I went to a private view last night, one which, unusually, was held in my home town. A ten minute walk was refreshing ('private view' usually means a car or train trip to London or further afield) and the little gallery, Ten Two, where I used to have a studio a few years ago, was filled with people and the smell of warm bready things and coffee. (I should mention the gallery has its own cafe, very cosy with very large sandwiches.)
The work was 'Identity', the NHS Open Art Show 2009, which is touring. It's art by people who have suffered or still are suffering from health difficulties, with an apparent emphasis on mental health problems, whether currently in treatment or not. Some people had never made art before, some were postgraduate creatives, but the art was linked by an urge to communicate, express, explore, or deal with something personal and important.
Take 'Painting Mum' by Jan Welch. This is the one that had me standing in the corner in my unsubtle canary yellow rain mac trying not to show the reddening eyeballs. (I apologise that the iPhotos here are further affected by the glass reflections) Terribly moving in its simplicity, Jan had painted her Mum in a simple and realistic way, through three 'screens' of colour - pink for the positive outlook she retained throughout her life, grey for the Alzheimer's which eventually claimed her memory (but not her spirit) and yellow for the fear she felt 'most of the time'. In addition to this, the artist had painted over the photographs of the woman's three children, because the Alzheimer's eventually meant she forgot who they were.
Jack Shotbolt's 'Threadbare' is an ordered but frantic weaving of thick paint, a deep mesh of luminous colours and powerful strokes. This is a close-up. Of it, Jack says: 'In recent times I have repeatedly found myself in turbulent circumstances beyond my control that have rocked my world. The only constant has been my need to make sense of all this change by making paintings'.
This one I didn't record the artist for - sorry - but the position of the figure says it all. And the light. And the face...
This one I wanted to buy - but it was sadly the only one marked 'NFS': 'Covered ID' by Lou Woods (ID as in identity, or 'id' as in Freud?)
These delicate bowls called 'Change' and 'Gone' were made by Maggi Gamble after her mastectomy; tiny and fragile, they really needed no further explanation:
There were many others worthy of mention. Mat Brandford's 'The Gift And The Curse' was his first ever piece of artwork - a brave move then, to show such a thing in public - after 20 years of struggling to know 'which face to wear in which circumstances and with which people'. He had a past which included 'bullets' and a 'Teflon-coated' career in crime, and his brutally honest drawing shows his continuing struggle between the two 'faces'. I wish there was somewhere else online you could see all these - as there were plenty more I'd like to have mentioned.
This wasn't artwork shown for its awards, slickness, or clever concepts. To be presented with such raw and honest expressions was humbling and a little moving, and made me happy for the artists (to have such an outlet) and sad that they had cause to work in this way, though the resulting work was often beautiful. Some actually saw their mental / health problems as a gift, and chose to celebrate the different-ness it gives them. But mostly, it made me appreciate how lucky I am never to have been affected by such issues, and aware that one is always only ever a hair's breadth away from them.