Friday, 1 May 2015

CENTREPIECES: The Stables Gallery Art Exhibition - report

Come along to the mental health art project Centrepieces' latest exhibition and be inspired, moved and enlightened.

The gallery with the sculpture 'Mediation' centre-stage.
(Image: Dawn Tomlin)

The Stables Art Gallery, Hall Place, Bourne Road, Bexley, Kent DA15 1PQ25 April - 24 May 

I’m sitting typing this on Sunday morning with the London Marathon on the telly in the background. As ever, it’s always inspirational to see so many people braving themselves against April drizzle to run, have fun and raise money for so many deserving causes. Of course, having national TV coverage helps, so I’d like to take the opportunity to sing the praises of an equally deserving (if not so well publicised) charity-based event I attended on Saturday 25.

The Stables Gallery in the picturesque surroundings of Hall Place, a very big house in the country on the edge of Bexleyheath, is the venue for the latest art exhibition by Centrepieces. Inside, you’ll find a truly diverse and impressive range of artwork, brought to life in an equally impressive variety of media, taking in oils, acrylics, watercolours, textured paste, collage, ink and pencil, ink and thread, charcoal, glitter, buttons – yes, buttons – sculpture and photography. When you consider the high standard on display, it becomes even more remarkable when you learn that it’s been realised by people who’ve had, or have, mental ill health.

The opening event on Saturday 25 April. (Image: RF)
That’s what Centrepieces is for: it’s primarily an organisation for people who wish to engage in art who’ve suffered from mental illness, although membership is also open to individuals who have an interest in, or understanding of, art and mental health. Crucially, the Centrepieces experience is a proven and significant factor in helping patients recover through self expression, which in turn builds confidence and self belief. And, happily – as you can see from now until 24 May – deliver brilliant art inspired by subjects as varied as Liam Gallagher and Lewis Carroll.

Centrepieces was founded in 1999 by local artists who had all experienced mental health issues and, after being established with a £5,000 award from the National Lottery, was based in Crayford for over ten years. With financial support from Oxleas NHS Trust, in June 2014 Centrepieces moved to its new premises at the Lodge in Hall Place, continuing to develop its program of activities: helping people grow as artists, improve their artistic skills and give them the chance to exhibit and sell their work. There’s also volunteering, which I’ve recently put myself forward for.

John Davey, Jane Parish & Guy Tarrant
at the unveiling of the Nest. (Image: RF)
This atmosphere of mutual support and personal development is very encouraging, as is the work Centrepieces does in the community. To name a few, there’s been The Worrier statue in Crayford Riverside Gardens, kinetic sculpture with children of the Vietnamese Community Centre, the Emotional Spiral installation at Pinewood House and, officially opened on Saturday, the Nest sculpture in the grounds of Hall Place. As someone who’s always had a belief in the strength of communities, large and small, it’s great to see stimulating community arts projects like these flying in the face of modern austerity.

The Lodge is an ideal setting in which to encourage art. If, like me, you’ve got ongoing mental health issues, the minute you arrive there after turning off the busy main road into Bexleyheath, the abundance of floral greenery and air of calm in the grounds and surrounding grasslands immediately makes you feel settled and want to be creative. It couldn’t be a better home for Centrepieces.       

Dawn Tomlin's performance art piece
'Don't Look at Me.' (Image: RF)
What I really find inspiring and heartening about this latest exhibition, and the charity in general, is that the artists have overcome severe difficulties, largely by being empowered through art. Chatting to the members of Centrepieces and reading through the Artists’ Profiles available at the gallery, you’re immediately struck by their honesty. Tony Bennett, ‘a functioning alcoholic and drug addict’, credits Centrepieces with bringing ‘art back into my life’, to the extent that ‘the concentration and enjoyment I get helps keep out all the rubbish that’s in my head’; Georgina Bowen talks of her depression being alleviated by her painting, revealing that ‘it has been very therapeutic for me, and very beneficial for my health and well being’; Barbara Anne French’s art ‘fills up my time and via my paintings I am transported into another world. A happier one’; Joan Sher says that ‘in times of stress and worry I find it quite uplifting splashing around with very bright colours’, while Trevor Whiting sums up the whole ethos of Centrepieces by saying ‘working alongside such a diverse and friendly group of artists… is helping me become more confident in both my own ability as an artist and my self-esteem.’ Endearingly, John Exell is able to see the funny side of his illness, wryly commenting that ‘the pot and acid didn’t help.’

And they are a diverse group: among Centrepiece’s artists are a member of MENSA, a secretary, an engineer, a textile designer, an IT technician and, apparently, a poultry maid. And now me, I guess: a graphic designer and sometime writer on popular culture, feeling a bit lost after having to abandon the idea of moving out of London and finding myself out of work, not to mention dealing with recurring depression. All things considered, I’m glad I found Centrepieces when I did.

If you can, please visit The Stables exhibition. I think you’ll be inspired, moved and enlightened too. And you may well decide to join up.


A movingly diverse exhibition (Image: RF)

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