Outside In asked asked artist Sara Rivers to review the DARE exhibition currently on in London, with DARE standing for ‘Discover Art in Recovery Exhibition’. You can catch this exhibition at the Arts Depot in North London until Sunday 22 May 2016.
“The Arts Depot stands out among the bustling street of North Finchley; it is a central place on the high street, which serves the local area. It is an important community space to engage the theatre buffs, dancers, performance artists and music enthusiasts of North London. It is a fitting place to hold an exhibition that features Art in Recovery. Whilst the building is large and spacious, with an extravagant café area, the 70 works that completed the exhibition were squashed into a tiny corner, secluded and tucked out of sight. This, I am informed by a small sign, is the Discover Art in Recovery Exhibition!
These works however carolled together, edge-to-edge, frame-by-frame, with barely wall space between them, are windows to other worlds, where each artist is developing and discovering their own individual visual imprint and talent.
Each person’s work has contributed to a rich tapestry of artistic creations, which took my senses and mind some time to discern and distinguish one from the other. The different mediums and emerging styles clashed with each other. Oil paintings, pastels, watercolours, drawings, calligraphy, pen and ink, acrylics, collage and 3D models were overflowing in a narrow corridor. The work was at once subtle and bold, but the poor presentation simply did not do justice to the evolving personal expressions and multiple talents on show.
A poster read, ‘Art is a form of emotional expression, both of pain and suffering and of resilience and hope, and that those taking part in the project want to be recognised by their talents rather than their mental health.’ But what can we, as an audience, glean from this array of talent? What can we learn about mental health and the value of the art making process? How does art aid recovery?
Alongside some of the images are small typed written statements from the artists: their lives, their interests, sometimes their backgrounds. Each person has a story to tell. George Alieni’s series of oil pastel drawings capture my gaze; in these images there seems to be a coherent style emerging. Alieni’s work contains a sense of spontaneity, urgency and an intense use of colour, with shapes and forms that allude to figuration and landscape.
From the text I learn that Alieni, who originates from Romania and once studied at a school for Industrial drawing, finds it difficult to express himself in words. Thus the acts of drawing and painting are for him modes of communication; a language where people and places burst vigorously from memory and imagination, and boldly onto the paper. He works quickly and often produces two or three pictures in one session.
Another artist whose work stands out from brightly coloured frames is Theresa Monagle. She works in thick, impasto oil paint and sculpts figures in interior spaces by building in layers of thickly applied paint with a palette knife.
In the Hendon and Finchley Times, Monagle talks about the redemptive purpose art holds in her life: “Art is Like a Saviour to me” she explains, when discussing how she has struggled with mental health problems since the age of 19. Schizophrenia is one of the worst diseases there is in mental health. “I’m a survivor,” she goes onto say: “I definitely believe that people can recover once they get the help they need.”
Although still on medication- and probably will be for the rest of her life – Monagle has put her life back together again, bit by bit, and graduated last summer with a degree in Fine Art from the University of Middlesex. Her progress and artistic success is largely due to her ability to express herself creatively.
Alongside Alieni and Monagle, the exhibition shows the work of some 30 artists who use art as a means of aiding recovery. Yet, most importantly it seeks to challenge negative stereotypes and promotes social inclusion.
Spending time with each piece indicates that there is a wealth of talent and expression of emotion. Juxtaposed against Alieni’s and Monagle’s vibrant pieces were small subtle pieces, such as Anthony Schama’s set of poems or Harold Graystone’s Cat Embroidery. But these all too quiet, though no less beautiful works, were let down by the presentation, with 70 pieces relegated to a narrow corridor in what is clearly a large, spacious public building. Perhaps the physical space that these pieces inhabit says much about how the wider world still views the work of Art in Recovery.”
Thanks to Sara for reviewing this exhibition and get along to Arts Depot to catch it before it closes.