Get Well Cart

An old drugs trolley has been repurposed to dispense art making & utopian prescriptions.

The trolley has been adapted and fitted with printmaking equipment including a set of brass letters to print words and phrases. Gail Howard and I are delivering pop-up printmaking and basket weaving sessions around the hospital.

The aim of the project is to highlight the value of art making in relation to our health. Many staff, visitors and patients have been filling out alternative prescriptions…

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…and printing their words.

The results will be displayed in the Hearth Gallery, Llandough, and Arcade-Campfa in September. The project ‘A Brief History of Healing’ is funded by Arts Council Wales.

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Chance and Creativity

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Using the notion of chance in art and writing  has been a useful and popular tool in creative wellbeing sessions. Participants like the way feelings can be expressed indirectly, for example by using pre-existing text and cutting it up to form their own poem, or drawing with eyes closed.

This group piece was created from pages of a picture book. All participants were given the same photocopied page and circled words they wished to use, blacking out the rest of the text. On another occasion, a dice was used to choose a word from each sentence on the page.

Using these processes introduces an element of fun as well as chance, allowing artists to bypass inhibitions of the conscious mind. It was interesting to see the way that different people working with the same limited text produced different tones and moods depending on how the words were placed.

The technique was promoted by Tristan Tzara, a Dada artist in 1920s Paris. Here are his instructions:

To Make a Poem

Take a newspaper
Take a pair of scissors
Choose from the paper an article as long as you are planning to make your poem
Cut the article out
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag
Shake gently
Next take each clipping out one after another in the order in which they left the bag
Copy conscientiously
The poem will look like you
And there you are — an infinitely original author endowed with a charming sensibility though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Hans Arp was another founding member of Dadaism. The Dada artists experimented with new approaches to art that could undermine the existing cultural mentality and confused logic that had led the world to the edge of annihilation. “Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.” – Arp.

Arp used chance through methods such as circling words at random in a newspaper, or drawing them from a hat. Similarly, William Burrough’s use of cut-up composition, and some of Bowie’s lyrics.

“What I’ve used it for, more than anything else, is igniting anything that might be in my imagination. It can often come up with very interesting attitudes to look into. I tried doing it with diaries and things, and I was finding out amazing things about me and what I’d done and where I was going.” – David Bowie

Bernadette Mayer is a wonderfully innovative contemporary poet using chance techniques. Mayer’s record-keeping and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative are two trademarks of her writing, though she is also known for her work with form and mythology. In addition to the influence of her textual-visual art and journal-keeping, Mayer’s poetry is widely acknowledged as some of the first to speak accurately and honestly about the experience of motherhood. For examples of her writing experiments see here.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist

I first came across this artist at Tate Modern in 2013, surprised that this was the first exhibition there dedicated to African Modernism. Ibrahim El-Salahi has recently had a solo exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford where he now lives.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I’ 1961–5

I stood in front of this 8 foot square painting: Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I

(1961–5) for a long time, entranced by the otherworldly beings that coalesced into a haunting, multi-layered composition. It reminded me of elements of abstract expressionists and surrealists I admired, but with a potent style of its own. There seemed to be an integration of Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions, with the utilization of spaces and forms in Arabic calligraphy that I read were woven into memories of El-Salahi’s childhood in Sudan where his father ran a Qur’anic school in his house.

Interestingly, working closer with text brought a breakthrough for El-Salahi. As he began breaking down the letters to find what gave them meaning, animal forms, human forms and plant forms began to emerge from the once-abstract symbols. “That was when I really started working. Images just came, as though I was doing it with a spirit I didn’t know I had,” he says.

An early work, exhibited at the Ashmolean, represents the time when the artist was finding his own visual narrative, developing his own artistic identity. In Untitled, 1957 (below), he paints his own face, influenced by abstract writing and African and European visual culture, continuing to develop this style in his 1961 portrait  Self-Portrait of Suffering.

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                                                                                                     Self-Portrait of Suffering,1961

Other figures in El-Salahi’s works come into existence through an intuitive artistic process relating to the artist’s inner self rather than the outer world, the faces suggesting a spiritual dimension where human existence is linked to a world of dreams and meditations.

 

Pen and ink drawings on watercolour paper.

Meditative drawings that El-Salahi has made on envelopes and medicine packets when suffering from physical pain.

 

In the Oxford exhibition, El-Salahi’s works are placed in dialogue with specially selected ancient Sudanese objects from the Ashmolean’s collection that reflect El-Salahi’s use of rich earthy tones, a conscious attempt to create a Sudanese aesthetic.  Examples of pottery, decorated with images of the people, plants and animals of the region, were chosen together with the artist.

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                          ‘Untitled’, Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1967                ‘No shade but his shade’, 1968

The exhibition also featured works from El-Salahi’s Tree Series, the tree being a major motif in his work. He became interested in the haraz tree, an acacia indigenous to Sudan that grows in the Nile valley, when exploring the nomadic nature of Sudanese identity. The haraz becomes a symbol of the Sudanese and their resilience. It is uniquely contradictory, remaining leafless and bare during the rainy season and being the only plant that blossoms in the dry season. El-Salahi uses the tree metaphorically as a link between heaven and earth, creator and created.

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https://www.ashmolean.org/event/ibrahim-el-salahi-a-sudanese-artist-in-oxford

Whatever the Weather

The sessions that I am running at the lovely new mental health unit Hafan Y Coed have evolved into a combination of writing and art. As this is a new venture for me, it has been interesting to see how the planning of the course translates into practice.

We have taken a generic theme for each session, and this week was ‘weather’. As mindfulness is really useful in cultivating creativity, I’ve tried to incorporate it into the sessions. Learners initially used pictorial prompts as a focus, imagining themselves into  various natural scenes, engaging all the senses through a short guided visualization. From this, they did some free-writing – jotting down anything that came to mind without worrying about punctuation or spelling or whether it seemed relevant – anything at all. This free-writing often leads to some unexpected story seeds and associations that can be developed later into a poem or short prose piece.

We read poems by some well known poets relating to the weather, and discussed how we felt about each piece. Then I presented a few examples of expressive art such as Frank Auerbach’s  series of drawings he made after walking on Primrose Hill, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolour, ‘Sunrise’.

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Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.

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Sunrise, 1916 – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

As we had access to the resources in the art therapy room, there was a good variety of mediums for learners to choose from to create their own weather-inspired art works. Within the work, they could incorporate their favourite words or phrases from those they had written earlier.

Two wonderful landscapes with text, using acrylic paint and coloured pencils.