The Birmingham City University Art & Design Archives have a mysterious atmosphere, providing a way of investigating old memories through the books, photographs, designs and paintings of the students and teachers who've worked or studied at Birmingham School of Art since 1842.
One of the collection focuses on Marion Richardson’s personal life and career and includes items such as her diaries, lectures and artworks by her students. After she graduated with an Art Class Teacher’s Certificate from Birmingham Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1912, she became an influential art teacher who explored methods for children to express themselves through art. I thought this is the best area for me because I make abstract paintings and am interested in art therapy.
In one of her methods, the students were asked to close their eyes and wait until an image appeared in ‘the mind’s eye’. As a result, many examples of mind pictures can be seen in the Archives. I think the technique was like a mindful experience for the children as they struggled to paint what they had seen in their imagination and then analyse their own paintings. The notes such as ‘I am satisfied with my picture’, ‘Satisfactory’, ‘I am not satisfied’ or ‘I thought it was quite difficult’ under the paintings attracted my attention. Examining the children’s artworks was a fascinating moment for me since it was hard to believe that some of them were made by primary school students.
The examples in the Marion Richardson collection encouraged me to make ambiguous artworks as we see obscure forms in our minds when we close our eyes. Therefore, I tried the same technique by myself while listening to various songs. I sketched the forms I saw with the vibrant sensations of music to make a painting. Then I analysed my own works, taking notes about whether or not I was satisfied with my outcomes. The images in my mind were more circular shapes and they were moving around. Many bright and colourful shapes can be seen when looking at the day light. Therefore, I decided to express my unconscious mind through movement.
Moreover, the Archives motivated me to read a few books about art therapy. One of them was 'Seven Keys to Colour Healing’ which clarified my ideas about using light and enabled me to be more comfortable about using colours. In the other book, An Introduction to Art Therapy, there was a section about ‘Free art expression technique’, which appeared similar to Marion Richardson's mind picture methods. This explains spontaneous art expression by children in Freudian terms as a means of escaping from reality. This motivated me to do works unconsciously without sketching, only with dripping and playing with the colours. In contrast, Jungians view spontaneous art expression as an outlet for the repressed thoughts in our unconscious mind that have arisen from our collective past. Therefore, I feel that trying to make a painting of what we see through our mind can really help us to reveal the repressed and distorted aspects of personality in childhood and it is an effective way to express our emotions.
Abstract art has an important role in expressing our personality and revealing the unwanted thoughts. The Archives has extended my thinking within a new context. I think Marion Richardson’s ideas are still an inspiration for students at the School of Art.