Hospital Mural Paintings

July 29, 2015

Last year I was asked by one of our acute ward managers to run our first Ward Mural Project. The sessions ran each Thursday morning with help from Ward staff, therapy staff and people that use our services. The project aimed to create a peaceful and relaxing environment through making a piece of art work that could be enjoyed by everyone on the ward. At the beginning of the project I met with the patients and asked them for ideas of what they would like to see in the mural, I used one of Edvard Munch’s landscapes ‘The Sun’ as inspiration and as a starting point, I drew the basic outline and several patients gave suggestions or helped to draw animals and plants into the landscape using oil pastels. I felt that this tranquil and hopeful image was very relevant to our project, as Norweigen artist Edvard Munch greatly suffered through his own episodes of mental illness.

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Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1911

It was agreed before beginning the project that the mural would have to be aesthetically pleasing and calming. As many patients are admitted to hospital with psychosis, any imagery that could have been deemed threatening or upsetting had to be considered and at times changed or edited through paint.

Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions, the combination of which can often severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotion and behaviour.

The project taking place in the ward environment meant that mental health patients who were on section, or who were too unwell to attend more structured therapies, were able to take part as much or as little as possible and at their own pace. Sometimes the painting allowed them to find some inner calm, or to distract themselves from difficulties, even for just a few minutes. There was something amazing about watching people embrace or discover their creativity, especially when they did not paint or draw in their everyday lives before the project. Many were able to get lost in painting, their imagery contributing to the overall picture. Service users commented that it was liberating to paint directly onto the wall, as this is something that would usually feel like a taboo.

As the weeks and months went by the mural progressed and changed, things were added and taken away and details were added. Staff and patients in and out of the ward saw the imagery evolving and enjoyed the transformation; while using the computer, or while watching others actively taking part in the mural.

Weeks on the project differed in the numbers of participants and difficulties that service users were experiencing in their everyday experience of mental health issues. Many who took part were worried that they were not ‘good enough at art’, with encouragement however, they were able to find something that they could contribute and commented that they enjoyed the experience of painting and being part of the project.DSCN0745DSCN0747

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The first mural was completed over 10 months between April and December 2014, since then we have started working on another mural in a shared therapy room. The new mural (in the image below) is progressing quickly as the space is easily accessible in art groups; I’m excited to see how the art grows and evolves.DSCN2004

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Here are some images of my mixed media work on the theme of psychosis, dreams and different states of consciousness. I have been working on these over the last few months, adding layers of paint, ink and collage as I go. After a difficult few months at work I have also began keeping a diary as a way to express how I feel,  and to record a steam of consciousness and throughts as they occur. This will hopefully inspire future works and maybe evoke more abstract responses that will help to express and contain the intense emotions that I sometimes hold as a result of counter-transference. When I get a new scanner I will be uploading my recent visual diaries and sketchbooks.

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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.

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