Birds, by Tommy Mason. Courtesy Project Ability
Most people are aware of how difficult it can be for artists to get their work exhibited and make a mark. Can you imagine the problems that face artists with learning disabilities living in rural areas?
Help can be provided. There and Back is a programme of exhibitions developed by Project Ability, a Glasgow-based visual arts organisation. Project Ability aims to establish links between learning disabled artists across Scotland, with the key intention of reaching out to artists from rural communities. The show is on at the Centre for Developmental Arts until August 26 2005 and is essentially two exhibitions in one space.
“There and Back showcases work from an ongoing rural-urban exchange during which Project Ability participants from Glasgow visited Skye, and artists from Skye took part in workshops in Glasgow,” explained Kirstin Bannerman, Development Officer at Project Ability.
Courtesy Project Ability
“All of the work in this part of the exhibition are paintings on canvas and mostly depict landscapes, seascapes, and wildlife from Skye. Journeys meanwhile, is more of a mixed-media exhibition.”
With such a variety of drawings, pastels, and sculptures using found objects, Journeys is perhaps the more experimental and colourful part of the exhibition. The paintings on the other side of the room, however, should not be overlooked.
Highlights of the There and Back exhibition include Birds by Tommy Mason; a simple yet powerful image of wildlife from Skye. Using ink on canvas, Mason depicts fish in abstract form and chooses a strong colour palette. Other canvases, for example Sky Boat by Cameron Morgan, demonstrate innovative ink effects.
Dinosaur, by Studi'03 Project in Inverness. Courtesy Project Ability
Moving towards the Journeys part of the exhibition, a mosaic construction and a dinosaur piece (made of driftwood and wire) can be viewed along-side more traditional mediums. Red Roofed Palace by Ian Lowe, is an exotic building model embellished with brightly-coloured tile pieces, skillfully arranged into patterns. The dinosaur piece is in two parts, and was built by artists from the Studi’03 Project in Inverness.
Journeys is a partnership project between Project Ability and The National Museums of Scotland, involving five groups of adults with learning disabilities from across Scotland. The groups are Access Arts (Dumfries), Project Ability (Glasgow), 4 Arts (West Fife), Studi’03 Artists (Inverness) and Key Housing (Thurso).
The groups met in The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in January 2005. They worked together over two days on the project’s chosen theme - Journeys. The artists drew inspiration from the visit to the National Museum, sketching dinosaur bones, sailing boats and other methods of transport on display.
Journeys is, however, a work in progress. The final exhibition opens at The National Museum of Scotland on November 8, 2005. Digital images on display (created by 11 artists from Project Ability) will be used in a short animation film to be shown at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh in November.
Project Ability is clearly succeeding in creating opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities to participate in a wide range of artistic activities. An artist from the Project Ability workshop approached me while I was walking around the exhibition. He asked if I would like to see some of his artworks next door in the studio, and proudly showed me his latest achievements on canvas.
This is one of the key aims of the project — to promote self-expression and feelings of self-esteem and confidence. As the artists busily work in close proximity to the exhibition space, the visitor gets a clearer understanding of how Project Ability operates. Both the creative and psychological benefits of the programme can be seen for ourselves.