The Regional Neurological Rehabilitation Unit at Homerton University Hospital is a ward for patients with acquired and traumatic brain injuries. As part of their on-going multidisciplinary rehabilitation patients are offered art twice a week in the Creative Media Room – a purpose designed studio complete with easels, paints, palettes and brushes. The room is festooned with vibrant patient’s paintings and drawings produced and accumulated over many years. The RNRU maintains a fascinating and unique archive of patient’s art works in all media that goes back over 20 years and is available for study.
The RNRU art workshop encourages long stay patients to express themselves through the empowering diverse media and practice of visual art. Patients are assisted with the creation of their works in collaborative projects that help to focus concentration, improve sociability, develop hand and eye coordination, manual dexterity, and provide a quality experience. The results are prolific and many patients enjoy the workshop’s ambient but busy atmosphere of quiet experimentation and interactive play. The service is augmented by visiting artists from Hackney, who frequently give of their time and expertise to enable patients to benefit from their skills and experience. Hackney is abundant with artists and has an estimate of over 12,000 in the Borough, making it one of the richest cultural districts of the UK for the visual arts. Many patient’s art works are displayed and exhibited in prestigious exhibitions (such as Irwin Mitchell, London 2013 and Hackney Museum 2014) to promote their creative potential and raise awareness of the power of creativity and its capacity to help with recovery from brain injury.
‘I never thought I would ever be able to hold a brush, let alone paint a painting. Now there is no stopping me. I love the art room and coming in to explore new ideas and try different things each week. It’s been a great space to have and I value the time I have spent making art. It’s been a whole new chapter in my life.’ – RNRU patient.
Quite a number of patients will not have made art works since they were at school, so overcoming the perceived stigma of ‘not being any good at art’ is quickly dispelled by the experimental nature and style of the sessions, which are not focused on rigorous academic training and are more geared to exploratory, sensory techniques that give immediate satisfaction and a sense of achievement as they evolve.
One aspect of the workshop that is tremendously successful is the making of altered postcards (transformed vintage photographs and real photo post cards). This culminated in a seminal exhibition held at Hackney Museum (2014) called, ‘Preposterous Postcards’. The inherent success of the project stems from the relatively small scale of the art works and the application of inventive collage – a favourite technique of patients and artists.
‘Making these old post cards into new ones has been a journey for me. The group has made hundreds and now we are having an exhibition of them. I never realised I could do something as enjoyable as this.’ – RNRU patient.
Other patients benefit from painting and using colour. One process the workshop has devised utilises watercolour paper soaked with water. Gradually, the patient will squirt liquid paint or ink from a pipette onto the paper and watch it form metamorphic shapes and shapes as it mingles with the water. By pressing towels and other sheets of paper directly onto the surface of the saturated sheet with their hands they are also making monotypes – one off transfer prints. The process is very exciting and engaging as patients do not know what they will produce next owing to the completely arbitrary method of image making. Many fine examples of this process hang in the RNRU and are stored in the archive.
‘After I woke up from a coma I was told that I may never see clearly again. It is amazing that I can now see bright colours and that’s why I love coming to the art group so much, to share my love of colour with the other members of the group. Art has given me hope, it really has.’ – RNRU patient.
Art is also employed to relieve stress. Patients and their families and carers can all work together in the Creative Media Room in a communal experience in which an entire social group is involved in making an art work. This has produced some wonderful results:
“ We all helped with making the scrapbook. Two of us cut up magazines and newspaper pictures. Another one helped arrange the pictures. He (the patient) stuck them into the book. It wasn’t just about passing the time, it was really interesting and I felt all my stress just going out of the window.’ – patient’s relative.
The premise of the art workshop is that it is open and encourages all to delve into their inner creative side. Nobody is judged on the quality or standard of their effort and the sessions are not regimented, confidential or analytical by context. This open door policy works and many hundreds of patients have used the service, finding it recreational, relaxing and beneficial to their overall recovery. The testament to the enduring popularity and success of this programme can be seen on the walls of the RNRU and the Creative Media Room.
Visitors are welcome to come and view the RNRU patient art archive by appointment and should contact Shaun Caton, Art Curator in writing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here Shaun is holding two of the prints that street artist Stik sold to raise £50,000 for the hospital's Art Workshop programme. You can learn more about what a fantastic day it was in September 2015 and what Stik's gift will bring here.