Art and Mental Health Symposium

Thursday 16th June, 2016, 5.30-7.30pm

The Conference Centre, St Pancras Hospital,

4 St Pancras Way, London NW1 0PE

Bus: 46, 214 / Tube: Mornington Crescent or Kings Cross/St Pancras


Helen Killaspy – Professor of Psychiatry, UCL

Alexa Wright – Artist

Chris Bird (and others) Service Users

Jill Bryan – Portugal Prints

Followed by drinks and discussion

Please join us – all welcome



The collages were on show at The Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA, weekdays from 8am-8pm until 9th March, 2017. 




Symposium at St Pancras Hospital Conference Centre, 5.30-7.30pm, Thursday 16th June, all welcome!





Photographic prints of the collages were on show at St Pancras Hospital, London NW1. Exhibition open from 2nd May-4th July, 2016.

The exhibition was opened on 29th April by the CEO of Camden and Islington Foundation Trust.


Nearing The End – June-July 2015

Monday 8th June : Centre 1 
One of the nurses was in the office when I got there. He was a little stressed because Paula was not well and had been at the centre threatening people with razor blades. She was not there when I arrived, but he said I should keep away if she comes back and notify someone to call the police. Later, during the workshop, I heard sirens, and when I asked about it in the office I was told that Paula had been taken to hospital. I felt sad that she was having to go through that. When everyone came out of the weekly meeting I went into the day room to try to recruit people for the art project. I may have been a bit hasty as there was a lot of emotion in the air, and some people didn’t feel like coming to the group. A couple of others said they’d like to come but couldn’t. Jake and Arthur were both keen to work on their collages, as was Steve. Just as I was preparing things in the art room a woman I haven’t seen before came in asking if she was too early. There were two other new people today, both young women, Fatima and Kourtney. Later Fatima’s keyworker told me she had suffered both sexual and emotional abuse as a child. She is currently homeless and estranged from her family. There was very little outward sign of trauma, except when I asked her for her opinion of one of my photos, and then she looked terrified. Moira worked very decisively on her collage, cutting out squares and arranging them on a large sheet of paper. I suggested she look at the images of artists’ collages because I thought this might help her think again about the squares, but she said she didn’t want to in case they influenced her decisions. At the end of the afternoon she had arranged all the pieces she had cut out (which were predominantly black) in a kind of loose grid on the paper, which actually looked very interesting. I asked if she wanted me to photograph them so she could remember next week where they went, but she said no, she might want to rearrange them then.

Jake seemed very well and was pleased with the way I had cut the windows out of his photo for him. He took great care with this third collage as he had with the other two, placing eyes behind the slots I had cut out so that they filled the windows in the image. It seems like progress that he is now able to look at and work with a photo of a place where he has seen eyes, when previously he couldn’t look at the same photo for more than a few seconds. Jake asked if we could have some music on as all he could hear was the sound of cutting. I fiddled with the CD player for a bit, and then Fatima suggested that we could play the radio through her phone. Arthur finished his collage about 20min before the end of the group, but agreed to wait until everyone had gone to talk to me about it. In the workshops his responses are minimal and he gives the impression of someone who finds communication difficult. I was quite surprised when he gave a long and very heartfelt account of his situation and his beliefs, clearly explaining how these are indicated in the collage.

Monday 18th June Today I had a meeting at a residential centre where people spend up to two years in recovery from prolonged episodes of psychosis. The manager was very keen to have me work there, which would be great because I would have longer with particular people. But on meeting one or two of the residents I wasn’t sure they would understand what I would be asking them to do. But then am I being too prescriptive about what the project is? At one moment I am excited and enthused about what I am going to make, the next I feel overwhelmed and ‘at sea’. How am I going to make something meaningful?

Visiting this place made me think about how much easier it is to relate to people with certain behaviours in an institutional setting than on the street. This is interesting in that it reflects the perceived need for safe social structures within which we can form our identities and positions in relation to those we see as ‘Other’ to ourselves. I’m not sure I want to write again, but there is something to be written on the subject of what we call ‘madness’ and monsters.

Monday 18th June : Centre 1 Today the manager told me that there would be a new art therapist starting soon and if I had plans to leave she could timetable her into my slot, although she wasn’t insistent that I should leave. I suggested finishing at the end of July, which she seemed happy with. But it will be difficult to leave now that I feel like part of the team. For example, this morning one of the Occupational Therapists was keen to talk to me about one of her new patients in a way that seems to acknowledge that what I do here is helpful.

