It was sitting in a cafe in Holborn back in February 2016 that Andrea first told me of her passion for mental health and how she felt that it didn’t get the attention it deserved. It was a passion brought on by the fact that a number of people close to her have experienced mental health problems in the past, yet the system didn’t really seem designed to be able to fully support those people.
Back then she had just finished a piece of public art on Southampton Row, an old phone box converted into a foliage filled eco-art piece in the middle of the city. It was a project that took several weeks, Andrea is a fine artist who made her name by transposing a style more normally suited to the studio onto the street.
So to commit herself to a show featuring a series of large scale portraits, each of which themselves will no doubt have taken a number of weeks to complete, all in the name of raising mental health awareness, it takes on a new dimension in terms of the dedication given to this show. What’s more, these pieces aren’t for sale, that’s not the point, the point is to start a conversation.
Now standing here in the 5th Base Gallery, a space just off Brick Lane, the white walls are filled with the faces of people from all walks of life staring out at me. The portraits are deliberately unfinished. The backgrounds white, the hair sometimes filled in, sometimes sketched, they seem to merge into the wall behind.
These are images of people from both the public eye and from normal life who have experienced mental health problems in the past. What’s more, they are accompanied by audio portraits, interviews Andrea has conducted with each of the sitters so that you are able to hear their story as well as see their faces.
The likes of Kerry Katona, Gail Porter, Ricky Hatton, Leon McKenzie and Alistair Campbell mingle with people known from Andreas life such as her friends Fred, Puneeta, Mark and Tori. In the gallery, there is no difference, they are just people telling their stories ranging from experiences of anxiety, depression and bipolar.
Some of the accompanying audio portraits add some real depth to the image of the person staring out from the white canvas. Here we hear people talking with honesty about their experiences, experiences that are commonplace yet all too often hidden. According to Alistair Campbell, who himself tells his own story, “Her paintings excite me – this doesn’t happen often with me and art. This is an important project in the campaign to break down stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness.”
Another sitter, TV presenter and conservationist Bill Oddie talked about his experiences saying “Bipolar isn’t easy to diagnose, nor to treat, nor to live with. It can be elusive. Like people. Like light. Andrea Tyrimos recognizes that. Her portraits have lightness. Lightness of touch. Look at her work, listen to her talk, and you soon appreciate that she is a very humane being. Humour, warmth, accessibility and relevance. The art and the person.”
What’s next for the show is uncertain, Andrea intends to keep it alive and to look for other spaces in which to exhibit whilst all the while adding to the work by meeting new people and learning from their own experiences. The show at the 5th Base Gallery, only lasting ultimately a few days in October, has more life in it yet and knowing Andrea, there will be more to come.
Bipolar Picasso ran from 14-19 October 2016 at the 5th Base Gallery just off Brick Lane in London. Andrea was interviewed on Sunday 16 October 2016 at the gallery.
Andrea Tyrimos Bipolar Picasso Gallery
To read more posts featuring the work of Andrea Tyrimos have a look at the following: