Centenary event to honour extraordinary Falkland artist and writer Mary Barnes

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A new exhibition is being staged to celebrate the centenary, and extraordinary life, of a self-taught artist and writer who lived in Falkland.

Mary Barnes exhibited widely in the UK and abroad during her lifetime, and achieved recognition as a painter, writer and poet. As a mental health campaigner, she often travelled to deliver talks about the close relationship between her creativity and recovery from mental health crisis. She moved to Falkland in the 1980s, and is buried in the village’s cemetery.

To mark her centenary, she is the subject of a number of exhibitions and events as part of the 2023 Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, led by the Mental Health Foundation, beginning on Saturday (October 7), when the Chapel Royal at Falkand Palace will host Mary Barnes: Rebirth - a special event to reflect on her life in Scotland, and her deep connection to nature and her spiritual beliefs. It will be co-hosted by Ninian Stuart, Keeper of Falkland Palace, and Professor Victoria Tischler.

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Ninian said: “I was Mary’s friend and caretake a large body of her work. I know she was attracted to Falkland as an ancient place of hospitality, retreat and wellbeing. Her paintings and writing tap into the nature and spirit of place, reflecting the power and love of nature. They vividly bring to life the potential of nature to help move us from breakdown to breakthrough.”

Falklands Palace will celebrate artist Mary Barnes with a special event. Right -The Three Stages of Sacrifice (Pic: Falkland Estate)Falklands Palace will celebrate artist Mary Barnes with a special event. Right -The Three Stages of Sacrifice (Pic: Falkland Estate)
Falklands Palace will celebrate artist Mary Barnes with a special event. Right -The Three Stages of Sacrifice (Pic: Falkland Estate)

Mary was resident at Glaswegian psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s therapeutic community, an experiment in anti-psychiatry, at Kingsley Hall from 1965-1970. Her artwork demonstrates the radical potential of creativity to support recovery from mental ill health.

At Kingsley Hall, she was encouraged to regress to a child-like state to ‘live through’ her psychosis and recover from her mental health crisis. She was supported by American psychoanalyst Dr Joseph Berke, who encouraged her creative practice. Initially using her own faeces on the walls, and later graduating to oil paint, she soon became a prolific artist. She primarily used her fingers to apply paint to canvas, wallpaper backing paper, and found objects.

The themes of crucifixion, resurrection, and her deep connection to nature feature, linked to her rebirth and recovery, and the sense of belonging she found in her adopted Fife homeland. The artwork to be displayed as part of the exhibition comes from a large collection held by Falkland Estate, and mostly produced in the last two decades of her life.

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An exhibition of her art also runs from October 6-21 at the Advanced Research Centre (ARC), University of Glasgow. On Thursday, October 5, an interactive event and exhibition launch at ARC, University of Glasgow brings together experts from psychology, social geography, fine art and medicine to consider and discuss her artwork and legacy - on October 13, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, will host a tour of her works which included a book recounting her experiences at Kingsley Hall which inspired David Edgar’s 1978 play ‘Mary Barnes’, originally performed by Patti Love as Barnes and Simon Callow as Berke, which appeared at the Birmingham Rep, London’s Royal Court Theatre and Glasgow's Citizens Theatre. Full details at www.mhfestival.com/events/mary-barnes/

Victoria Tischler, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Surrey, said: “More than two decades after her death, Barnes’s artwork remains a unique testament to the power of hope, healing and recovery. Her visceral images of spiritual salvation, human attachment, and nature connection depict concepts that are recognised as critical in fostering mental wellbeing.”