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Joe McConnell on the kindness of strangers / 13 July 2010

Tambour of light (watercolour) © Joe McConnell 2010

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In the last post and chorus, I mentioned that for some time now i can't stop making art. That's true. Now for as long as I can remember, i've been into drawing - pretentiously daydreaming that i was turning 14 years of schoolbooks into latter day illuminated manuscripts. But never taking it any further. It was a total closet indulgence for reasons i wouldn't mind exploring here at a later date.

Anyway, fast-forwarding to the present, 2009 was a total fucking bastard of a year from start to finish. I hit so many walls i lost count. But in the murky depths of unspeakable waking nightmares, a little flame sparked to life.

At the end of last year, I was referred to Jules Thorn Recovery Centre. This is effectively a Day Hospital and I was dreading being institutionalised yet again. The reality came as a lovely surprise.

Jules Thorn is a sparkling oasis strangely blooming amidst the red brick labyrinths of St Pancras Hospital. There is very little psychiatric intervention and the focus is on group work with visual art, pottery, music, dance and movement at the heart of it all.

This is also supported by several taught sessions where service users can explore how meditation can enhance their journey to recovery. The latter was sheer joy. It was taught at a very introductory level, but now I try to attend the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green when i can.

Now that I have left Jules Thorn, I thank it from the bottom of my heart for opening up some wonderful new pathways. Never ever did I think I would feel that way about any part of the NHS. 12 years ago I was offered ECT by the same Mental Health Authority (i.e. Bloomsbury and Islington NHS) and barely escaped from that terrifying encounter.

Jules Thorn has fought hard to retain the input of a professional artist (Carolyne Kardia - painter and sculptor) as opposed to exclusively relying upon occupational therapists. For as long as I can remember, I have loved drawing. Most of this was confined to the margins of my schoolbooks and, in adult life, to oceans of doodling.

I now realise how scared I was of taking it seriously. Life seemed so painful at times that the heights and depths of self-discovery I always knew would spring from taking art seriously seemed too frightening to embrace. Until Carolyne provided a generous helping of encouragement, which inspired me to paint for the first time ever.

Now I just can't stop. The first paintings were postcards depicting musicians playing the music I associate with healing and kindness. I think, in these, I'm trying to depict something of the loving kindness meditation in that the musicians are absorbed in their music but are neither gloomy nor ecstatic - they are somehow detached while being fully in the moment. They emerged as 'postcards from a kinder planet'. More recently, I've begun to explore dreams ...

I've tired myself out. Better not blog again for at least a week. Don't want anyone to think I'm getting manic again.

Keywords: disability art