September 8, 2016
The past year has been an incredible journey, but it has also been a personally challenging and difficult time. Training as a therapist means noticing and thinking about my own psychological defences, as well as thinking about clinical theory in relation to others. Being in my own personal therapy which can be uncomfortable and frustrating as well as helpful in the long run. Training and continuing my work at the hospital was exhausting, I was so tired that the summer break was about resting and healing. I hoped to do some making over the summer but truthfully I felt uninspired, I allowed myself this time. Speaking to a friend I said that I felt I needed to withdraw for a while. In the last few months I have moved house and changed job, but now things feel more settled I hope to start making again.
In the moving process I decided to let go of some of my old sketchbooks, many of them were full of memories of studying my first degree. All of the fun we had and the passion I felt for art. I realised however that in order to make something new, I needed to downsize my sketchbook collection. I felt that keeping all of them was like keeping older parts of myself, it was time to renew and let go. A scary but exciting thought.
I managed to fit the sketchbooks that I am keeping in this box.
I also went through the art work that I made in the experiential group as part of the course and photographed it. The group was important to me and helped me to think about difficult issues over the year.
Being an Island
War and Racism
Fluid Boundaries- Feeling Overwhelmed
Therapist Trying to Reach Their Client
Therapists Touching on Depression
Tiara of Qualified Therapist
Describe the concepts behind your art work, and how these have changed over the years
Art has always been the most important thing in my life, my passion for it reflected through my growing knowledge of art and artists, interest in contemporary art and also in my own artwork. My connection with art stems from a very young age; as a child I was always busy making collages, drawing and sewing. I have always searched for a deeper meaning through my artwork, and art has always been something that has driven me, giving me the greatest sense of fulfilment.
At it’s core, my art work has always been focused around both identity and consciousness; what it feels like to be ‘human’. This self-reflective and narrative style of working has helped me to understand the healing qualities that making art work brings. Through image making, I have come to realise that my art work has been a tool to help me better understand myself, and to enable me to come to terms with difficult feelings and events that have occurred throughout my life. My visual diaries that I kept for many years acted as form of personal therapy, an outlet.
This understanding lead me to my current role as an occupational therapy assistant, working alongside both occupational therapists and other therapeutic professionals. In my job, I explore creative potential with individuals, looking at how this can improve their mental health, and lead them also to a sense of self-awareness and unity. Later this year, I will be studying an Art Psychotherapy Masters course at Goldsmiths University in London. My current art work follows my own personal journey before training, and inevitably touches on the experiences of others that I encounter.
While my earlier work focused on the theme of portraiture, in both conventional and nonconventional depictions, my recent work is more abstract and heavily influenced by my work in mental health services. The connection between the two being a fascination of humanity and human experience. My interest in image making has not only helped me become an improved communicator, but also through my experiences understand how art is a central tool for human interaction and emotional expression.
Through my recent work, I have explored the nature of consciousness, as well as the altered states of mind people experience through illness, drugs, hallucinations and dreams. My art has allowed me to contemplate intense emotional states experienced through my work with psychiatric patients. While I have worked with patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric illnesses, I have also seen others afflicted by multiple traumas and losses. I feel that this is something that we all as humans can relate to, and I hope that my work can speak to people on a deeper level. Dreams, hallucinations, or the intricacies in our neurological processes are not concrete experiences, but abstract to us and difficult to share with others in any true sense.
I wondered if by sharing my interpretations, I could communicate ideas and experiences that would be more difficult to do so verbally. I side with the notion that each one of us are on a spectrum of mental health, and my understanding has only deepened through working. As a nature byproduct of my role’s close proximity to the patients, at times I have absorbed some of their unresolved and unprocessed material and feelings. Through this, getting in touch with something deep and sometimes disturbing can be quite alarming, perhaps dipping a metaphorical toe into another’s sense of reality. While I feel that my art has expressed my own thoughts and ideas on these complex subjects, only through others can I discover if the works can hold shared meanings, understanding and experience.
Although I strongly believe that my own artistic expression is a personal one, it would be hard to refute the influence, whether subconsciously or directly, of the patients on my expression. This would be through both transference and counter transference. When leading art classes for the patients on the wards, they share with me aspects of their inner worlds through the art, I then contemplate these interactions. I feel that much of this happens at an unconscious level.
How do you represent abstract experiences in the physical medium of painting and collage?
