Thursday, 30 May 2013

How Painting a Mural as a Class Can Lift Students' Spirits

Now introducing guest blogger, Marcela De Vivo, from Los Angeles, writing on how painting a mural can lift students’ spirits. Art in Healthcare’s University Society recently completed a mural at Mannafields School, which has greatly brightened up their playground..

Mural at Mannafields School by Art in Healthcare University Society
It’s no secret that art can help independent young people find themselves, or even be used as a valuable means of healing and therapy. In fact, making art together can provide a group with a focused sense of meaning and pride.

For a classroom, such a powerful bonding experience can take things to the next level and crafting a large-scale mural is a perfect way to accomplish this. Here are a few impressive benefits of classroom mural-making that teachers should consider.

Image Courtesy of Franco Folini/

Creating Group Art Can Create a Group

Assign a classroom to individually paint or draw projects on their own; you’ll still have the same motley crew of young minds presenting varied islands of creativity. Assign that same collection of students to somehow produce a room-sized, coordinated color painting and the result will be an integrated organism of students with a shared sense of identity.

Making a work of art collectively is a powerful way for students to get to know each other in a profound manner. You can’t make a mural without voicing your ideas, showing your skills and—a necessary part in creating a group identity—exposing your vulnerabilities.

If a class-created mural strikes a chord among its artists, the set of individual minds that created it will have been at least slightly transformed. Leaders will have emerged. In the brainstorming, executing and administering phases of mural-making, students are likely to discover hidden strengths, allies and sense of purpose.

The Sum is Greater than its Parts

Beginning artists—or students who don’t even see themselves as artists—can be easily daunted in the creative process. Creating a work of art as part of a team can undo this insecurity in magical, unexpected ways.

First, while fledgling painters and sketchers feel nervous when presenting their ideas and feelings all alone, when their work is in conjunction with a community of classmates, it can take the heat of their individual performance. When even a clumsy-handed student can take a share in the pride of having created a massive wall painting, it’s an equally massive ego boost.

Image Courtesy of NID chick/Wikimedia Commons

Second, there truly is an element of alchemy to group creation. The voyage of discovery that happens when you let your ideas run free next to the visions of others is truly liberating—and among young people new to letting the creative juices flow, it might just be life-changing.

Murals Are the Change We Want to See.

Here’s a true anecdote that illustrates the positive power of murals. Several years ago, a Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit hired a muralist to redecorate the walls of one of its factories, giving free reign to the artist. Rather than impose his own vision, the painter asked each and every one of the plant’s line workers to tell him the images they wanted to look at every day. The artist captured a cornucopia of favorite singers, hot rods and beloved hunting dogs…resulting in the happiest, most productive set of workers the plant had seen in years.

Similarly, a group of students in Scotland found a sense of meaning by creating colorful murals for children in a school.

The point? Our lives tend to be a lot brighter when the backdrop is a colorful representation of our dreams, hopes and memories. This experience is all the more powerful when we are the ones physically responsible for creating that environment—and potentially even greater when we work together to transform the worlds of others into better places to live.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who writes on everything from health and fitness to technology and marketing. In addition to writing for Northwest Pharmacy (, she loves inspiring creativity in others, especially her children, in order to encourage teamwork.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Volunteering for Art in Healthcare: Art & Artist Research Project for QR Codes

When I first volunteered for Art in Healthcare's art and artist research project for QR codes, I hadn’t heard of the organisation, didn’t know what a QR code was, and had no formal training in art. The idea of doing something useful and interesting from home appealed – but would they have me?  Very swiftly I was invited to a friendly induction meeting and let loose on some paintings in the Oncology Ward of Edinburgh’s Western General.

Arabella Crum Ewing's, The Sea, The Sea
The volunteer brief is to write a short piece, up to 500 words, on each artwork, which will be accessible through the QR code on the label and on the website.  After looking at the works 'in situ', I use online resources, including the artist’s website.  Sometimes I then contact the artist.  I’ve found all of these steps fascinating, and, although at times unsure about my interpretations of the paintings, I enjoy putting the descriptions together. I’ve now written around 20 descriptions of a variety of pieces – water-colours, oils, multi-media collages, etchings and screenprints, photographs and tapestries.  I’d like to write about my experiences with the three works illustrated below.

Arabella Crum Ewing’s etching, The Sea, The Sea, is in a small room in the Western’s oncology ward.  I enjoyed my conversation with the woman whose bed was next to it. (One of the pleasures of visiting the hospital is seeing how the people who see the pictures every day react to them.) She liked the vivid scene and the detailed birds.  But like me she was puzzled by the pink mushroom-like plants in the foreground! I never worked out what they were. (Any suggestions from botanists reading this are welcome!) But when I got home I found a bigger puzzle.  The etching’s full title is Oaharra! Oaharra! The Sea! The Sea!  Was Oaharra a place name – possibly Irish?  Or Maori? I’d been in New Zealand – was that the Auckland Harbour Bridge in the background? Eventually I googled “the sea, the sea”, and found that Xenophon recorded these words as the cry of the Ancient Greek army after their trek through Asia Minor.  In Greek it was Θαλαττα (pronounced “thalatta”), so the title was simply The  Sea!  - repeated four times. At some point someone had mistranscribed the Greek words.  Mystery solved!

