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From homeless to headlining

Julian St. John's long journey through mental illness led him to art, and now to a showing in Laguna.

March 28, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Julian St. John, an artist who has struggled with mental illness, sits among his most notable work that will be showcased at a one-night show at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art.
Julian St. John, an artist who has struggled with mental… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Julian St. John's portrait "Crucifix Dreamz" looks lonely and haunted, not unlike the circumstances that created it.

The image, mostly in blue pen, features a bearded man with ringed, blood-shot eyes staring almost vacantly at the viewer. Over his white face, from the forehead down to the left cheek, are words that form a miniature poem: "Pain is my love shun'd by the herd like a bird sent down from above."

Across the nose is etched an affirmation: "I stay lookin up."

St. John, who will display 17 pieces Friday at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, drew "Crucifix Dreamz" in a park bathroom in Canoga Park, where he lived several months ago. It wasn't a case of homelessness due to poverty; St. John is the son of a champion boxer and an Emmy-winning actor.

Instead, the artist, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic at age 18, left home voluntarily and lived an itinerant life for more than a year. Sometimes, his family tracked him down, housed him temporarily or set him up in hotels; other times, they had no idea where to find him. But with St. John committed to his medication now and his one-man show set to open, he considers himself on an upswing.

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Not that he's about to crow just yet.

"I just showed it to my mom and she hooked it up," the 23-year-old said outside the gallery earlier this month, when asked how he went from being a transient to a headliner in Laguna Beach in just a few months.

Even though he's a star of sorts at LGOCA, St. John seems blase about the attention lavished on him. When the doors open Friday, though, he may have some high-profile attention. Among those who plan to attend are his mother, boxer Mia St. John; his father, Kristoff St. John, of "The Young and the Restless" fame; and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, who has partnered with Mia to push for a bill improving mental health care in schools.

Napolitano, who joined forces with Mia three years ago, said she has only met Julian once but considers him an inspiration for her cause.

"To be a noteworthy and talented artist is kind of a role-model situation for others," she said.

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Forging a crooked path

Growing up in Calabasas as the son of an actor and a boxer, Julian seemed destined for art and sports. He got there, but not by taking the paths his parents had chosen.

With his father a daytime soap fixture, the St. Johns' oldest child had a rare connection to the entertainment industry. His father, though, was keen on dissuading him from an acting career.

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