There were a lot of new people in the day room today, and some people I expected to see were not there. Arthur came into the Art Room briefly to photograph his collage then left. Jake wasn’t around, but turned up later to finish his third collage. Kourtney was there. She was a bit impatient today. I kept saying to her ‘don’t stick things down until later’, and she kept saying OK, but then she stuck them down anyway, and later regretted it. She had to start again twice, but I think she was enjoying the process of sorting out how to make her collage. She chatted quite easily and seemed more comfortable in the group than she did last week. Moira came to the group again. She was quite quiet, but she did make one or two incisive comments. I’m a bit afraid to ask her anything about her work as she seems so private. I hope she is going to be willing to talk to me about her collage when it’s done. A young woman called Amy wandered into the room a bit before it was time for us to start. I told her she was too early and she said she would go and listen to her ipod for a while and come back. When she returned she seemed disorientated and took a while to settle. She wanted to wash her hands, then she wanted to go out for a smoke. Initially she had trouble remembering what she was doing, and I wasn’t sure she had understood, but once she started a collage she completed it quickly and briefly talked to me about it. Her explanations were sometimes logical and clear, although she did lose track of what she was talking about at times and went off on a tangent about pigeons. She mentioned drugs quite a bit. She seemed to be drifting and rather lost – I wondered if she would regain her sense of reality if she really comes off the drugs. Another new person was a young woman called Zaria. She was keen to talk about her own experiences of psychosis when I showed the photos from my previous work. She started collecting images for a collage, but I didn’t see what they were. There were also two men in the day room who came to try out the art group. A big guy called Paul was quite receptive and started a collage, although he said he was going to have to look at home for some of the images he needs. Another man called Harry joined us briefly, and listened to my introduction, but he said that the images I was showing didn’t make sense to him. He said that if he was to try to represent his depression it would be with an image of a dog pissing up a tree. I said that would be OK, and he looked a bit confused. He joined in some discussion and leafed through magazines for a while and then left. I had seen Steve in the corridor and he said yes when I asked if he was coming in to the art group, but he didn’t turn up. When I was leaving I saw him sitting in reception waiting to see the doctor looking very distressed and a bit tearful. I clumsily asked if he was OK, to which he said ‘not really’. I said ‘sorry’ and he said ‘that’s alright’. I felt like I had got that wrong. Its difficult to know how to express concern without seeming patronising or unhelpful.

Monday 29th June: Centre 1 There were quite a lot of people in the day room again today, including a few I didn’t recognize. About half said they would come to the Art Group. Since I was last here I had received Valerie’s little book from the online publishers. I was able to phone her to get her to come in and collect it. She came immediately and gave me a little hug. She seemed in quite good spirits and asked if we could be in touch again at a later date to work on her photos for exhibition. I said that I would call or email her. Seeing Val made me a little late going into the art room, and when I arrived eight people were in there, including Nadia, who had said she wasn’t coming. But she didn’t want to work on a collage, and continued to work  on her pencil copy of an image of a bird from a book. I wanted to ask her to work on the collage or leave, but in the end I allowed her to stay in the hope that she might revisit the collage. Today the weather was very hot and Nadia was wearing short sleeves, showing lots of small cuts up both arms, both fresh ones and scars. She had some interesting ideas about how Kourtney’s collage should look, but I couldn’t persuade her to work on hers. Kourtney began working on her collage, but then she seemed to lose confidence in it and/or concentration. She said that she didn’t want to be specific about what happened to her, either by communicating it visually in the collage or by talking to me about it. She wasn’t sure that she would come back to the group. Zaria seemed very clear about what she was doing, but spent most of the group time in the day room searching online for just the right images as she was unable to find these in the magazines. Jake was not sure what to do now he’s finished his third collage. I suggested be might want to move on to the second phase of the project, taking photos and writing short texts to make into a book. He has agreed to take some photos during the week.  A new guy Matthew joined us and worked on collecting images for the duration of the group, but he didn’t like the photos I showed him and he didn’t say much. Paul was there again. At first he had some difficulty recalling what he was intending to do with his collage, but after laying out the images he reconnected. Steve returned today after a difficult two weeks of being in and out of the Crisis House and a spell in hospital with pneumonia. He seemed to be in good spirits, but insisted on drawing and then cutting out bits of his drawing to include in the collage. Nadia seems to have introduced an element of rebellion into the group!

A young woman who said she is due for discharge from the Crisis House this week arrived a little late. She was quite difficult to communicate with, and seemed slightly on edge. Although she briefly mentioned some of the events that led to her being at the Crisis House, she didn’t want make her collage about those experiences and instead created a rather random, chaotic collection of pictures of things she likes. She left slightly before the end of the group and took this away with her. When I asked here about what led her to be hospitalized she said: “I was wearing the wrong kind of clothes. My mum found me laughing to myself, I wanted to bake a cake and I couldn’t.” There were one or two people out in the garden who haven’t been to the group for a while. I was just leaving, feeling that this had not been a very productive week, when I saw Luke in reception. He has been discharged early so that he can spend time at home watching Wimbledon. He gave me a typed text he has written to look at and then said I could photocopy it, although he said I mustn’t use it for anything. He also said that I am the first person to see it as he hasn’t shown it to his psychologist because he didn’t think s/he would be interested.

