Healing with paint: How the pioneer of art therapy helped millions of mental health patients

Lisa Buttery, a 25-year-old artist who works at Brighton University, shares Molloy’s experiences. She has been dealing with borderline personality disorder since her teens, and has used art in therapy and as a creative outlet.

Healing with paint: How the pioneer of art therapy helped millions of mental health patients

Edward Adamson was the first artist to be employed in a UK hospital. Kashmira Gander explores how his studio was an oasis of calm in a harsh twentieth century mental hospital, and how his legacy lives on.

Kashmira Gander @kashmiragander Wednesday 7 September 2016

It is the late 1990s and once again Gary Molloy’s severe bipolar disorder has hospitalised him. Unbeknown to Molloy, though, this stint will be the one to transform his life. “I saw these wonderful paintings on the ward. They were quite abstract. I was mystified and inspired, ” recalls Molloy, now 47, of his stay in a hospital in east London where he was born and raised.

Gripped, he needed to find out more, and discovered the works were created at Core Arts, a nearby centre for people with mental health illnesses. This is how Molloy, who was deterred from creativity by his teachers because of his gift for maths, says he discovered art.

“I found something magical in painting, writing and poetry. It eased the symptoms,” says the civil servant turned artist who is now a trustee and volunteer at the centre. “Ever since, I’ve been managing my condition by being creative, and building my self-esteem. It was a catalyst.” The impact on Molloy is undeniable: he hasn’t been hospitalised for 17 years.

Art as therapy was first used in the early and mid-20th century. Patients were often forced to deal with archaic and brutal practices, but they were also first to experience pioneering treatments. This duality, as well as how mental health has been approached over the centuries, and what the future might hold, is being explored at the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition: Bedlam: the asylum and beyond.


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