Life-drawings at Hastings Arts Forum
Dementia is a barrier that cruelly cuts the sufferer off from their family and friends.
But various forms of artistic expression have been shown to provide welcome
channels of communication, as Judy Parkinson has found with the Drawing Life
classes she runs at Hastings Court Care Home. An exhibition of the work opens
on Tuesday 17 May at Hastings Arts Forum, she tells Nick Terdre.
What would you do if you won the lottery? Judy Parkinson says she felt like a winner
when she won a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. “Thanks to the grant, I took life
drawing classes to people, most of whom are living with dementia,” says Judy.
for their carers. But some of the best laughs of the week were had with a group of
residents at Hastings Court, many of whom live with dementia.
Judy proceeded to set up Drawing Life and, along with art teacher, Robert Sample
and life model, Mike Mitchell, visited Hastings Court to lead life-drawing classes. To
celebrate the achievements of the participants, the team is holding a show of selected
works at the Hastings Arts Forum from 17 to 29 May. The show will be accompanied
by an ambient soundscape made entirely of sound effects recorded during the classes
by Keith Rodway.
“I came up with the idea for Drawing Life because I am interested in memory,” says Judy.
“I’m the author of the best-selling book about mnemonics, I Before E (Except After C):
Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff. I’ve also spent many an hour at life-drawing
classes. It is sometimes said that as we age we revert to childhood. Picasso said that it
took him a lifetime to paint like a child. I thought I would investigate this paradox.
“Most people in the class look at the model as if for the first time. Many start with no
memory of what they drew before. However, life-drawing is an activity for which you
don’t actually need memory. Whoever you are, you are simply there in the moment.
“The drawings are remarkable. The work became more proficient and confident as a
kind of motor memory kicked in. Is it art, science or therapy? According to senior
lecturer in art and design, Chris Milton, the drawings have an incredible spontaneity,
and a sense of sophistication evocative of abstract and expressionist art.
“Dr Paresh Malhotra, a neurologist from Charing Cross Hospital, attended a class.
He thinks the project has a lot of value with repeated engagement, the concentration
and the well-being it induces. “So much better than doing something passive,” he said.
“Apart from the likely mental health benefits, the sense of well-being and calmness in
the class is palpable, not to mention the songs, the saucy comments and the infectious
laughter that can overcome everyone present – apart from Mike our model, who keeps
a straight face and a steady eye, but he’s smiling inside for sure.”
Drawing Life Life drawings by people living with dementia. Hastings Arts Forum,
36 Marina, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0BU, 17-29 May (closed Monday 22 May),
11am-5pm. Private view Friday 20 May, 6.30-8.30pm.
Drawing Life website