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8 May 2007

Tommy McHugh: The Universe Explodes…

Danny Start reviews a Liverpool artist whose creativity came to the fore after having a stroke.

Two stylised figures in white on black

Untitled painting by Tommy McHugh. Photo by Gianni Bianchini

Since surviving a double aneurysm and major stroke six years ago, Liverpool artist Tommy McHugh has experienced creative compulsion - an overwhelming need to express himself in paint, paper, stone - whatever he can get his hands on. He has created a profusion of paintings, sculptures, friezes and drawings - such an abundance you could fill an entire gallery with his work. Tommy lives with a coil in one aneurysm and a clip on the other - and with the thought that, at any moment, one of them could fail…

Tommy suffered this massive stroke in 2001 and found his personality radically transformed. From being a dark and violent man, a self confessed drug user and eather of the dragon - his personality changed, he became more bright and positive, and suddenly found this need to make art pouring out of him.

Tommy survived and couldn't recognise his wife. But in the rhyming stream of words that poured out of his mouth she recognised he was trying to communicate and make sense of what had happened to him. She gave him a pen and paper and soon ream upon ream of verse came out. And then the drawings started. And the sculptures - his first piece, made out of a plastic cup. Since then…

All Tommy knows for sure is he wants to create and keep creating. “My stroke nearly killed me - I may only have five or ten years to live with a coil and a metal clip inserted in my brain. But I've decided to go for it - and use all this art pouring out of me to move forward and live life to it's fullest…”

How would I describe Tommy's work? There's a play with form and materials that takes you right into Tommy's world - line and colour depicting the implacable struggle of his new mind trying to make sense of the world. “I was reborn six years ago. I wish this had happened to me when I was younger… I'm a baby exploring the world around me, creating art out of the visions and opening doors in my head…”

One look at any of Tommy's pieces tells you this: the faces merging into others, the frames leading into concertinaing corridors, the swirl of texture and colour - all these take us on a journey into Tommy's world, one where so much has been lost but so much more has been found. His latest work, an epic 12ft x 7ft canvas, takes us through tunnels and over bridges, lets us stare into the eyes of creatures looking for themselves - every square inch imploring us to stare harder, take in more. In life, every single moment is worthy of a millennia's scrutiny - but we only have a short life of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months and years in which to take it all in. So, it's a door into the infinite and the eternal universe within us all that Tommy opens for us. A journey through hell to a place where we all belong - standing on the edge, looking out, seeing the wonder of the universe and our own faces reflected back.

Tommy McHugh is exhibiting work at the Neurosupport Centre from Monday 23 July to the end of August 2007.

For more information go to Tommy's web site

Neurosupport offer advice, support and information to people with neurological conditions and brain injury. For more information go to the neurosupport web site or email danny@neurosupport.org.uk

See Tommy McHugh's Gallery...