“Bryan Charnley: the art of schizophrenia”, runs through May 22, 2015 at the recently opened a new museum and art gallery Bethlem Museum of the Mind outside London, U.K. The Museum is under the auspices of Bethlem Royal Hospital, the world’s oldest psychiatric institution, and aims to remove the stigma around mental health. Its mission is, “to become a leading information and learning resource for the history of mental health care and treatment.”
This exhibition features paintings by Bryan Charnley (1949-1991), who used visual metaphor and symbolism to vividly illustrate the physical experience of schizophrenia, an illness Charnley lived with from adolescence until his premature death in 1991.
The original hospital was founded in 1247 in what is now central London and the name spawned the English word “bedlam” meaning chaos and madness. In the 18th century visitors could pay to gawk at the hospital’s patients and, three centuries later, stereotypes about mental illness still abound.
Victoria Northwood, head of the Archives and Museum stated, “One of the main ways you can do that is actually get people to walk onto the site and realise that this is not a frightening, threatening and dark place.”
Bringing together works from the Bethlem collection and many rarely seen works from the Estate of Bryan Charnley, this exhibition looks back at Charnley’s life and work – from his early photo-realist inspired portraits and cityscapes to the direct expression and communication of his later allegorical paintings, many inspired by other works in the Bethlem collection. ‘Here I saw art stripped of all esoteric and conceptual pretensions’, he wrote, ‘I gladly adopted this approach which seemed to be more vital than any current “-ism”’.
Also included in this exhibition are the works by current and former patients of the hospital, such as Dan Duggan, an artist who made several suicide attempts and was detained three times under the mental health act. He attributes art as being instrumental in his recovery. He intended his work to show the common humanity of the sufferer and how the artist can transform the most negative situations into the basis for creative inspiration. He stated, “A lot of the time you spend in hospital, particularly a psychiatric hospital, is very prescribed. “When you’re engaged in a creative process, you’re able to be free of all of that for a while and the power is back in your hands to do whatever you want to do.”
The Museum of the Mind is located on Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent.
Resources and Links
- Visit Brian Charnley’s website http://www.bryancharnley.info/
- Visit the Museum’s website http://museumofthemind.org.uk
- Read an article about the Museum on the Art Daily website.