By Julia Mortimer

We here at HIP have written before about the Drawing Life project and the benefits it brings to people living with dementia in care homes in the Hastings and Bexhill area. However, those articles have appeared in the Community Pages – this time we’re in the Arts section. The work produced during the now lottery-funded drawing classes now justifies display in its own exhibition at the Kino Teatr in St Leonards. These charcoal and pastel drawings are not just the results of an exercise to occupy damaged minds: they have muscularity, dynamism and luminosity which talk to the observer in a way that is both surprising and heartening.

As viewers, it is easy to read ideas into these representations and offer our own interpretations of the artists who are not usually able to verbalise their thoughts. Doreen’s vibrant drawing of the Drawing Life model, Mike, appears to be all heart and lungs, is this the essence of a human being? Another observer saw the drawings as a butterfly and this too resonates with the flitting attention span of a dementia mind. The fauvist energy of Edith’s painting is the more remarkable when we learn that Edith has no verbal communication and this drawing is one of the few ways that she can express her feelings. Jean’s tiny but accurately drawn figures may represent her shrinking world and Anne’s version of Mike in which another viewer could see a Samurai warrior, has a strength and a presence which is unexpected and draws us in to explore further the shapes and textures that she has produced in response to the broadest of briefs in the Drawing Life class.

I attended the private view on Friday 30th November and by 6.00pm at least half of the drawings had been sold. Looking at the work of people living with this devastating and destructive disease, drawings so full of life and colour, it is possible to see traces of their old wit and wisdom as they struggle to articulate their thoughts. Drawing gives them a freedom that has been increasingly denied by the constraints of their illness – and the results are spectacular.

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