Yvonne Mabs Francis

I found the following essay and artworks through the Open University site, the original article can be found here. Please do go to the original article as it is extremely interesting and also deals with Yvonne’s artwork in a more in-depth way as Yvonne has written about each painting and what they represent. The reason I haven’t put those explanations on here is so that you do the good thing and jump onto their website to view it. You can also find a lot of other wonderfully informative stuff from The Open Learn Team by visiting this page here. You won’t be disappointed!

“My name is Yvonne Mabs Francis. I’m an artist by training. I went to the Slade in the Sixties and I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to paint for the last thirty years more or less full time. In the summer of 1969 my father died and I immediately felt ill. The first thing was sleeplessness, and this went on for a period of about three weeks, and I had obsessive thoughts that later became delusional, the delusional of the painting Liar I experienced at this time. I thought that these thoughts had made my brain protrude like horns from the top of my head. I would ask people whether they were there and I didn’t believe them, I would look in the mirror and I still didn’t believe them. I would even put my hands above my head and I still was convinced I had horns on my head.

Liar by Yvonne Mabs Francis

Within about another two weeks I’d submitted myself to the Warneford Mental Hospital, Oxford. On entering it I was asked whether or not I was likely to commit suicide. I wasn’t likely to commit suicide, I’d felt quite a successful person, I felt there was everything to live for, I was simply terrified by the fact of what I’d gone through and having brains outside your head is, you must admit, pretty terrifying. I knew I was suffering something mentally so I’d gone there thinking that they would talk me through it, but none of them ever tried it at all. And I’m pretty certain that it would have worked because I remember at one stage a sister saying to me that the pieces that were sort of jangling about in my head, they would go away and in time I would feel better. And I remember just for a short moment lifting up my head and all these pieces that were in my head went to the back of my head and I felt defiant and I felt less afraid.

Breakdown by Yvonne Mabs Francis

This just happened for a moment so I really felt totally convinced that if the doctors talked you through it, in the same way they may talk to you today about having a heart attack or any other physical illness, this would have relieved me to some extent. I appreciated it was something I had to live through but it would have helped. Mental illness is like a wall. You are behind your wall, you’re fairly logical behind your wall actually, and what you say isn’t always very easy for other people to understand, your language is, in other words, slightly disjointed or confused.

The Madness of Medication by Yvonne Mabs Francis

After four weeks when I was hospitalised I went up into a locked ward for more severe cases. They tried deep sleep treatment which really didn’t work because obviously you are partly conscious, and it made it even worse because the power of your body ceased with the medication that they’d given you so you couldn’t in any way sort of express your distress. What did help me, however, although I do feel at that time I was just beginning to turn the corner, was electric shock treatment. The Warneford, for all my criticism, were actually very good at electric shock treatment. Don’t ever be taken in by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it really is wrong. And they did it in such a way that you hardly knew what was happening and you felt an awful lot better afterwards. It may only be temporary but you just hold onto the better times. After about three to four weeks of this treatment I managed to be well enough to leave hospital and I’m afraid I never returned there, I never returned to my outpatients appointments because I’d simply been too horrified. In fact I’ve never walked up the driveway in all the years since then.

The Bodily Time Machine by Yvonne Mabs Francis

I painted these series of pictures at least 35 years after my experience. I did it because they would make good images but I did it also – but this was secondary – I wanted to lay to rest this silence that I felt I had over this, and these issues that I had over my treatment up there at Warneford, and to try to put over exactly what mental health delusions are. Many people talk about them, they analyse them, they work out that it’s this and that but nobody actually says exactly what it is that they’re suffering. And this is what I was very, very keen to do because I felt that that would help people, that that would have helped me when I was suffering if somebody had done this to me, and I’d hoped it would help people in the future. And in fact one comment in a book when I showed them at a gallery was that they’d had a father suffering mental health problems and they’d never up until that point realised what they were suffering. So in that way it was done to not only help people that were suffering but to help people around them to see exactly what they may be suffering.

Stages of Hospitalisation by Yvonne Mabs Francis

A lot of people have asked me whether these paintings were a cathartic experience for me. Well they were not, they were done in a really cold calculating way. I was out on a mission for mental health and I was out to produce good images, and it didn’t affect me in the slightest looking back and thinking about these experiences. My paintings do have great meaning for me in my life. I don’t think I’d want to be without working. I have, as I said, I do suffer depression, not to an unmanageable extent but it does certainly help my depression, and it also gives my life great meaning. This is the problem, you know, with sort of a lack of religion is finding meaning, and for me my meaning is my work and that is a huge sort of coping mechanism.”

Third Month by Yvonne Mabs Francis

The Electric Bed by Yvonne Mabs Francis

Double Deaths by Yvonne Mabs Francis

[All Images copyright: Yvonne Mabs Francis]


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