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'Letting in the Light' review

An intimate, glowing haven of wild colour and intricate detail illuminates Stratford High Street, London with a series of large light boxes featuring images of paintings, drawings, digital and mixed media work. – Kate Lovell visits 'Letting in the Light'

Bobby Baker's Battle Hardened.

Slicing upwards through the greyness of a February dusk, an array of glowing, colourful light boxes bring a warmth to this downbeat stretch of Stratford pavement. This is Bobby Baker’s latest offering, an exhibition entitled Letting in the Light which showcases the work of adults who have experienced mental distress.

Public art is a difficult nut to crack, often it lies unnoticed and unloved long after it should have been dismantled, at other times it is obscure and inaccessible. Not so here. Curated by Daily Life Ltd, Letting In The Light has built a space which feels at once intimate and welcoming. A plinth, raising the art work slightly off street level, along with the illumination of the works, is a powerful combination which draws you in and creates the feeling of a miniature gallery, popping up to help us drown out the traffic and chicken shop surrounds.

An energetic patterning reminiscent of the Mexican Day of the Dead’s intricate, wildly neon sugar skulls is transposed onto a two-headed bull-like creature, which appears to be standing in outer space. Greg Bromley’s poem below the work touches on the drinking of an ‘elixir’ which makes atoms disintegrate and reappear, bringing my thoughts to the decision to take, or not to take, medication which will alter something of you, reform into a new you. The image is captivating and, with the two-headed creature, for me represented both madness and sanity, co-existing in harmony, both bursting with colour and energy.

The intricacy of the works in this exhibition is what compels me to linger, in spite of the cold air – the images are incredibly detailed, Sue Morgan’s piece entitled Schizophrenia provides a portrait of tiny people, words, letters, half-words. She uses a stencil, which gives a sense of order amongst the randomness. It is possible to almost fall into the work’s detail, which feels an astute account of the ‘takeover’ of mind that can occur during a psychotic episode. I am very moved by the piece by Kate Rolison, a handkerchief with sparse black stitching depicting a wishing well, which asks “Are you well?” and responds, “I’m welling up.” The piece refers to the stress of the endlessly asked and dreaded ‘how are you?’ which I recognise through my own experience of mental distress.Bobby Baker displays some of her own work amidst the other artists, including the beautiful Daily Stream of Consciousness, depicting a calmly flowing river through her mind, face and neckline.

The intelligence of the exhibition’s curators is in the importance of all the artwork being created by adults with experience of mental distress and mounting this in a very public place. There is no sense of hierarchy: the art is for everyone and many people stop to look as they stroll the high street.Children and adults alike are drawn in by the light, contrasting from the winter gloom. The exhibition provokes debate about mental health and the notion of ‘madness’, but with admirable subtlety. The work is of very high quality, but no one artist is championed above another.

The accompanying text for each image provides just enough information to enhance the work, but is written in plain English to ensure accessibility to the average passer-by. To create discussion about mental health and sanity through offering free art and light in the dreariest months Britain drags us through is sheer genius – “Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light” Letting in the Light is exhibited at The Grove, London, E15 1EL (Stratford) until 24th March 2016.

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