Friday is Library Day for patients on Arden Ward at Stepping Hill Hospital.
And, if you didn’t know already, reading is very good for your mental health. (Probably not if it’s by Piers Morgan or the Tory party manifesto, mind.)
Reading quality literature and poetry, however, is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Quite serendipitously, I came across this collection of poetry by Mary Dickins entitled Happiness FM. I thought her poem, ‘How to administer a poem in an emergency’ was perfectly apt for the group. So, I thought I’d share it with you.
And here is the poem from whence the collection takes its name.
Of course, our visits to the library aren’t just about reading. They’re about social interaction and doing other mindful activities.
At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.
I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.
I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.
Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.
Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.
A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.
Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.
And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.
My last post was meant to be my last post of 2020.
But I saw something that I wanted to share with you.
I took someone to St. James’ hospital in Leeds the other day. Specifically, the Bexley Wing. Which is actually more like a hospital within a hospital rather than a ‘wing’.
What struck me initially is that they have an art gallery space in the atrium. Obviously, I took the opportunity to peruse the stunning work on display.
What was a little bit awkward was the fact that someone deemed it a good idea to place chairs all along the gallery wall. So, I often found myself standing directly in front of a healthcare worker, (who was taking a well earned break), gawping over their head.
I decided to take a few photos for posterity. And soon realised that the juxtaposition of the art on display and the resting workers/visitors oblivious to it, was art in itself. (Well, it was in my head, anyway.)
I think the fact that the majority of people are on their smart phones adds a certain amount of 21st century irony to the pictures. With the art behind them screaming “Look at me!”
Some people may know how passionate I am about the arts and their ability to help in the healing process. Whether that be mental, physical or general wellbeing.
Anyway, the atrium gallery is amazing. The work is amazing. The staff are amazing. And the NHS is amazing. So, all-in-all, well done, and thank you to everyone at St James’ Hospital, Bexley wing. (You are amazing.)
I’ve been experimenting with collage recently. Not a medium I have much experience in. For some reason, the numbers 2121 have been popping into my consciousness quite frequently.
Those of you who believe it’s some sort of divine message might be able to enlighten me. Those of you who just think I have some form of apophenia may want to call me an ambulance.
Anyway, I decided to express these occurrences via the medium of collage. There are four in total, but the last one isn’t finished.
Next up is a series of abstract pieces which I have titled: From order comes chaos / from chaos comes order.
I won’t show them all, because I’ve done loads. The premise is – the universe can seem a bit of a chaotic place, what with stars exploding and imploding, nebulae forming solar systems, black holes Hoovering up everything in their vicinity, etc. And that’s before we get into meteors crashing into planets causing all sorts of tidying up to be done afterwards.
Yet, out of all of this seeming ‘chaos’ there is so much order, structure and geometry to the universe. Not to mention the structures that we humans impose on the world around us, whether for good, or ill. Ultimately, everything returns to the ‘disorder’ to be recycled again into something new.
Anywhoo, that’s what I think.
I like to sketch quite a bit. Portraits and still life mainly. Just for practice. (And for my own insecurity to prove to people I can actually draw.) Kind of.
So, there you have it. (My) 2020 in colour.
All of my artwork is for sale should you wish to terrify anyone this Christmas. Just message me for details.
It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas, if you celebrate that sort of thing. And/or very happy holidays if you don’t.
I came across this story of a girl the same age my daughter is now. She was born on the 15th August 1928 in Poland. And died at the tender age of 14 on 12th March 1943. When I say ‘died’, she was murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis. Because she lived in an area of Poland earmarked for resettlement.
I was so taken by her image and her story – her absolute innocence, that I felt compelled to write a poem about her. To honour her tragically short life in some way. I know it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if I write a few pathetic lines of poetry 77 years later. But it matters to me. It could’ve been my daughter, but for circumstance. Or yours. It still could be, the way the world is going.
For Czeslawa Kwoka.
There’s this girl.
Her nose and cheeks are pink,
like she’s just come in from the cold.
She’s looking up at the camera
with fear in her blue-grey eyes.
Her fair hair is roughly shorn,
and she wears an over-sized
blue and white striped tunic,
held together with safety pins.
She doesn’t understand what they are saying,
she doesn’t speak the language.
So the Kapo beats her about the head with a stick.
Her lips are thin and cut
like they’re trying to still a tremble.
There’s a badge sewn over her heart
with the serial number 26947 printed on it.
She has a name though. It’s Czeslawa.
She is 14 years old.
The same age as my daughter.
But she looks much younger.
Like a terrified little girl.
She hasn’t done anything wrong.
Except, be Polish.
Probably typhus or T.B.
The cause is irrelevant.
She’s too ill to work.
So she’s surplus to requirements.
The doctor will see you now.
He’s going to inject a final solution
of phenol directly into her heart.
It will kill her in 15 seconds.
It’s not an exact science.
If he misses the ventricle it could take up to an hour.
I’m going to finish off this series with a look at some abstract paintings I’ve produced during lockdown. Remember, the point of this series is to show if art has had a positive or negative effect on both my mental health and the type of art I’ve been producing this year.
If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that last year was quite a tumultuous one for me (and my loved ones) on the mental health front. And this was most definitely reflected in the type of art I was producing at the time. You can see it here: Adieu 2019.
In previous ‘reflections on lockdown‘ we’ve looked at portraits, landscapes and photography. Today, I’m going to look at abstract art. Lucky you.
I used to struggle with abstract art. I didn’t ‘get’ it.
It was only when I began volunteering at Arc that I saw how expressive a medium it is. Not to be bound by the constraints of realism or representation. To be able to express form through colour, shape and texture. The marks you leave behind can convey emotions and energy that are often difficult in representative art.
One of the reasons I love making abstract art is because I don’t feel like it’s ‘me’ that’s doing it. When I am doing a sketch of a face or a landscape, I have to concentrate very hard to capture a likeness of what I am trying to represent. When I do abstract art, I let go… I stop being so uptight. I let the colours merge and intermingle to become the painting they wanted to be. Sometimes, when I look at how the colours interfuse and coalesce, they remind me of distant nebula.
I am neither conscious nor concentrating. It is as though that ‘thing‘ we are all connected to – Mother Earth, the Universe, the unconscious, the Cosmos, God(dess), call it what you will, is flowing through me onto the page or canvas.
I don’t know what you’ll make of that last paragraph. I’m not sure I know what to make of it!
Except that, I can thoroughly recommend giving abstract expressionism a go. It’s very liberating. It’s also extremely calming and meditative.
Have a look at the works of Kandinsky, Miro, Mondrian, Rothko, Pollock and Krasner to see the vastly differing styles of abstract art. There might be something there to inspire you.
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).
If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.
If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft