Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways: Selected Artists From the Adamson Collection

15 May to 25 July 2017, Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck School of Arts

The Adamson Collection is one of the world’s largest collections of artworks made by psychiatric patients. It consists of approximately 6,000 paintings, drawings and sculptural objects, produced between 1946 and 1981 by the residents of Netherne, a long-stay British mental hospital, under the guidance of Edward Adamson.

Adamson (1911-1996) was initially engaged to assist with research into the relationship between mental illness and creativity: as a professional artist, his job was to encourage the patients to paint, with the resulting works transferred to clinicians for analysis. After the study ended in 1951, Adamson established an open studio where residents were allowed to come and paint freely. He rejected the diagnostic focus of the earlier experiments, convinced that the very process of art making was therapy enough, and that creative expression could be a tool to help people find their way back to wellness.

Martin Birch, untitled drawing (Mr A moves in mysterious ways). Credit: Adamson Collection / Wellcome Trust.

The collection interweaves a range of narratives, including the history of the post-war mental institution, the development of psychiatric practice in the UK, and the origins of art therapy as a profession. It also tells a number of individual stories, including that of Adamson himself, and of the people who produced work under his guidance.

This exhibition displays selected works by eight people, chosen for their distinctive visual styles and particular histories. By presenting these individuals as artists, rather than as un-named and undifferentiated psychiatric patients, and framing their objects as artworks, the exhibition aims to highlight the aesthetic, personal and historical dimensions of the collection, whilst remaining sensitive to its medical and therapeutic contexts.

This exhibition is supported by a Wellcome Trust / Birkbeck ISSF Public Engagement Award.

It has been curated by Dr Heather Tilley (Birkbeck Wellcome Trust ISSF Fellow, Department of English and Humanities) and Dr Fiona Johnstone (Associate Research Fellow, Department of Art History), in association with Birkbeck’s Centre for Medical Humanities.

A list of works included in the exhibition can be downloaded here: Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways List of Works