Congratulations are due to Bethlem Hospital on the opening of their new Museum of the Mind two weeks ago. Their inaugural exhibition is a retrospective of the work of Bryan Chandler (1949-1991). In his paintings, Chandler used symbolism and visual metaphor to convey his own experience of schizophrenia. The exhibition includes several works influenced by paintings in the Bethlem collection, notably William Kurelek's The Maze (1953).
Charnley was open about the influence of Kurelek on his own work. He said of the latter:
Here I saw art stripped of all esoteric and conceptual pretensions. I gladly adopted this approach, which seemed to be more vital than any current “-ism”. I found myself on an interior journey in which landscape and subject were subsumed to inner vision. This led to the large bondaged heads which, I hope, stand as an image of schizophrenia.
His own work, Broach Schizophrene (1987) is one of these ‘bondaged heads’. Like The Maze, it shows a head filled with a cacophony of thoughts. Ambiguous spaces open up, one over the other, confusing the distinction between inside and out. However, whereas Kurelek shows a skull opened for the viewer’s consumption, Charnley shows the head wrapped up and concealed, rendering the figure both blind and dumb. She is shown as so overwhelmed by ambiguous spaces and forms that the real, meticulously painted, world outside is blocked out.
As part of the activities associated with the exhibition, Bethlem Hospital invited A Level art students from a local school to respond creatively to the same Kurelek painting. You can see examples of the students' work on their blog. How would you respond to the work?