Archive for the 'Art' Category

Raving and Melancholy Madness on tour

Last week we said ‘au revoir’ to our two well-known statues, Raving and Melancholy Madness.  They have gone on their travels first to Frankfurt and then on to Ghent, before rejoining us back at Bethlem next Autumn ready for the opening of our new museum.  We wish them a safe journey and look forward to having them back with us soon!

Statues on the move     Statue on crates

Statue outside     Statues on truck


In the Frame for October 2013

As the new Community Engagement Officer here at Bethlem, writing my first In the Frame post seems like a somewhat daunting task.  I’m lucky enough to have had some previous experience of the collections here but, with around 1,000 artworks to choose from, there is still so much more to uncover and explore.

I first came across the pottery of Bibi Herrera in 2008 while curating an exhibition at the Museum of Croydon.  Bibi’s pots come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, all with colourful and eye-catching designs.  I particularly like ‘Electric’ as the vibrant lines and colours to me seem to signify life, growth and positivity.  In many of Bibi’s works, you can see the influences of her time studying Chilean Indian art in Santiago at the age of 16.  Reflecting on this experience, Bibi speaks of how this reminds her of the importance of colour in life and how everything is not always black and white.

Electric, Bibi Herrera

Electric, Bibi Herrera

The beauty of Bibi’s art speaks for itself, but the journey she took to become a ceramicist, for me, makes her work even more powerful.  While studying in Santiago, Bibi became a member of the Young Communist Party and a supporter of the left-wing President, Salvador Allende.  On 11 September 1973, her life was overturned by a military coup, which resulted in the establishment of Augustus Pinochet as President of Chile.  On the morning of the coup, Bibi was arrested at her father’s printing works.  She was detained for three and a half years, during which time she was interrogated, tortured and raped.

In 1977 Bibi was released into the hands of the UN and came to England as a political refugee.  Initially she had no-one to talk to about her experiences and could find no outlet for her distress, which led to her first suicide attempt in 1979.  She was treated at Bethlem for a short period of time, but tried to commit suicide again in 1993.  This time she was offered the chance to talk to a psychologist about her experiences and pottery was suggeted as a form of occupational therapy.  However, the failed suicide attempt had led to Bibi losing the use of her left hand and left her frustrated with the fact she was still alive.  It wasn’t until one day when she chanced upon the sight of another patient working the clay with one hand – while smoking a cigarette in the other – that she felt encouraged to try pottery for herself.

Pottery is still Bibi’s lifeline today and she now uses her experiences to help others.

Hospital Snapshots 10

Observable evidence was thought to be crucial in documenting changes and determining recovery so drawings and later photographs could be valuable tools. The case of Eliza Ash provides a good example of the type of noticeable change that might suggest progress. There are three drawings of her, made when she was a patient at Bethlem in the 1840s suffering from mania, with brief comments added by Alexander Morison. (see previous month)

Eliza Ash pic. 1

Though some details are similar, she does not look at the artist in any of the drawings for example, some change in Eliza is visible. On her admission she was said to be ‘violent and mischievous, with incoherence of speech’ and the first drawing was made when she was in this state. We have a clear view of her face; her head held at a slight angle so that she is looking down and off to the side. Her mouth is closed but her lips are not pressed together to denote any tension. Her oval face looks longer due to the cropped hair which sits close to her head, well off her forehead, cut round her ears so that both are visible. The overall impression is perhaps of someone lost in their own thoughts.

It is not clear if Eliza is standing or sitting but she has her arms raised and clasped loosely at chest height. Much of her dress is visible but, as is typical with the drawings, it is merely sketched in. It has a high scooped neck unadorned with any type of collar, quite a full skirt and full sleeves which are narrowed to a cuff at her wrist.

Eliza Ash pic. 2

In the second, Eliza is seen in a three-quarters profile. She appears at some distance from us. Her face is rounded and well filled out though the chin is quite defined. Both eyes are visible. She has short styled hair that partially covers the ear. Some, at the rear, appears to be longer or to have come loose and is trailing down her neck. Her mouth is closed. She appears open and relaxed, almost as if she is inwardly smiling, though perhaps at something only she is privy to.

Eliza is wearing a loose fitting dress, not much more than the scooped neckline visible. The impression is of someone sitting rather than standing, perhaps with her hands in her lap. Her posture betrays some tension, the shoulders a little hunched.

Eliza Ash, pic. 3

In the final picture, Eliza appears to be nearer to us, we see her more clearly. The three quarter profile is sharper; on the right only the eye lid and lashes are visible. Everything about the image is more defined; the face has lost some of its roundness, the eyes wider and clearer, the nose more shapely. Once again, the mouth is closed. Her hair, though similar to the first picture, is slightly shorter, revealing the whole ear. It is styled more elegantly, the line perfect.

Eliza’s dress appears more fitted, darts at the front are hinted at. It is trimmed with a narrow white band at the neck. Her body language gives her more of a dynamic air and the impression is one of someone standing with arms at their sides or perhaps loosely clasped in front. This final picture lends her more personality than the first, though arguably she conforms to the nineteenth century ideal of female normality. Everything in it seems to be pushing us towards the conclusion that we only have to look at her to see that she is convalescent.

UPDATE: If you want to help us to bring our photography collection into the 21st century then help us win the chance to work with acclaimed photographer, Rankin by voting here:  We want to use this as a chance to show that you cannot tell if someone has a mental health issue by their appearance.

Flight of Ideas: New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery opens 2 October

Next week, an exciting new exhibition to celebrate world mental health day will open at the Bethlem Gallery.  Flight of Ideas will start on 2 October, and continue until 25 October 2013.