I began this body of work through the use of visual diaries. I found concertina sketchbooks an effective way to experiment with ideas, and give a sense of a journey. These sketchbooks have inspired larger art works on canvas and paper, the themes explored and expanded upon.
Primarily, I use my own experiences of dreams and hallucinations; particularly hypnopompic hallucinations and the stages that I experience before drifting to sleep. The flashing images and surreal content does not make sense on waking, but in this state one is more aware of the subconscious and its processes. Not only is collage a medium that I have used for many years, I feel it is also a way to work impulsively and automatically, linking well to the subconscious. Through making these works, I quickly identify images that I find both appealing and disturbing. The process of the art making is also one of working from within, often adding layers without knowing where the image is going. By trusting an ‘inner sense’, the spontaneity of splashing and dripping paint feels intuitive. With an idea of a greater theme, such as dreams or psychosis, the process of the art is in a state of flow.
As well as using images in collage, I have also been using words, exploring the use of language and its fragmentation. Moreover, with such experiences words can become an irrelevant way of recording. I have used different colour combinations and layering as a way to suggest confusion, euphoria and dreamlike experiences in psychosis and other altered and extreme emotional states. The multiplicity of colours and layers are also an attempt to reflect our state of flux and continuous change in experience.
Through further research into neurology and visiting the Wellcome Collection, I became heavily influenced by Neurological photographs and CT scans. In my work, the scientific imagery links the abstract and physical aspects of being. Recent research in attachment theory and neurology has underlined the physical impact that mental illnesses and trauma have on the brain. I was both intrigued and inspired by the beautiful and intricate patterns of neurones and cells. Many of the circular formations of my works are inspired by these shapes. Circles in a broader sense are repeated throughout nature, and have a quality of wholeness and of sense of self. Many of my works feature mandalas, an archetype present in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, circular patterns symbolising a balance in the universe.
Recently, I’ve drawn inspiration from mixed media artist Chris Ofili. I’m attracted to his innovative use of collage and creation of new imagery. I hope to explore some of his mixed media techniques further, such as the use of polyester resin and other unconventional art materials. His experimental use of colour and sense of freedom has gripped me since the first time I saw it in person at the Tate Modern. I feel that through studying his work I have learnt a great deal.
Chris Ofili, Third Eye Vision, 1999
Oil, acrylic, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen
April 4, 2015
I began these drawings a few weeks ago, beginning with wet paper and adding inks to make feathery and spidery effects (later adding watercolour). I was inspired after visiting the Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden exhibition at the Tate Modern; her amazing ink drawings pinned together on the gallery wall. As I had recently been working in ink, I appreciated her fluid use of this diverse and unpredictable material. I found the image below from the exhibition on the Guardian website. The concept for my own drawings is the idea of transference; the projection of intense and difficult emotions, an experience which can be unavoidable when working in mental health. I imagined these images, and used colour combinations to show intense emotional states. The faces are dreamlike and not unlike masks, symbolising the metaphorical façades that others give us; projecting unconscious feelings and past unresolved relationships. I have also been working on concertina sketchbooks, enjoying the long and flowing format that can be stretched out or folded away in a swift movement. The images below show sketchbooks using inks and watercolours, as well as collage and acrylic paint. I began the watercolour sketchbook by working in pencil, drawing from postcards of brain tissue, neurones and CT brain scans, mixing these with my own patterns. The acrylic and collage sketchbook continues the idea of surreal dream imagery; both sketchbooks work as visual mind landscapes.
January 30, 2015
Working on the same theme, I used a postcard from the Wellcome collection to inspire some ink drawings on wet paper. The postcard showed a section of a plastinated slice of a human body that can be seen as part of the permanent collection in London. I considered all of the naturally occurring patterns and shapes in this image, this also helped me to develop some new layers in my paintings. When looking at medical specimens and diagrams in both the human body and other parts of nature, I find that certain aspects appear to be intrinsically linked. This imagery has helped me to symbolise aspects the mind, neurones, and mental health in my work, and the differing experiences of consciousness in us. I like the idea of using some of these drawings for screen printing later on.
This textile piece was originally two of my acrylic mixed media collage paintings, I had added layer after layer but it just didn’t seem to work. I decided to strip the canvas from the frames then use voil, net and other fabrics to add more depth to the work. I have used the same reoccurring circular shapes that relate to mandalas, cells and neurological processes. The collaged images are surreal and dreamlike, as the piece is a continuation of my work looking at psychosis and dream experiences. I have used collaged letters that do not read or spell anything out, this is to create a sense of confusion.
