A meeting at a party in 1935 started one of the most fascinating collaborations between art and medical science.
Grace Pailthorpe (1883-1971), a doctor who had turned her attention to phychoanalysis and psychology and, met the British Surrealist artist Reuben Mednikoff (1906-1972) at a party in 1935 and thought that he might, through art, be able to help opening up the mind of one of her patients. From there started one of the most unusual collaborations in art and medical history as, together they began a long research project into how art can be used to free the mind and achieve better self-knowledge, using themselves as the main subjects. A highly important subject today with the increasing focus on wellness and mental health.
In the 1930′s Mednikoff was one of Britain’s leading Surrealist artists. Following their meeting, Pailthorpe also took up art and together they explored the meanings of the art through stories of the mind, recorded in their writings (never published) and lectures. They moved to Cornwall and exhibited at Surrealist exhibitions together before moving to America and then Canada to protect their research from potential destruction from bombing by the Germans or, worse possible, invasion by them. After the war, they returned and Pailthorpe started holding art therapy classes at the Portman Clinic in London. Together they drew and painted until the end of their lives.
It seems surprising, as they do not appear to have had particularly strong links with Scotland, but the National Galleries of Scotland today holds the archives of this unique partnership, along with several of their paintings.
Some of the archive material is on show at the Camden Arts Centre, along with many of their paintings. The interaction between art and the mind is a highly important subject, reflected today in the increasing focus on wellness and mental health. Hopefully this is the start of a greater understanding and appreciation of this unique collaboration, as researchers today explore their archive and paintings and explore what we might learn from their work in the 21st century.