Art Works in Mental Health

Until 16 May at Waterhall Gallery of Modern Art,
Birmingham; 12 June-10 July at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh; 2-28
August at Urbis, Manchester.

Built in 1879 to house the Birmingham Corporation water department,
the Waterhall is letting people with first or secondhand experience
of mental health problems wash their artistic laundry in public,
writes Graham Hopkins.

Showcasing paintings, drawings, photographs, mosaics, poetry and
sculptures could be viewed sympathetically because of the artists’
experiences or as a means of deconstructing associated stigma. But
does it cut it as art?

The exhibition is powerful, but is a curate’s egg: excellent only
in parts. Some exhibits would struggle to compete with my local
comprehensive’s art class. Others have the technical nous (Yvonne
Mitton’s “Polish Chicken”, for example) to match the message.

Abstract art features heavily, although Claudia Bose’s “Nightshift”
and Faye Phinister’s oil and thread on canvas “Grounded: Lost
Songs” are particularly fine. It was good to see humour amid the
torment: Deb Foster’s “Only Smarties Have the Answer” uses
Smartie-style letters to spell out “Prozac”.

The essence of this exhibition, however, is captured by the
evocative “In Darkness” by Michelle K Murray, who explains: “Art
has the potential to touch us when we feel we are beyond reach.”
Art can be a light in the darkness – and this exhibition flickers
well enough.

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