A celebration of the life and legacy of renowned self-taught artist Mary Barnes (1923-2001) is to take place in her centenary year, as part of this year’s festival.

The Rebirth & Revolution programme encompasses an art exhibition – being hosted at the Advanced Research Centre (ARC), University of Glasgow, from 6-21 October – curated by Victoria Tischler, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Surrey, and four complementary events across Glasgow, Fife and online. These events bring together a range of experts from psychiatry, the arts and academia, as well as people who knew Barnes personally, to explore her work, her relationship to Scotland, and the profound impact that creating art had on her mental health. 

Mary Barnes (courtesy of Wellcome Collection)

Mary Barnes was resident at Glaswegian psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s therapeutic community, an experiment in anti-psychiatry, at Kingsley Hall from 1965-1970. Her artwork demonstrates the radical potential of creativity to support recovery from mental ill health. 

At Kingsley Hall, Barnes was encouraged to regress to a child-like state to ‘live through’ her psychosis and recover from her mental health crisis. Barnes was supported by American psychoanalyst Dr Joseph Berke, who encouraged her creative practice. Initially using her own faeces on the walls of Kingsley Hall, and later graduating to oil paint, she soon became a prolific artist. She primarily used her fingers to apply paint to canvas, wallpaper backing paper, and found objects.  

The Crucifixion (no date) by Mary Barnes
(courtesy of Wellcome Collection)

The themes of crucifixion, resurrection, and her deep connection to nature feature, linked to her rebirth and recovery, and the sense of belonging she found in her adopted Scottish homeland. The artwork to be displayed as part of the Rebirth & Revolution exhibition comes from a large collection held by the Falkland Estate in Fife, and was mostly produced in the last two decades of her life. Barnes’ enduring relationship with Falkland Estate began when she lived there during the 1980s and 90s – it is also where her archive is held, and she was laid to rest in Falkland cemetery in 2001. 

Mary Barnes exhibited widely in the UK and abroad during her lifetime and achieved recognition as a painter, writer and poet. As a mental health campaigner, she often travelled with her work and delivered talks about the close relationship between her creativity and recovery from mental health crisis. She co-authored the book ‘Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness’ with Joseph Berke, in which they each recounted her experiences at Kingsley Hall. The book later inspired David Edgar’s 1978 play Mary Barnes’, originally performed by Patti Love as Barnes and Simon Callow as Berke, which appeared at the Birmingham Rep, London’s Royal Court Theatre and Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre. 

David Edgar is just one of twelve people – a mixture of experts and personal friends of Mary Barnes – who will discuss the artist’s life and legacy as part of the programme’s event series.

Rebirth & Revolution programme

Mary Barnes: A Creative Revolution in Mental Healthcare 
Thu 5 Oct (6-8.30pm), ARC, University of Glasgow 
This interactive event and exhibition launch brings together experts from psychology, social geography, fine art and medicine to consider and discuss the artwork and legacy of Mary Barnes. Moderated by Professor Victoria Tischler, the panel includes Dr Allan Beveridge, Dr Cheryl McGeachan, University of Glasgow, and Dr Drew Walker who will each respond to the work presented in the exhibition. 

The Three Stages of Sacrifice (1991) - Artwork by Mary Barnes
The Three Stages of Sacrifice (1991) by Mary Barnes
(courtesy of Falkland Estate)

Rebirth & Revolution: 
the Life and Legacy of Mary Barnes
Fri 6 – Sat 21 Oct, ARC, University of Glasgow 
An exhibition of artworks celebrating the life and legacy of Mary Barnes in her centenary year. 
Mary Barnes: Rebirth 
Sat 7 Oct (6-7.30pm), The Chapel Royal, Falkland Palace, Falkland 
This special event reflects upon Mary Barnes’s life in Scotland, her deep connection to nature and her spiritual beliefs. Co-hosted by Ninian Stuart (Keeper of Falkland Palace) and Professor Victoria Tischler, this event brings together therapists, friends and academics to reflect upon and celebrate Mary Barnes’s life and work. They are joined by creative arts worker Anthea McKinlay, developmental psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, music therapist George Francis, and Dr Huw Lloyd-Richards, Honorary Research Fellow, University of St Andrews. 

Madonna, 1998, by Mary Barnes.
Madonna (1998) by Mary Barnes
(courtesy of Falkland Estate)

Mary Barnes: A Tour of Works in Store  
Fri 13 Oct (2-3pm), Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, 200 Woodhead Road, Glasgow G53 7NN 
A tour of works by Mary Barnes in the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre store, led by Dr Anthony Lewis, curator of Scottish History, Glasgow Life Museums. 

Mary Barnes: The Revolution Continues  
Tue 17 Oct (6-8.30pm), Online on Zoom 
This online panel event brings together experts from archive, theatre, library studies, psychology and psychotherapy to discuss Mary Barnes’s legacy and what it teaches us about the revolutionary potential of creativity. Moderated by Professor Victoria Tischler, the panel includes Elena Carter, archivist, Wellcome Collection; Melanie Grant, Collections Development Librarian, Wellcome Collection; David Edgar, playwright, Mary Barnes (1979); and Ephraim Rosenstein, psychotherapist. 

I’m thrilled to be able to curate this exhibition and event series in the centenary year of Mary Barnes’ birth. More than two decades after her death, Barnes’s artwork remains a unique testament to the power of hope, healing and recovery. Her visceral images of spiritual salvation, human attachment, and nature connection depict concepts that are recognised as critical in fostering mental wellbeing. The acquisition of her archive and a collection of her artwork by the Wellcome Collection will ensure that many more will discover this underrated artist and mental health activist.

Victoria Tischler, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Surrey

Explore the full Mary Barnes programme and book tickets here.