Unknown Artist 272

The Adamson Collection is archived in the basement of the Wellcome Library. As you enter through locked doors you become aware of the temperature dropping. The artworks are kept in temperature controlled metal draws. Guided by Solomon from the Wellcome, I was in search of the paintings of a patient known only as Unknown Artist Number 272.

The starting point of my research was Adamson's book 'Art as Healing'. In it there is a section entitled 'Reintegration' in which Adamson shows the work of a young man experiencing depersonalisation, (where the body is felt not to exist or to lack cohesion). Little else is known about the young man other than he eventually recovered and moved to Italy. For the purposes of cataloguing, he is know as Unknown Artist 272. A large proportion of the collection is by unnamed artists; their work stands without any context, other than that it was made at Netherne. They communicate with us with a solely visual language.

I was drawn to the use of colour and energy in the artist's brushstrokes. They clearly painted with great speed and intensity. There is an excess of meaning in the paint, which we cannot know, as no record of the artist exists. All case notes at Netherne Hospital were lost when it shut in 1994. Perhaps just as important is our own response to the work and the associations it raises in ourselves.

In his book, Adamson states 'Sometimes the process of an illness demands that the mind must be stripped down before it can be reassembled. This experience is often accompanied by a sensation of total disintegration'. This certainly chimes with my own experience of mental illness.