Flight of Ideas is an exhibition of postcards made by artists staying and working in hospitals across Europe.  This exhibition is an international collaboration between innovative arts practice, studio spaces and galleries based within psychiatric healthcare in Croatia, France, Italy and the UK.  All four organisations are unique within their own countries.  Flight of Ideas celebrates their shared ideals framing them within the context of each nation’s system of mental health care.  These differing institutions all facilitate creative activity as part of the recovery process during a person’s time in hospital and support professional development of these artists beyond the hospital setting.

At the heart of the exhibition are the artists themselves. Their extraordinary talent will be presented within the size of a postcard but is broad and varied in the range of style, media and technique employed.  Artists working within the hospital environments range from having formal arts training to the self-taught. Their work shows, better than any document, their identity as artists and their right to lay claim to that status.

The World As Was Before, by Anon

The World As Was Before, by Anon (The Azienda USL di Reggio Emilia, Italy)

In the Frame for September 2013

In the Frame goes on holiday once again, as our Education Officer takes a trip to Edinburgh. She writes:

I have to confess to not being a particular fan of Richard Dadd, to not really ‘getting it’, but I have always liked his portrait of Alexander Morison, visiting physician to Bethlem Hospital where Dadd was a patient following the murder of his father. Seeing the picture for the first time in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in a room where it was surrounded by very traditional portraits of the great and the good, was transformative. Dadd’s painting looked startlingly modern and vibrant; the flashes of red, warm yellows and lush greens providing a foil for the starker figure of Morison himself, upright in contrast to the twisted trees, the surface less polished, lending more energy and immediacy. It appeared, perhaps helped also by its more modest scale, more human and less pompous than some of its neighbours.

Dadd depicts the Morison family house at Newhaven, with the Firth of Forth gleaming dully behind it, low hills beyond, open grass and trees in front. There is much to take our eye: the stately progress of the ships on the right, the red-tiled roof of the small building to the left and the animated fishwives in their traditional costumes on the strand, looking not quite to scale.

It is Morison himself though who draws our attention, standing just to the right of centre. He holds his top hat in one hand and could almost be gesturing to the viewer. In his other hand he holds a white cloth, a handkerchief and a book. He is formally dressed as we might expect of someone of his status; the white cravat fixed with a pin bright against the black of the rest of his clothing. His open coat reveals the waistcoat and adds a sense of movement to an otherwise static figure; likewise the wispy white hair standing up around his head like a white halo. The face is that of a man nearing the end of a long career in a potentially difficult profession. It appears quite lined and worn but the eyes hold our gaze. It would be difficult to walk straight past.

Although, as his patient, Dadd would have seen Morison in person, the remainder of the scene relies on imagination and secondary sources. Family members provided information and sketches of the area around Newhaven and the fishwives themselves may have been inspired or copied from earlier photographs by Hill and Adamson.1 All the more remarkable then that this portrait should be so unified and so arresting.

[1] The painter David Hill and the engineer Robert Adamson set up Scotland’s first photographic studio in 1843. 2623

Art Everywhere: Richard Dadd on the tube

Last week, a hot and sweaty tube journey to the South Kensington museums was much improved by an unexpected sighting of Richard Dadd halfway up the escalators! Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke (painted by the artist while at Bethlem) is held in the collection at the Tate Britain, and is one of 57 masterpieces decorating billboards and bus stops around the UK. Described as a ‘Very Very Big Art Show’, Art Everywhere has seen 22,000 poster sites transformed into a country-wide exhibition for two weeks over the summer.

Have your journeys to work been improved by the art on display in unexpected locations? What artworks have you particularly enjoyed seeing? And which would you like to see? Art Everywhere runs until 25 August, so if you haven’t spotted any artworks yet keep your eyes peeled! There’s also a map of poster sites on the Art Everywhere website. We’re certainly hoping at least some of the billboard owners will be slow to take the images down!

Richard Dadd - The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke

Ordinary Moments – Cynthia Pell Exhibition at Bethlem Gallery

A new exhibition dedicated to artist Cynthia Pell opens at the Bethlem Gallery this month. From 28 August to 20 September, Pell’s thought-provoking depictions of the world around her will be on display in the Bethlem Gallery in the show Ordinary Moments. On display will be works made during Pell’s time at Camberwell Art College, in the French countryside in the 1950s, and drawings made whilst she was residing in Bexley Hospital in the 1970s. Regardless of subject matter, Cynthia’s evocative work depicts an intense emotional view of the world, her experiences and other people.

Cynthia Pell (later Weldon) was born in March 1933 and spent her early life in Finchley, brought up with her elder sister Barbara by their nanny and parents. At boarding school, Cynthia showed a great aptitude for art, which led to her enrolment first at Bournemouth Art College, and then Camberwell Art College in London. In 1957, she had a solo exhibition at the Beaux Art Gallery in London and afterwards, on the pavement outside, set fire to work that had not been sold. The artist’s mental health began to decline in the late 1950s, and she was admitted to St Bernard’s Hospital in Southall 1961. She subsequently spent 10 years in and out of hospital, suffering with bipolar disorder.

Cynthia was admitted to Bexley Hospital in May 1973 during a manic phase, and there met art therapist Britta von Zweigbergk. Britta encouraged Cynthia to visit the art studio at Bexley, and brought materials to Cynthia in her ward so that she could continue to make a record of everything she saw – from fellow patients to nurses and the view from the ward’s windows. Cynthia gave many of these drawings and paintings to Britta, who recently donated a number of the works included in the exhibition to Bethlem Archives and Museum.

Opening 28th August, 3 – 6pm

Exhibition continues: 29th August – 20th September

Wednesday – Friday, 11am – 6pm

Gallery and museum also open Saturday 7th September, 11-5pm.

 photo LDBTH787-PortraitofMichael1974b_zps85a73146.jpg

Portrait of Michael (1974)