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‘Boo-Bar’ shows works by Mary Barnes at Bow Arts’ Nunnery Gallery

PUBLISHED: 15:32 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:45 10 February 2015

Mary Barnes' Volcanic Eruption' (left) and as yet 'Untitled'

Mary Barnes' Volcanic Eruption' (left) and as yet 'Untitled'

Ollie Harrop

Pictures created by a woman having treatment in an experimental psychiatric programme in London’s East End in the 1960s who was the subject of a book about madness have gone on public show.

The exhibition of paintings and drawings by the prolific outsider artist Mary Barnes has opened at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow Road from the collection of her therapist Dr Joseph Berke—who she nicknamed “Boo-Bah” in a love letter scrawled in her handwriting 3ft high.

Her painting career began when she moved into Kingsley Hall in Bromley-by-Bow in 1965, then housing the Philadelphia experimental psychiatric clinic, following a breakdown and diagnosis of schizophrenia.

She joined the Philadelphia Association which was an alternative treatment community, created by the radical psychiatrist RD Laing.

Berke arrived as a new medical graduate from New York who developed a strong bond with Mary, famously dramatised in the play Mary Barnes by David Edgar, based on the book Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness. Mary died in 2001, aged 78.

Gallery director Rosamond Murdoch said: “Mary Barnes is a key character in the history of Bow and particularly the radical social history of Kingsley Hall.”

Nunnery Gallery was invited by Dr Berke to show the collection, which runs until March 29.


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