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.

Psychart1 (800x531)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:

First published in the Budapest Times 28 November 2014

Forty shades of green

I’m sick. Homesick. I’ve been travelling for what seems like a couple of lifetimes, ever since I first headed Stateside back in 1990. Since then, I’ve lived for a total of three years in Ireland. Three out of the last twenty-four years. Doesn’t seem like much and one would think that by now, I’d have started to call somewhere else home.

IMG_9573 (800x591)Author John Ed Pearce reckons that home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. I never particularly wanted to leave Ireland. It was just one of those things. I’d applied for a US Green Card in the first ever visa lottery – mainly, I think, because everyone else was doing it. I never expected to win one and never gave much thought to what I’d do if I did. But I did. And I was given 28 days to uproot and take up residence in the U.S.of A. So I went. Not because I particularly wanted to live in America, but because I didn’t like my job. And far away hills are always greener.

IMG_9783 (800x586)German author and poet Christian Morganstern said that home is not where you live, but where they understand you. Were I to use his measure, I’d have multiple homes. I have a peculiar way of making people understand. Recently, after an interview I gave here in Budapest, a friend suggested (half in earnest) that she coach me. I was giving away too much. I was too open, too free with my stories. And yet although many might think that in four seasons of presiding over the Gift of the Gab, there’s nothing left to tell, a new story is born every week. And anyway, being Irish, I’m a great lover of poetic license and who knows what’s true and what isn’t. But back to understanding. I’m truly blessed that everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve met people who have taken the time to ‘get’ me; people who were curious enough to explore the inner workings of my mind (albeit with varying degrees of success) and admittedly, some still find consolation in that they’ve just about managed to understand the madness in me.

IMG_9781 (800x597)One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way. Perhaps Van Gogh had a point, but again, I’ve been very lucky that people have sat by me and had a conversation. Random meetings and happenstance have resulted in life-long friendships with people my own age … and younger … and older.  Perhaps the secret is to open my home to whomever, whenever. I’ve a fondness for entertaining and an appreciation that homes are happier places if they have that lived-in feel, even if there’s only one full-time resident. And when my fire is lighting, almost anyone is welcome. How long they get to stay though is another matter 🙂

IMG_9856 (800x599)Charles Dickens reckoned that home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answer to, in the strongest conjuration. I was fortunate this last trip to see parts of Ireland I’d not seen before. Magical parts. Parts that couldn’t be bettered by the wave of a thousand wands. Driving the back roads and scenic routes, we came across remnants of times gone by, some spots so remote that it seemed as if we were the only living souls for miles around. When I look at the photos, I’m reminded of Johnny Cash and his 1961 song 40 shades of green and perhaps, for the first time in a long, long time, I get the emotion behind it.

IMG_9555 (800x600)A few hundred years ago, Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote that every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Perhaps that’s where I’m at. A journey that started off by accident and through a series of random happenings along the road it has brought me to Budapest. And yet, despite the fact that I’ve been gone for close to a quarter of a century, give or take a few years, I still talk of going home. Home home. To Ireland. And again, I’m lucky. I can go pretty much as often as I please … I know not many have that luxury.

IMG_9560 (800x600)Nineteenth century author Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote something that really resonates and perhaps best explains the umbilical attachment I have to Ireland and her people. Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserved; it’s life’s undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room, from which we go forth to more careful and guarded intercourse, leaving behind…cast-off and everyday clothing. I may never again live in Ireland full time. That said, I could move home next month. Therein lies the beauty of life – the great unknown. This evening though, I’m in an odd mood. I’m in a strange place. I’m something I haven’t been in a long time. I’m homesick.

But enough… I need to pack. Italy is calling.

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