Stephen Lawson's, The Old Town from Waverley Bridge
Stephen Lawson’s, The Old Town from Waverley Bridge, interested me because of the artist’s distinctive style.  He has specialised in time-lapse photography and his website includes a fascinating 12 minute film describing the development of his technique.  The work is composed of 60 vertical slices of the view, taken at regular intervals over a day. The railings at Waverley Bridge are in the foreground, and as one’s eye is drawn along the long photograph, from Arthur’s Seat through the Old Town, the Castle, the Scott Monument to Princes Street on the left, one also becomes aware of the changes of the light on a November day – from dawn at 8am to darkness by 6pm.  Another time lapse work on the website is of the Callanish Stones on Lewis.  On a visit to Inverness Museum in December, it was a wonderful surprise to see that photograph on display.

Sometimes a painting can delight because of a personal connection.  I took an instant liking to Shona McEwan’s, Inverleith Allotments, because I had recently seen my stepdaughter, actor Gowan Calder, in a Fringe play there. This watercolour seemed to me to perfectly capture that fertile, but slightly windswept and haphazard quality that allotments seem to have!   I learned that Shona had carried out some public artworks in the 1990s and I contacted her to see what she was doing now.  This is part of her reply:
Shona McEwan's, Inverleith Allotments

“I’ve always had a great love of colour and pattern.  After graduating I was commissioned to do murals for the Children’s Ward at Monkland’s General Hospital, and for the recreation area of Polmont Young Offenders Institution.  I also helped restore a Second World War mural in Abbot House Dunfermline. I’ve been an arts worker within a social work day centre, and am now doing my best to bring an artistic slant to promoting the work of the adult protection committee.  I don’t do any of my own work now, but since moving a year ago, I’ve now at last got my own garden, and with my seven-year old daughter am discovering the joy of planting seeds and bulbs and watching things grow.”

It was lovely to get this email, which says so much about the importance of art in everyone’s life. 

Written by our guest blogger and volunteer, Kate Calder, while Martine Pugh is away.

References: Arabella Crum Ewing The Sea! The Sea!:

Stephen Lawson: Edinburgh Old Town from Waverley Bridge:

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Artist uncovered: Adrian Wiszniewski

Martine Foltier Pugh meets the internationally renowned artist

Adrian Wiszniewski apologises for the mess as he opens the doors to his studio conveniently built in the garden of his house on the outskirt of a tranquil Renfrewshire village. This is in fact a very well organised series of working spaces designed to accommodate large scale paintings and small detailed watercolours.

 Adrian Wiszniewski in his studio
image courtesy of William Murray Brown

Many people will be familiar with Wiszniewski’s figurative paintings of pensive youths engaged in mysterious pursuits. The figures are formally poised often against exuberant landscapes of sensual, luscious flowers and fantastic birds, flooded with vivid colours interspaced with large expanses of black. The overall feel is of suspended animation. 

First Anachronism of the Day  2011, oil on canvas, 122x183cm
image courtesy of the artist

Wiszniewski relates his group paintings to the ‘Attitudes’ of Lady Hamilton, the 18th century beauty who became famous in Naples for her living pictures where she posed as characters from Antiquity. His figures are indeed actors, or metaphors, that allow the artist to explore poetically certain issues. Their features are composite and this hybridity indicates their creator’s internal argument. But the debate needs no resolution. Wiszniewski likes to keep things open-ended, this is what sustains his excitement for his work. 

The Shaman  2011, gouache on paper, 114x157cm
image courtesy of the artist

He chooses to depict his characters on the brink of action because of the innate potential concentrated in that moment. For instance he prefers the loaded tension of Michelangelo’s sculpture of ‘David’ to Bernini’s contorted and spent hero. 
Adrian Wiszniewski was born of Polish, Irish and Scottish parentage and brought up in Glasgow. Although happy to have been born in Scotland, he has always felt more European than Scottish. He first studied architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture before taking up painting at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in the 80s. He finally graduated in mixed media with filmmaking. European and American art together with performance artists such as Bruce Mclean and Gilbert & George, these were the early influences that inspired his distinctive take on the figurative. 

Les Temps Perdus  2011, oil on canvas, 122x91cm
image courtesy of the artist 

He left Glasgow soon after graduation to see the world and partly also to break away from the Scottish art scene and the ‘New Glasgow Boys’ label that had brought early fame to himself and his GSA peers Steven Campbell, Ken Currie, Peter Howson and Stephen Conroy. Wiszniewski went on to build an international reputation with solo exhibitions and many prestigious public commissions.
He has been back in Scotland with his family for a number of years and continues to defy categorisation by successfully mastering new practices in parallel with painting:  printmaking, ceramics, interior design – he designed the chair in his studio. He is also an acclaimed writer and playwright. The reason why he does not take up photography is simply because he would have to master it to perfection and there would be no time for anything else! 

Fruit on a slice of lemon  1997, acrylic on canvas, 90x75cm
Art in Healthcare collection

Interestingly the painting in the Art in Healthcare collection is not figurative. It was commissioned in 1997 particularly for a hospital environment and the brief specified “no black” because it is a “depressing” colour. Typically Wiszniewski thought otherwise. After all “Manet, Matisse, Chagall and Picasso all have a fantastic use of black” he adds. His appreciation of Matisse is particularly strong here with the flat planes of bold colours. Adrian Wiszniewski’s sense of humour comes through in the title, the slice of lemon in question is the pool of yellow on the floor.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

Video on Adrian available on YouTube at:

With many thanks to Adrian Wiszniewski for his time and hospitality.