Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.
Creativity as Medicine
[ Stories )
Gallery volunteer Joanne Farley-Webb discusses Bouke de Vries’s ‘Still Life with Bow Teapot’ and the powerful health benefits of creativity.
Bouke de Vries (1960) was born in Utrecht in the Netherlands and creates and deconstructs ornate sculptures from fragments of damaged pottery, found objects and porcelain. He infuses them with insects, flowers, decayed fruit, meaning and enigmatic rapture working in a predominantly intuitively way as part of his creative process. This allows each piece to grow in unexpected ways. Initially he wanted to work with beautiful things but it was that which was regarded as worthless and damaged which ignited a new story and artistic direction. Sustainability and his passion for Kintsugi (the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold) became his focus. His work embraces flaws and celebrates imperfections and has given life to even stronger, more beautiful pieces of art.
Fascinated by the symbolism in 17th and 18th century Dutch still life paintings we see parallels of these in his sculptures using glass and butterflies. Glass was expensive during this period, which made its symbolism all the more enchanting to collectors. An empty glass in a painting was a symbol for the fleetingness of a lived existence. The butterflies represented Christ or the human soul.
Life was very different when I first saw Bouke de Vries ‘Still Life with Bow Teapot’. It was under a little glass dome on a circular table at Pallant House Gallery in 2015 and I simply fell in love with it. Sometimes with art it’s a particular colour or a daub of paint where you can see the brush marks or a thumbprint like an archaeological discovery implanted on the canvas. And sometimes, it’s a sense of celestial wonder, interconnection and familiarity as though you and the artist are in some way entangled but you don’t know how.
I felt drawn to this particular piece in the gallery collection as I felt there was a kind of mental health wellness echo and contemplative message regarding our modern lives. More specifically, the poignant impact on each of us navigating the pandemic. In my opinion this tiny teapot is a powerful and a spellbinding metaphor for the loneliness, vulnerability, separateness and isolation still prevalent in our communities and homes. But there is also something else.
Created from the fragmented segments of a globular Bow teapot (c1765), de Vries forms a kind of ‘vanitas’ reflecting this fragility of our existence.
Defying gravity under the dome the rules of time, space and the laws of physics all seem to have been frozen. In a closer inspection we can the fragments are actually being held. We are witnessing a moment in time. If the butterflies are a symbol of faith and the broken teapot represents our shattered inner selves then perhaps it is really all about healing and recovery?
Perhaps what is important here are the spaces in-between?
Where does the original maker of the teapot stop and the artists work begin?
Perhaps they are now and have always been entwined over centuries of time?
The explosion is paused. The accidental trauma is unknown and inevitable final effect and outcome of this scene is impossible to know. Like fallen autumn leaves from a tree some of the teapot fragments have settled beneath whilst others parts of the teapot are suspended in a perpetual loop.
The fluttering of the wings of a butterfly in one part of the world is said to contribute to the causation of a tornado in another.
Most of us have heard of the term ‘butterfly effect’ a concept, which reminds us of something fundamental as human beings living on a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. The world and our lives don’t always follow a predictable pattern. I’ve often heard people say ‘whether you like it or not, chaos is a natural part of our lives’ but what if events only appear to be chaotic because we are unable to see the bigger picture?
‘Still Life with Bow Teapot’ is actually reversible should a future curator wish to fully restore it back into a complete teapot. But we are not reversible. As we attempt to return back to our lives before the pandemic we are discovering that the landscape of our inner world, our mental health, our decisions and choices, our priorities, our community and hearts have all been affected in some way, shape or form. Everything is a little different now.
So where do we go from here?
For me creativity has always been medicine. I believe that when we approach art and creativity as though they were healing remedies in an apothecary or as a contemplative daily practice there is profound and transformative impact on our lives. Creativity can support you to feel calm, reduce stress, alleviate anxiety and be a source for relaxation. It can keep us nourished, help us to thrive, allow a mindful moment, give us purpose and a deeper sense of compassion and insight. It benefits and encourages our recovery, can connect communities and help us to live a longer life, which is well lived and meaningful. There is so much growing evidence of the connections between creative and cultural activity and improved health and wellbeing that I simply do not have time to share it all.
So think about this.
Next time you start to crochet, pick up a beautiful ball of rainbow wool, get your sewing machine out, pick up some clay, start a scrapbook, sing, paint a picture, learn a new skill, arrange flowers, write poetry in a journal or create an amazing dinner for your family to enjoy you are creating a pause.
Within that pause is a space.
When we have a space…. there is an opportunity and what you do with that opportunity is up to you.
Joanne Farley-Webb sees art and creativity as a form of medicine and in 2021 co-founded an Arts Council funded project launching free arts-on-prescription workshops in the community. The project worked with local services in order to promote the positive impact of creativity on mental health and wellbeing. This included NHS Primary Innovation Trust, My Sisters house women’s center, Aldingbourne Trust, New Park Community Center, Pathfinders, NHS Sussex and Chichester District Council.