Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists

Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2009

ACME Project Space Exhibition 2010

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Written by gemmaanderson

12/12/2010 at 10:21 pm

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ACME Project Space, Exhibition 11th-28th November

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Acme Fire Station Artist (2010-15)
Gemma Anderson
Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists
44 Bonner Road, London, E2 9JS
Thursday to Sunday 1pm – 6pm Private view 11.11.10 6pm – 8pm
12.11.10 – 6.12.10

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14/11/2010 at 4:19 pm

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Listen- Freud Museum Talk, Click on the following link to listen to the talk at the freud museum 21st July 7-9pm, 2010.

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Written by gemmaanderson

05/10/2010 at 11:18 am

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Visual Artists Newsletter (Ireland) Article

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Gemma Anderson discusses her project ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’

The roots of my project ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists; began in June 2007, arising out of contacts made from my MA exhibition at the Royal College of Art, London. I presented a series of etched portraits that referred to the pseudo-scientific theories of physiognomy, phrenology and the ‘doctrine of signatures’. These works came to the attention of forensic psychiatrist Tim McInerny and the curator Sarah Williams.

The following April, I was invited by Sarah Williams on the strength of my MA work to participate in an exhibition she was curating for the Jerwood space in London entitled ‘An experiment in Collaboration’. By this time I had returned to Belfast and was based at Queen Street Studios. This invitation by Sarah prompted me to start working on a series of portraits of staff and patients at Knockbracken Hospital in Belfast. With the Jerwood exhibition coming up, I made contact again with Tim, who facilitated my access to make similar works at Bethllem Hospital in London. My contribution to the Jerwood show, which ran during July 2008 showed the first four in the series of this body of work.

I had become especially interested in working on portraits of psychiatric patients, as my grandmother had spent a period in a psychiatric hospital in 2004. Deeply aware of how her identity was diminished by the language of the medical institution, I witnessed how its vocabulary failed to express the history and story of the individual I loved and knew so well.

I received a very positive response to this exhibition, which encouraged me to apply for a Wellcome Trust Arts Award – for arts and health initiatives – in order to further develop the work I had begun with Tim at Bethllem Hospital under the title ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’. Specifically, I applied for a project that would commence in August 2009. I was successful and received an award of £20,910 for the project, which comprised overall of the production of a series life-size etched portraits of a variety of psychiatric patients and psychiatrists at Bethlem Royal Hospital, London; a blog documenting work on the project, exhibitions and accompanying talks on the project as well a paperback publication, produced in conjunction with the Bethlem Royal Hospital and available at all exhibiting venues.

Before commencing the project Tim McInerny recruited a number of willing psychiatrists, who could be of assistance in identifying patients and doctors who would enthusiastic to take part. For the success of this project it would be vital that the doctors and patients involved had good working relationships. Although the project was based at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, I also drew individuals at their homes in Hammersmith, Hampstead and Homerton; at a boys’ school in Brentford and at other NHS units – Kentish Town Community Mental Health Centre and the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill.

Such drawing from life requires trusting relationships with individuals and institutions – and it was a challenging experience full of learning and discovery. Each individual led me on a search. Sometimes I drew their personal possessions, but as the project evolved I was drawn to the animals, plants and other objects at the Royal College of Physicians, Kew Gardens and University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology, Rock Room and Human Anatomy Room.

Sometimes I drew personal objects from an individual’s home that they had brought with them – or I borrowed these objects to draw them in my studio. The other imagery that I used – plants, minerals and animals – was included in the portraits as a reference to how these were historically used to treat the individuals medical condition; as well as these being objects and things that the individual had a personal association with.

Another key element of the project was forming trusting working relationships with institutions – collections and museums. I arranged appointments to draw at the Royal College of Physicians, the Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London’s rock and anatomy rooms. In all these places I was given a desk space to draw at; as well as this I could request specific items that I wanted to draw from their collections.

