Down to a fine art at Psychart24

I took Art in school. I can’t draw but in my early teens I quite fancied myself as an impressionist. Daubing various splotches of different colour paint on a canvas and trying to make them look vaguely like something was therapeutic. My trees morphed into waterfalls and my meadows into oceans, depending on how my paint ran. My frustration lay in the fact that in my mind’s eye I could see exactly what I wanted to render on paper, but somehow, that vision never made it from my brain to my brush.

I’ve stood in front of some paintings in galleries, wondering at the mind behind the madness on the canvas. I’ve seen adult work that could have been improved or bettered by a four-year-old. In my ignorance, I’m quite critical. I’m no expert. I’m more familiar with what I like than with what I’m supposed to like. And whether or not the artist is known or unknown is irrelevant.

Despite my ignorance, paintings fascinate me. I might go back five or six times to visit a piece before buying – just to be sure that it sits well with me. Right now, I’m obsessing over a painting that is being exhibited at a new gallery down on Üllői út – my street. The gallery is like a breath of fresh air on a thoroughfare that is rapidly lining itself with bars selling 4 cl of Jagermeister for 290 ft!

The bright, spacious premises that is 60-62 Üllői út, is now home to Budapest Art Brut Galéria. The walls are lined with bright, colourful paintings painted during a recent 24-hour paint marathon. Curiosity got the better of me this week and I went inside.

The Moravcsik Foundation started in 1991 with the sole aim of contributing to the treatment and rehabilitation of psychiatric patients through art therapy. In 2005, it helped create an art therapy workshop within the nearby Psychiatric Clinic at Semmelweiss University. In 2006, the artists’ work was first introduced to the public in an effort to reshape its perception of those living with psychiatric illnesses.

Psychart24 saw Art Brut artists working alongside professional and amateur artists for 24 hours to produce final pieces that were then adjudicated by a panel of judges. A number were chosen for exhibition and sale in this new gallery. Beside each painting sits the name of the artist – just their name. There’s no mark showing whether or not they’re patients. And while the price of each painting might speak to how good it is, it’s no indication of the mental state of the artist. I was enthralled.

There are many artistic luminaries whose sanity has been questioned over time. Be it Picasso and clinical depression or Van Gogh and bi-polar, somehow art has always been tinged with a little bit of creative insanity.

Herman Melville posited: ‘Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colours, but where exactly does the first one blindingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.’

The gallery is worth a visit. It gives jobs to people with psycho social problems who are undergoing treatment at the University; their work at the gallery is part of their therapy. The Foundation employs about 14 ‘healthy’ people including therapist helpers, a psychiatrist, art manager, and about 50 patients.  It’s a wonderful concept and offers a rare insight into the working minds of others. You can also buy candles, decorations, notebooks, leather goods, and wooden games, all produced by the Art Brut artists – perfect for Christmas. There are various art programmes for everyone; check them out on Facebook or at the website: www.artbrut.hu

First published in the Budapest Times 28 November 2014

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