Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Phil has been working with Smartarts Blackpool and painter Pete Flowers on pieces for the new mental health facility The Harbour being built on the edge of Blackpool. Over the next few days, we will post some excerpts of Phil's Blackpool blogs from the summer and autumn. A complete set of the blogs and photos is at the Blackpool Arts for Health blogsite.

24 July 2014

First Steps

Pete's many circular objects, to inspire our circular design

The first session of any project is always a step into the unknown, no matter how much prep you've done. Today was even more unknown for me because not only was I working with a new group of participants, the Smartarts group in Blackpool, I was teamed up with a new art partner too, the artist Pete Flowers. Together, Pete and I will facilitate this group in an ambitious new piece.

We're all working together on a circular plaque that will sit outside new mental health facility The Harbour, at Blackpool. It's ambitious because we are making something that'll be cast in iron, so it'll last a long time. A VERY long time. Casts last hundreds of years (unless of course they get swiped and melted). As we sat and chatted through it all, the enormity hit me. This is a piece of work that will possibly not only to outlive me, but all of my books. In a sense it is a time capsule, sent by us into a future that we will never witness. In such circumstances there is a temptation to force profundity. But trying to make something BE IMPORTANT is always the kiss of death in art-making, so instead we began quickly and modestly.

Pete started the ball rolling by inviting folks to each sketch a symbol of themselves, quickly and spontaneously, an image held within a hand. As the group worked I went from person to person, asking them to explain the thinking behind their pieces. I jotted down the explanations, which became a poignant little textwork in itself. I read it back and we all looked at each other, looked at the artworks. Not a bad start. In fact, say it quietly, very promising...

31 July 2014

Zen Tightrope  

This is the second week we've worked together and our group is slowly starting to become familiar to Pete and myself (the facilitators) and one another. People shared paper, responding to the circular objects Pete had selected for them to draw - and responding to each other as well. Making creative pieces can be a wonderfully calming process, several people in the group commented on the therapeutic feeling that has been conjured up in the space as people busy on drawings or poems. It was a delight to walk among the makers and share some of that fabulous busy calm. 

But there is a flipside, as one person pointed out. With creativity comes exposure, the possibility of getting it wrong, of harsh judgement. Today, as the group started to relax with each other, some deep-seated habits began to emerge, among them cruel self-criticism. We're trying to develop an atmosphere in these sessions that is both non-judgemental AND gently challenging. It's a sort of zen tightrope between control and looseness. Great musicians "play" music with absolute control and yet lightly. Perhaps we too can enter that state, as a group, to bring back something that is playful and meaningful too - eternity, connection, peace, continuity, fullness - playful, but serious play.

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