My overall aim was to try to represent the people involved in this project in a multi-faceted way – depicting their histories, medicines, interests and emotional worlds. The greatest privilege for me was being able to meet each person, hear their story and experience their environment. Essential to this was learning about the perspective of both patient and psychiatrist.

In order to learn as much as possible about each individual, I was allowed access to the wards where the patients and psychiatrists worked. I spent time interviewing and developing ideas for the portraits with each individual before drawing them. I was invited to attend lectures at the institute of psychiatry, which helped me gain insight into the contemporary research and concerns of the psychiatrists and hospital staff. I also spent time with the clinical team on ward rounds during which I learnt about the practical problems both the doctors and patients experienced within the hospital environment.

As there where 16 individuals involved in this project, I spent a lot of time organizing meetings with each person. I was nervous at first as I began working with the forensic ward, I had never met anybody who had committed murder and I wasn’t sure how I would feel in the actual scenario. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of the whole project for me; as I found my initial feelings of fear and anxiety transformed into feelings of compassion and sympathy as I heard the individuals personal story and spent time talking to them.

I asked each person to allow four hours for our appointment. Before each meeting I emailed each person a list of questions, I wanted them to think about beforehand. Questions like “why did you become a psychiatrist”; “can you tell me about your relationship with your psychiatrist / fellow patients”. I also asked everyone what if anything they had in common with their doctor / patient. This was a particularly interesting question, as sometimes we discovered common ground that was previously unknown – for example a doctor and a former Michelin star chef patient, shared a love of cooking fish.

It was harder to make appointments to interview and draw the psychiatrists than the patients, simply because of their workload. This made me really appreciate the value of spending so much time with each patient. Our conversations could expand and explore ideas and subjects of interest. For example one patient disclosed information to me that was very significant, which he had not discussed with his psychiatrist.

After the interview we had a break, I would make notes of initial ideas and then we begin the drawing. I ask each person to sit comfortably, choose a point to focus their eyes on and to stay as still as possible. Most people find the experience of being drawn relaxing, so much so that some fall asleep during the sitting! One patient I drew had ADHD and said he was worried about being able to sit still for an hour and a half – as he had never been still for this long before. I asked him what he would do with the portrait when I gave it to him; and he said he wanted to give it to his mum. I said that if he could try his best to sit still the portrait was more likely to look like him and miraculously he stayed perfectly still for the entire time I drew.

On average the drawing took between one and two hours depending on the individual. When I had finished the drawing, myself and the sitter looked at it together and discussed ideas for the additional elements that could be woven into the portrait. Sometimes people were happy enough for me to make the decisions and other times they had specific requests, – for example a forensic patient asked me to include symbols he had drawn into his portrait.

To the general public the individuals within psychiatric hospitals are invisible and to some extent stigmatised. As Tim McInerny wrote in the publication for the project  “In the 1960s the anti-psychiatry movement, as championed by Michel Foucault and psychiatrist R. D. Laing, accused psychiatric practice of social control, promoting stigmatization and of incarcerating the mentally well in asylums for reasons unrelated to their health. In western countries, this ultimately led to the development of care in the community, closure of asylums and the return of psychiatry and patients to society. The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen something of a reversal of such emancipation. Increasingly, fear of psychiatric patients and their association with a potential risk of violence is fed by tabloid hysteria.”

The aim of  ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’ was to allow the general public to encounter and better understand psychiatric patients and individuals, while still protecting their privacy and maintaining anonymity. Furthermore, I used pseudonyms for the identities of both the doctors and the patients– they are all seen equally and as individuals rather than people branded by their profession or medical condition. ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’ was part of my ongoing interest in the history of medicine, comparative anatomy and the potential of the portrait as a form of empowering the individual.

Gemma Anderson



‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’ was exhibited at the Freud Museum, London (5 July 2010 – 22 August 2010); the The Globe Theatre, London during September; ACME Project Space, London in November. The exhibition will be show at Naughton Gallery, Queens University, Belfast in May / June 2011.

