
Q: How did you select the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
A: For a long time the title of the book was “Caught Between Two Worlds.” This clearly described my feelings of being trapped between the world of depression and the real world. I was in no-man’s-land, stuck in a very dark and lonely place.
After eight years of writing and rewriting the book, I inserted a scene near the end—the last page, in fact—in which I tell my wife, “I’ll run till the sun goes down.” It stuck as a title for the book, and “Caught Between Two Worlds” became the title for a chapter. P.S. I think I’m still running.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on various art projects, several upcoming exhibits, and my charity project Twitter Art Exhibit, a social media initiative that enlists artists from around the world to submit a postcard-size sample of their work to help raise funds for local charities.
At the end of March, I travel to New York City to open the exhibit at Trygve Lie Gallery in Manhattan. This will be the sixth TAE, and I am very proud of how it’s grown. This year, over 800 artists from more than 35 countries have registered.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my second book, which will be a continuation of the first memoir. I had planned to begin writing it after Christmas, but my wife fell ill with breast cancer in October, so this has been put on hold. Yes, life continues to be a battle.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Be kind to those who suffer. I am amazed at the number of people I have heard from since I published the book who suffer from mental illness or have a family member or friend who do.
If people are severely ill, please get them help. Listen to them and refrain from giving quick advice. We never know when or how depression can strike—and it can happen to anyone.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb