Mary Barnes: Boo-Bah, Bow Arts, Nunnery Gallery, London

Prolific outsider artist Mary Barnes (1923-2001) is represented in an exhibition featuring paintings and drawings spanning her artistic career which began in the 1960s in Bow, East London. The works predominantly derive from the collection of Dr. Joseph Berke, her therapist and friend, and who was nick-named “Boo-Bah” in a love letter scaling over a metre high and scrawled in Mary’s inimitable handwriting.

Barnes is a key character in the history of Bow and particularly the radical social history which is embodied in the remarkable Kingsley Hall, once the home of Mahatma Gandhi. It was here in 1965 that Berke started a remarkable creative partnership with Barnes as she moved to Kingsley Hall following a breakdown and diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Here, she joined the Philadelphia Association which was an alternative and experimental treatment community, created by the radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing and his group of colleagues. It was at the same time that Berke travelled to East London, as a recent medical graduate from New York, to work for R. D. Laing and met Barnes. They developed a strong bond, famously dramatised in the play Mary Barnes by David Edgar which was itself based on the book Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness written by Berke and Barnes. The artist passed away in 2001, aged 78.

Mary Barnes: Boo-Bah, 16 January – 29 March, Bow Arts, Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ.

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1. Mary Barnes, Volcanic Eruption (detail). Photo by Ollie Harrop. Courtesy of Bow Arts.