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03/08/2010 at 7:43 pm

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Written by gemmaanderson

14/06/2010 at 9:48 am

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Exhibition Opening- Portraits; Patients and Psychiatrists

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Portraits; Patients and Psychiatrists

This exhibition forms the culmination of a Wellcome Trust Arts Award winning collaboration between artist Gemma Anderson and Forensic Psychiatrist Dr Tim McInerny. These life size prints reveal an intimate visual language transforming the body into a container for narrative and identity.

Preview: Saturday 15th May, 4 – 7pm (All Welcome)

Opening 19th May, 3 – 6pm

Exhibition continues: 20th May – 18th June

Wednesday – Friday 11am – 6pm

including Saturday 5th June, 11am – 6pm

Bethlem Gallery

Bethlem Royal Hospital

Monks Orchard Road




020 3228 4835 / 4101 (office / gallery)


Nearest British Rail: Eden Park / East Croydon


Written by gemmaanderson

12/05/2010 at 11:48 am

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Patient S

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Dr S has treated Patient S over several years – and now only sees him a few times a year, just for follow -up. He now has a long-term job.

Patient S came to my house on a saturday before christmas. He was extremely polite and cooperative, we had a cup of tea and talked for quite a while before the drawing.He told me about his family history, how his parents and grandparents had lived in India and Kenya and about his family in London now. We talked about his experience as a psychiatric patient and he told me how Dr S had helped him to get better. I could tell that he genuinely liked and respected Dr S, he told me “I couldn’t see tomorrow, but the Doctors have made me”.

We discussed how we could create a visual narrative to represent his story and I asked if I could draw some of his personal objects. We met a week later and he gave me a brief case with a curious collection inside.

In his words he describes the collection of objects …..

“The story of money i have told you but the notes are as follows…………. the £10-00 is a throw back to the past………….. the 10 shillings my mother and father’s roots to where they were born and when i visited in 1987…………… the one rupee now out of circulation is from my decent……………… both Indian and in part Pakistani……… (Pakistan not there when my Grandparents moved around partition), but who play a big role in my working life nowdays.

The paper weights from my time working in crystal and china and the three were part of a set thought at that time cutting edge, the 26 quarters all similar representing the American dream but different either in design, wear or appearance…………. something i looked at being very different in my way.

The cards and the Vegas memorabilia, well life as i looked at it at one point is a gamble in a playground of chance with every persons hand different………….. and where better to try your luck in the biggest most brightest playground that there is! Lost quite a bit of money on that trip.

The Morris Minor…………….. my trade as the old folk would call it is that of a mechanic, and whilst learning my trade before going into Universities later in life was working on various cars in a garage, my first project was my first car that was off the road……….. in the garage in a very unassuming way sat this Morris Minor too off the road, the conscious decision that was made at that point was either working on a car mechanically or aesthetically (ie panel beating, spraying etc………..) i chose mechanically and so my first car did not have any bodywork done to it but made mechanically sound.”

I drew these elements together to form the portrait, allowing coins to become planets, paperweights to become pyramids and a mobile phone to become an egyptian mummy. This all made sense when I thought about the symbolic (and formal) links between the objects and the patient.

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19/01/2010 at 9:50 pm

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Ward Round- Chaffinch Ward, River House, Bethlem Royal Hospital, 10/12/09

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I was invited to attend the weekly ward round at Chaffinch Ward(medium secure), River House, Bethlem Hospital last Thursday 10/12/09. I was escorted to the
ward through a series of locked doors by a ward staff member. In the
ward I immediately saw the ward round team in a room with large glass
panel walls by the entrance. The ward round team consisted of a Psychologist, Forensic
Psychiatrist, Occupational Therapist, three medical students, two ward
nurses and myself.

There had been a significant event on the ward the previous evening
and the immediate conversation was addressing this matter. There where
issues to sort out with organizations like MAPPA and Interpol, the
police and the press. I listened while the team discussed how best to
deal with these issues keeping the safety of all involved as priority.