In general I am beginning to feel that its time to move on now, to stop the workshops and find ways of working one to one with people, but then each week something interesting happens I feel that I can’t quite finish yet.

Monday 6th July: Centre 1 I saw one of the staff in the office and he told me that the new art therapist is starting next week. He also said that there had been some feedback that my group was too directed. I think I know where it came from – my comment to Steve last week about incorporating drawing into his collage, combined with Nadia doing her drawing in the group, but when I mentioned this to Moira she immediately said “it wasn’t me who said that”, and then we had a chat about her plans for more collages. It seems that some people were under the impression that I am setting “rules” that I am not setting at all, so I managed to dispel that rumour! It doesn’t really matter, but it is good to have cleared things with Moira. She has agreed to possibly talk to me next time I am in. Just before the group was due to start most people were sitting in the garden in the sun. Moira was there, and said she was coming, but needed a bit of time after the previous meeting, which seems to have been quite heavy. She finished her collage of black squares today, and has ideas for two more. She wants to make an image of everything spiralling into a kind of vortex, but said she needed advice on how to do this. When I hinted that she could have started with that she said that in previous weeks she wouldn’t have been ready to think like that. I did feel I could talk to her more this week, although when I asked her what she does (for work) she said “nothing, I hit a wall”. I didn’t ask any more.

Last week Kourtney said she may not come back to the group, but today she returned and reworked her collage. She removed a couple of things, and started filling in the gaps. I think she is getting the hang of it a bit more now. Fran was also sitting outside, and was in quite a different state of mind than I had seen her previously. She seemed very fragile and uncertain. One of the staff said that she was having trouble with noisy neighbours and was struggling to sleep. She said she might come, but didn’t and I saw her key worker ushering her away in a way that suggested she was not feeling so good.

This made me think how, at the recovery centres, people can just be what/how they need to be, without judgement. This is very special, as I know from my own experience that when you are experiencing a trauma you just want people to be accepting and not put any demands on you. 

Jake was watching Wimbledon, but he tore himself away to come to the group, although he didn’t work on a collage today. During the week he had taken some photos of buildings that disturb him. It seems a big step forward that he can do this, but he still didn’t want to look at the pictures for too long. He said he is preparing to be discharged so sadly there may not be time to make a book. Steve arrived a little late. He seemed well, and said that his new medication was helpful, but he also said that he lacked inspiration today, and left the group early. He said he was anxious to know how much longer he would be at the centre and whether there will be somewhere to move on to.

Two new guys joined today – Martin, who was sitting in the dayroom when I arrived. He said he had to meet with the doctor and I thought that was probably an excuse not to join the group, but then he came along and started a collage. And Rob from the Crisis House, who was sitting in the Art Room when I went in. He was very chatty, and responded well to my View From Inside photos and the artists collages I showed him. He made two collages in a very short time, but his attention span is quite short and he left a little early. He said he was hoping to be discharged to the day centre soon.

Looking back at the beginning of this blog I realise that I have come a long way since the project started in January. Now I feel much more confident about what I’m doing. When I started I was a bit nervous and I didn’t know what to expect, for example I wrote: “I want to relate to [people here] differently than the regular staff do, but I’m not sure where to set the boundaries.” I’ve since learnt that patients at the Centres are just people, and now I approach them like I would anyone else. 

Collage 23


“It’s not very clear as my mind is quite jumbled up. But these were the images that stood out for me. I feel that I have fallen down into a deep well, so up at the top this would be the sun and the land, these images in the right corner look like ghosts. And then some of these other images half way down are a bit spooky-looking or disturbed, and they are part of the reason I became unwell. Lots of horrible things got into my mind. Then down at the bottom its more dark, and the picture with the red around it and head down is me, going head first down towards the bottom of the well. Most of the text here is upside down or sideways, so its like everything has fallen apart and doesn’t make sense.”

