The Paralympics in Rio starts later today. Earlier this year I was delighted to be invited to lead a series of collage workshops at Stoke Mandeville Hospital's Spinal Injuries Unit. Stoke Mandeville is renowned for its National Spinal Injuries Centre, and the treatment and rehabilitation of those who have had to undergo lifestyle changes because of spinal injuries. Stoke Mandeville is also the venue where many of the UK's Paralympians train and perform their superhuman feats.
None of the patients I worked with had any previous art training, and it was agreed that the aim was to have the patients produce a collaged letter of the alphabet, and then contribute to a larger collaborative work. I led four art workshops and decided the focus of each was to be an artist who specialised in a different aspect of collage. I chose Peter Blake, Chris Corr, Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters for the interesting ways in which they have interpreted or innovated in the medium of collage. I had a go at producing my own version of their styles (above) as a reference for the patients. For the first session we looked at the collage work of Rowley Gallery stablemate Chris Corr, who produced tissue paper collages that give great translucent effects when the papers are overlapped.
The next session focused on the work of Peter Blake who produced the seminal Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band album cover for the Beatles - basically a complex collage of famous people. For this session we took vintage photographs of Aylesbury, enlarged them, and collaged pictures of famous Buckinghamshire residents, (and the fictional characters some of them created), historical and contemporary, onto these backgrounds to create outcomes which were surreal, historical and based in pop culture.
For the last session we looked at the work of Kurt Schwitters and Dada to create a collaborative group work in the form of collaged paper tiles which could be joined together and displayed in both a local art exhibition, and also the hospitals foyer.
Despite all of the participants having had no formal art training and enjoying attending the hospitals' weekly art sessions as part of their rehabilitation I think they did fantastically well. They especially met the challenge of being confronted with, and responding to Schwitters' collage work really well. One problem I hadn't anticipated when devising the activities was the problems some patients had with their manual dexterity as a result of their spinal injuries. We managed to work around this however, with the extra help of hospital staff and a volunteer. The group - my Scissor Sisters - created some really lovely pieces of artwork. It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity to work with them.
Best of luck to all of the Paralympians representing their countries, and, (yes I am biased), to Team GB Paralympians. May your successes be as great as those of the Team GB Olympians in Rio last month. You can see the Paralympic flame being lit in a ceremony which took place at Stoke Mandeville last Friday in the video below.