When these matters had been dealt with, the ward round began. The team began to discuss patients on the ward- any problems they where having,
progress they had made and how to address this appropriately. For example, granting
more unescorted leave to a patient who had behaved responsibly and
postponing leave of a patient who had behaved in a disruptive or
negative way. Each patient was called in after these discussions and
the psychiatrist explained to them what the team had decided and
discussed this with the patient. Some patients seemed very happy with
their progress and situation and others where noticeably unhappy or
disappointed by the news they received, others made jokes about the

the atmosphere was one of total concentration. The meeting covered so
many issues and had to be kept within the 9.30am-1pm time schedule.
during this meeting all people present contributed to the discussion,
offering different perspectives, and I learnt a huge amount from
observing the meeting.

In the afternoon, I sat in on meetings one of which was a meeting to release a young male patient who had been in psychiatric hospital for a number of years. his mother was
with him in the meeting. The occupational therapist discussed
possibilities for voluntary work in the community and possible adult
education course he may be able to enroll for. The hostel worker from
he hostel he is moving to was there and they had a discussion about
what kind of expectations the hostel had for him. He will be spending
Christmas with his mum this year, she said “I have not had him for
Christmas for a long time”, and she had a great smile. It was an
emotional meeting. The team wished him good luck with his new
life and he left the room with his mother. From my seat I could see
them hugging in the corridor when they left and it was very
moving. I found it very difficult not to cry at
this point.

Written by gemmaanderson

13/12/2009 at 11:52 pm

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Drawing Patient A

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Patient A is an adolescent GCSE student at school. I went to his school to meet him and to draw him. The art teacher was very helpful and we set up an area in the art class to do the portrait. Patient A was in a very good mood when I met him. A bit shy but very happy to talk once we where sitting down. He told me that his favourite subjects where art and drama and showed me some of his art-work. He wants to go to college after his GCSEs and learn a trade rather than going to university. He has a cousin who is an artist and he told me that he has made a sculpture that he will send for thousands of pounds, Patient A seemed impressed by his cousin. We talked about being at school and  thinking that anyone over 20 is old and how that changes as you get older yourself. He had two badges on that said “CITIZEN” which had been given to him in reward for a good deed he had done for the school. He is also a sports captain and told me he loves playing basketball and football at break-time with his friends. We talked about the canteen, pizza, cheese toasties portugese custard tarts, portugal and Ireland. He sat still and really concentrated for over an hour and said he enjoyed the experience of being drawn. When I had finished the drawing he brought one of his friends into the class to show him the drawing and seemed proud and said thank-you. Below you can see self portraits A made in his GCSE art class.

Written by gemmaanderson

05/12/2009 at 11:29 pm

Drawing Dr F

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Dr F came to the Maudsley as a medical student on a short elective and worked in the emergency clinic with a famous psychiatrist called Antony Clare and enjoyed this.When a medical student on my surgical placement her consultant noted how hopeless she was in surgery but how good she was with patients and suggested she do psychiatry. Her interests are campaigning and teaching on improving the lot of children in the UK and she is also involved in an NGO which helps asylum seekers in detentiton to get treatment and get out when necessary.

Dr F has a wonderful realtionship with her patient (Patient C). Her patient attributes her full recovery to meeting Dr F. When I asked what they had in common she replied “So much! I have just been luckier in my life experiences”.

She is a lover of nature and finds peace when walking or cycling in the country side or by the sea. She love elephants, wild animals and birds.

She is influenced by the work of John Bowlby and his followers carrying out attachment research has influenced the way she works and is the conceptual basis for her understanding of  working with survivors of abuse and of torture.

She has a collection of miniature houses, animals and pots made by south americans, who she lived with as a kid.

When I asked her what she would change about psychiatry she said “Remove the right to section people”

Written by gemmaanderson

05/12/2009 at 10:40 pm