Collage 22



“It comes in three bits. This bit on the left, which is my childhood, and then this end bit which is my dreams, and then the middle bit is my reality now. In the first bit I used a picture of a colony of penguins, and they’re all the same. When I moved to live with my mum, I felt that I was different and everyone else was the same. That’s me, and that’s my shadow. It represents me as a child being scared. The lion represents anything scary. There was a lot of disorder, a lot of fear. This up here represents the communication I didn’t have with the people around me (a field of satellite dishes). This eye here – I was very paranoid and I used to think there were cameras in the corners of my room, and I used to think I was being spied on. It was without end, it was going on and on. This bit on the right hand side, I’ll move on to that because when I was young I had dreams and expectations to live a nice tranquil life. Flowers represent nice things, the birds nice things, the gold nice things. And then this bit here in the middle is my reality. As I got older I became a woman on an island. That’s me most of the time, in a cage. The TV: I spend my time watching TV. There’s a lot of control that comes through the TV. I put that there because if we watch a lot of TV they are controlling you and you become a sheep”.

Collage 21


‘It is like I’m breaking free of my old life and my old patterns and then going into this complete unknown new world and new life that is yet to be created. A thawing out of the past. In the collage here, that’s all ice. That’s like the archetypal woman. Its not me, but it is me. I think this is more like a goddess, a higher power, protective. She’s appeared before. Her arms are around my daughter. If you ask me to point out which of the women is me, none them: none of them and all of them. The empty eyes represent a different way of seeing. The people are thoughts and the seals are me – making breathing holes in the ice. If the hole is big enough they can get out so they can exist on both planes. The seals are quite angelic, this one going up towards the light is a comfortable and peaceful figure’.


Collage 20


‘I was bullied in school and I felt like a social outcast, which led me to be in isolation for a lot of my childhood. This led me to be really angry with the world and with the way people were treating me. So it led me on this search for answers about the government, about money, about war, about poverty. Why it happens and how we got into this situation. That’s what this side is about – the war and the searching – many people think that I’m crazy because of some of the ideas I put forward about the way that money works and how we are all like slaves to the system. I wasn’t taking care of myself, I was sleeping such little hours and my body was just getting destroyed, so I started researching about cleaner living. This is just the extraordinary prices that are in London, its difficult for anyone to live without having debt. The bit about my skin – I’ve had skin problems since I was about 13 or 14 and that downed my confidence quite a bit. I’m always quite self conscious about the way I look, and the way that people perceive me. This is what I want to be – love and peace and a hero for the planet. Sort of help people to discover their true selves and not be fake. To smile and be happy and live from the heart. Then the lion is how I’m feeling, wanting to get back to that lion – being a tiger or lion and not afraid of anything’.

Collage 19


“This here, at the bottom, represents my mind. Its just the top of someone’s head. And all this blackness is what’s all around at the moment. The depression. I start with very bad panic attacks and anxiety attacks and then the depression comes in. I start being listless and I can’t take an interest in things. All these things like the two people digging here – I used to go on archeological digs, which I really enjoyed. Trains. I tried to find a picture of a station, but I couldn’t – the infrastructure of railways is another interest of mine. Churches. I like walking in woods and books are a great passion. So that’s all those things, and all this here is just the blackness, the bleakness. A bleak landscape and ruins. Its all overloaded with blackness”.

Collage 18


“On the right hand side is what I saw as the ideal – beautiful, what I should be like, expensive clothes and the dreamlike state, what women are supposed to be like. At the time I think I was just obsessed with being like everybody else. When I became psychotic it felt as though my brain was pulled from some sort of vacancy, from not really locking in to what mattered to me, and what I had been through as a child, and I don’t think I really was thinking about love in the right way. When I became psychotic – its hard to explain – my brain felt pulled by a whole bunch of men. I felt like there was going to be one faceless man that saw that I was bloody vacant and my views were a bit… my behaviour was exampling the want to be a well dressed and rooted cherry blossom tree, but in reality I wasn’t that at all.

Who I was became a question like the many mirrors. I started to see my own worth and everything else and I felt very ashamed by the end of it I felt as though my sex, my whole person as a woman, as a young girl was being pulled to pieces. I lost ninety percent of everything, going into wanting to be this special person. Some really bad things had happened in that period. At first I thought it was going to be this beautiful artistic creation and realistically I had been thrown to the wolves, and the psychosis got worse and I felt like my brain. I was in some very dangerous situations, and  I was getting more and more ill. I wanted to be everything the world expected me to be. I felt embarrassed by some of what happened, and so all of this was because I was concealing underground baggage this whole time. Wanting to be like the other girls and never being like them. The stairs? Well, sometimes I wonder if my paranoia started at a very young age because my mum became ill and all her secrets were kept for some time. My sister and I used to sit on the steps listening in, trying to pick up what is this big secret we’re not being told about?  The staircase is also meant to be representative of trying to get myself up, wanting to be somebody who has money and beauty and all these things, going up. But at the same time going all the way down because the baggage is just phenomenally there. To me it looks like a bloody mess”.