September 16, 2014
Recently I have been working on some large canvases using acrylic paint, collaged paper, PVA glue, glitter glue, ink and oil pastels. I decided to use some of my sketchbook work as inspiration to move onto these larger scale pieces. I wasn’t sure how it would work on a larger scale, the general appearance of the works is quite abstract but as you look closer you can see the layers of collage under the glue, ink and paint. I used circle shapes as I have been interested in mandalas for a while now, and these shapes have often appeared in my smaller collages. (A Mandala circle is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the Universe and cosmos, but can also be a symbol of self). I wanted the content of the collages to appear bizarre and confusing to the viewer, to give an insight into the surreality, distress or even euphoria that someone experiencing psychosis may feel. This theme is a continuation of one of my sketchbooks which focuses on my experiences of working on a psychiatric ward with acutely unwell and distressed patients. I have included images that show the progress of these pieces and the gradual building up of layers. I apologise for the quality of these images, I will be uploading some better pictures when these are finished.
July 25, 2014
Hello all….it has been a year since I last posted on this blog, so I have decided to get back into blogging and to write about my recent work and experiences. I have got onto the MA Art Psychotherapy Course at Goldsmiths University (which I hope to start next year), and have been enjoying making art work with both patients with dementia and patients with psychiatric illnesses in my most recent jobs. These jobs have been so rewarding, but at the same time can be draining and challenging. At times I have felt so unmotivated to make art work, as I really give my all to the people that I work with. I know that art is my central focus, but for many others this is not the case . Some people don’t get anything from it, but others can discover art for the first time and find it deeply therapeutic. This to me is amazing, it makes it all worthwhile.
I have known since the age of 6 that art was what I wanted to do with my life, I remember feeling so excited when we did art classes- and wishing that we could paint all of the time. Art therapy appeals so much to me because I can combine this passion with my interest in people and the human condition.
Since moving down south my art work has changed, as I have no studio to work in, sketchbooks have been both an accommodating and exciting way to record my experiences and feelings of working with troubled and unwell people. Some of the work focused on my obsession of death and mortality and the existential dilemma that we all face as human beings. I used collage and words to give a flavour of the language and confusion of working on a psychiatric ward, and also explored difficult feelings that come through bereavement and sudden trauma. The art work has helped me to clarify and understand my own feelings, I am hoping to develop these ideas and to have an exhibition some time in the future. These images are from my sketchbook that focuses on the cycle of life and death and issues of mortality.
Some people ask why I don’t just make art work and sell it, but this just doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I think it all comes down to the question of ‘why’ we make art work, and what we get from it. The series of portraits that I was working on last year just sort of came to a stand still, my temporary studio in my old flat was packed away and my working rhythm was disrupted. This is life I guess, and I feel that sometimes time away from art can be just as important as the art making itself. Now I am unsure about what sort of painting I want to do, I just know that my sketchbook and collage work feels instant and communicates how I feel very well.
When working with an art therapist in my current job, the emphasis in the art therapy group is not on us and our art work, but on the patients. We must be one hundred percent present in the moment for them, in this group I doodle as the patients use the space to think about how they are feeling, and what they think about the ward environment and the difficult journeys that they have taken to be in hospital. My doodles are non representative, but are expressive on a deeper level in that they reflect and the group environment and also reflect on vibes or feelings that can be transferred by other group members. An experiential course that I attended this year introduced me to the theories behind art therapy, and also allowed me to reflect on my own difficult life experiences through art making. A different aspect involved was that we discussed and analysed our images together, and that the work was made in a safe group environment. We were given themes like ‘a difficult relationship’ and ‘a reflection of the day’, through interpreting these themes we made them relevant to ourselves and spent time deeply reflecting while making the art work.
As well as gaining experience towards my career in art therapy, I have finally finished my album cover commission for Claire Boswell. It’s really exciting to see my visual work reaching a larger audience, it has been a pleasure to creatively collaborate and to realise this image using both of our visions and ideas.
July 10, 2013
In preparation for my new website I have been looking through old sketchbooks and scanning in pages of my old and new works. My most recent collages involve a mixture of magazine images and chopped painted paper. After reading more about Jung, I have also started experimenting by drawing and making mandala collages.