Joan Wisdom inspired Life Drawings and Mental Health

Having engrossed myself in Joan Wisdom's work for a week or more absorbing her story and drawing in her style to convey it, I was looking forward to my life drawing class so that I could have a go at doing some life drawings in her style and with the same materials as I had been using. Unfortunately the class was closed for summer break!

Returning home I decided that I still wanted to do some life drawings, so I took life drawings that I had done in previous classes and looked for some poses that I thought conveyed something that had an affinity with mental health and decided to use the patterns inspired by Joan wisdom's work as graphic vehicles to illustrate the message.


Z.H.34.57.96.D Committed to Hospital

I wanted to use this pose to illustrate the subject of the drawing which is based on Joan Wisdom exploring the experience of being committed to a Mental Hospital and what that actually meant for her, and in particular how she felt about being labelled with a number that was to become her identity.

The usual impression of the nude in artwork is often portrayed as a muse or as a sexual being, So I thought that it would an interesting exercise to combine the model nude with feelings that are symptoms of mental health problems.


Schizophrenia and Medication

Using Wax crayons, a T-Light candle that I used as a resist and poster paint on 22 x 17 inch lining wallpaper. I drew all figure and background in using the wax crayons first, textured the body and background with the wax from the candle, which is not so easy as you cannot see where you have drawn with it as it is clear! and then adding watered down paint layers. Finally to finish the image off I used a black oil pastel to create the heavy black line. The oil pastel gives a greater depth of colour than the black wax pastel.

With the image Schizophrenia I wanted to convey the confusion and detachment that the condition can cause the sufferer to feel, the voices or Hallucinations and confused thinking and desire to possibly withdraw form society. The turning away of the head shows a dis-interest and the pose indicates a level of trappedness. 'Medication' as the name implies, looks at the drugs that are prescribed to help manage the conditions. Taking medication daily is not always easy and the fact that taking medication can often have its own side effects.


Tardive Dyskinesia

Tardive Dyskinesia is a possible side effect of anti-psychotic medication. It can cause the body to make sharp twitching or slow twisting movements which you can't control. It can have lasting effects even if the medication is stopped. The pose is fragile and vulnerable with a sense of fear and uncertainty.


"What is wrong with my head?" and Depression

Drawing on the information that I had gained from looking at Joan Wisdom's work and looking at such websites as I have selected 12 life drawing poses that help convey different aspects of Mental Health conditions. I wanted to look at what it must be like to be affected by mental health conditions and not understanding why you felt different from everyone else in 'What is wrong with my head?'. The complex interconnection of the patterns in the background imply the confusion and complexity of such things as the chemical imbalances that can occur in our brains. Using graphic elements such as the cloud of depression also helps convey the emotion of the condition. The inclusion of flowers on the fabric indicates bright and positive aspects of life that remain unseen by the person suffering from depression


ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)

I find this image really powerful; the fact that a patient has a protector to bite on while experiencing ECT is very telling of the effects of the treatment. It was not necessary to shave the head for this treatment which is now often done under anesthetic, but this was not always the case. ECT was used far more widely in the past, today it is only used for a few specific conditions. The treatment can be painful and can cause memory loss and feelings of detachment, which pass after a short time; a few hours or days.


Voices and Defiance

Hearing voices is a fairly common problem and is experienced by many people, for many the voices are not a problem , however for some people the voices are frightening and distracting. The figure surrounded by the voices and retreating into a fetal position I think gives an impression of what it must feel like. In 'Defiance' I wanted to show the strength of suffers as they learn to manage their particular problem, her body is slightly recoiling, but she faces her demons to let them know that she will not let them beat her.



With the Bipolar pose I wanted to show an illustration of that feeling of wanting to be swallowed by a black hole when in a depressive state. Bipolar symptoms include both manic (high) and depressive (low) episodes and is characterized by these mood swings. Using the contour lines and the gradated toning that I drew from Joan Wisdom's artwork along with the darker cold blues wrapping the womb-like warm burgundy reds in the center where the figure curls up to hide in a classic ball-like pose.


Hallucinations and Manic Episodes

I also wanted to explore Hallucinations where the sufferer will see and hear things that others cannot, a common trait that sufferers experience while in a psychosis, or are having a psychotic episode. This is when they are said to loose touch with reality, or suffer disorganized thinking or muddled speech. Finally I explored Mania or Hypomania where the sufferer will experience manic episodes of overactive thoughts, these can lead to states ranging from creativeness to confusion.

Joan Wisdom Life Drawing Comp_Webjpg

Life Drawing and Mental Health Compilation

By putting these drawings together as a compilation I think they are quite striking and the combination of stark bright colours, life drawing model poses and graphic motifs go together to convey an interpretation of Mental Health conditions and suffering, which I think is a fitting homage to Joan Wisdom's work.
I am aware that I have only used the female figure inspired by Joan's work, and that mental health covers all sexes and races, and affects at any age. something that could be addressed in a future series of works!

Niki Gibbs
14 September 2018