A starkly beautiful painting of an elderly man sitting alone in his room in a psychiatric hospital has won a major award at this year’s Royal Ulster Academy Exhibition in the Ulster Museum.
The work is by Eddie Rafferty, artist-in-residence at the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and is part of his series of paintings depicting life in psychiatric hospitals in Northern Ireland and South Africa.
He was delighted to learn that he had received the RUA’s Conor Award for best figurative work in any medium, sponsored by Conor Café which is located across the Stranmillis Road from the Ulster Museum.
“It was totally unexpected. I have shown at the RUA Exhibition a few times so I was very surprised when I won the award,” he said.
William Clark, co-owner of Café Conor said Eddie’s painting was a worthy winner of the annual award.
“It’s very striking. There is an attractive, solitary aspect to it. The colours are muted compared to its neighbours and I love the use of light. As an art lover, it is very rewarding to be involved with the RUA.”
The painting is of a man that Mr Rafferty got to know very well over his years working as an artist-in-residence.
“It is someone I work with closely and the whole idea is about friendship and time spent together. It has a feeling of quietness and emptiness and I describe it as a ‘keyhole picture; something you glance at when you are walking past a room.
For the past ten years, Mr Rafferty has been dividing his time between teaching art to patients in Northern Ireland and South Africa.
He has worked in St Luke’s Hospital in Armagh and Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria and Sterkfontein Hospital in Johannesburg, as part of his role as an artist with the Belfast-based Arts Care organisation.
He finds working in psychiatric hospitals very rewarding: “My work has always been driven by narrative and storytelling and I have sought through collaborations between St Luke’s and Weskoppies and Sterkfontein to look at mental health and the stigma surrounding it.
“I try to get people to use art to tell their personal life stories. I think people find it much easier to express their issues and personal problems through art rather than by talking about them.
“In South Africa I worked with people who were involved in the Angolan Bush Wars who hadn’t gone through debriefing and were haunted by what they saw and by what they did. They were able to use art as therapy to help them deal with their experiences.”
The 132nd annual RUA exhibition, which features more than 260 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures, runs until January 5, 2014 at the Ulster Museum. The exhibition is free and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.