Letting in the light

Image by George Harding. Words by Victoria Tischler. Review by Kate Johnstone.

On The Grove in Stratford, past the fried chicken and betting shops, you’ll find an installation shining bright during the cold wintry months. Ten double-sided lightboxes reaching over 2m high, stand where market stalls usually trade. Lit up 24 hours a day, they command attention, beckoning curious commuters, locals and visitors.

Letting in the Light features the illuminated work of 35 artists, all of whom have experience of mental health issues. They were amongst 150 who applied to an open call. The project, a collaboration between Dr Bobby Baker’s pioneering Stratford-based arts organisation Daily Life Ltd, the Bethlem Gallery, and Outside In aims to showcase extraordinary artwork and to lighten up the darkness some feel at what can be a bleak time of year.  

As Bobby Baker says, ‘When I had serious mental health problems I was mostly judged and underestimated, but when people see the autobiographical drawings I made during that time it helps change the way they think about mental health. … Artists like us, with unique experiences, can create work that enlightens and delights people.’

As a Chartered Psychologist and Curator at Daily Life Ltd, I am struck by how the project invites us to reconsider our preconceptions about mental health. As one of the exhibiting artists states: ‘This piece symbolises that there is a way out of the depth of despair into the world above, where there is light and hope.’

George Harding


‘This piece explores the self and fragmentation of the figure to an outside source. To me they show a desire to go beyond the real and to be part of a wider sphere that can’t be described. I am exploring this through meditation but also through paint. The image was made by taking photographs in the mist of mirrors after a shower which are then painted to colour and light through pointillism and blurring. Alignment sits in the collection of Bethlem Museum of the Mind’.

The exhibition runs until 24 March 2016
For more information see www.dailylifeltd.co.uk/daily-life-ltd-present-letting-in-the-light/ or contact [email protected]

Letting in the Light review
The Grove, London E15

January: the first payday of 2016 seems a long way away, and the media is full of the misery of ‘Blue Monday’. It’s a challenging time for everyone, but especially so for those who are not in robust mental health.  So it’s no coincidence that the public exhibition ‘Letting in the Light’ in Stratford seeks to uplift and illuminate through art, created by people with personal histories of mental illness.

The exhibition, organised by the Stratford-based arts and mental health organisation Daily Life Ltd, is located on a typically depressing inner-city stretch of pavement, between a betting shop and the public library. But its appearance is anything but depressing. The art is displayed in 10 tall light boxes, warmly glowing against the grey Stratford sky. The public location mean this exhibition accessible to everyone, at any time of the day or night.

What is especially great about this exhibition is the text provided by each of the 35 artists displayed. Much of modern art eschews such explanatory labelling. In this exhibition, the text not only gives one a greater appreciation of the art, but helps normalise the artists’ mental health issues. Liz Atkin’s Lavish, for example, shows part of a face, dramatic and brightly painted. The text underneath talks about her 20-year history of compulsive skin picking. Reading this made me reappraise the picture, and gave me a different understanding of it. Dolly Sen’s Coffee Stain Stars was inspired by the endless cups of tea and coffee she drank on a psychiatric ward. Chris Gray’s colourful Starfrisk + Monster, arresting and slightly intimidating, is simply about his state of mind as a paranoid schizophrenic.

But it’s unfair to single out any of the works in the exhibition: not only is the standard is very high, but the range of techniques used, and experiences behind them, are so varied. What they do all seem to share, though, is a hopefulness about the artist’s own mental health, and the benefits of having a creative outlet through which this can be explored and shared.  I came away from Letting in Light feeling both brighter, and enlightened.

- Reviewed by Kate Johnstone who is Associate Editor (Reviews)

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