Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Steph Bates’s first solo exhibition, Thursday’s Child has Far to Go, opened at The Bethlem Gallery on May 2.

I made the short train journey from Charing Cross on Saturday afternoon. I have been to the gallery and the museum in the grounds of the hospital before. A very long and very straight tree lined road leads to the hospital entrance. Auspicious.


When you arrive at the hospital gates,

you take a right turn, past the museum (which I visited on my way out, more another time), to the gallery, which, though relatively small, feels bright, and intimate, and reassuring somehow.

Steph Bates’s connection with BRH dates from the time she spent there for treatment of her OCD. In an article on display at the exhibition, we learn that Bates’s stay appears to have been hugely beneficial, particularly in terms of the positive effects of CBT, companionship, and art. Bates shares her belief that in BRH, you could be ‘human and vulnerable’, rather than ‘mad and bad’, and speaks of the positive effects of the hospital’s ethos ‘dare to be’.

Bates was an artist long before her involvement with BRH, having studied at both the University of the Arts, Chelsea, and Bristol Polytechnic. Although art appears to have rescued her, and to have given her a much-needed respite from the symptoms of OCD, at one point she felt that the condition negatively controlled her creativity. Now, this relationship, between OCD and art, appears to be a much more liberating one.

I loved this exhibition. Bates’ imaginative, playful and vibrant art does not underestimate or undermine the seriousness of the challenge of living with OCD. Rather, her paintings appear to position OCD where it is openly acknowledged, and reframed into something that is, perhaps, manageable.

Works such as Throw it Away and Take a Risk, reveal a self-belief, and an optimism. A visual enactment of ‘Dare to be’.

Go see.

The exhibition runs until June 2.