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Drawing by Janet Hemsley.

Life-drawing classes bring laughter and fun to relieve dementia darkness

Dementia is not much fun; for the subjects themselves, for their families or for their carers. But drawing has provided a way to cut through the darkness and get people laughing, as Judy Parkinson has found with her Drawing Life classes. A first exhibition of the work will be on view from next weekened, she tells Nick Terdre.

Drawing Life sees Judy Parkinson, along with art teacher Robert Sample and life model Mike Mitchell, leading life-drawing classes at Hastings Court care home. The results of the initiative, which is backed by the Big Lottery Fund, are some remarkable pictures and a lot of laughs from the group, many of whom are living with dementia.

“I came up with the idea for Drawing Life because I am interested in memory, as the author of the best-selling book about mnemonics, I Before E, Except After C, and art, having spent many an hour at life-drawing classes,” Judy says. “It is sometimes said that as we age we revert to childhood. Picasso said that it took him a lifetime to paint like a child. I thought I would play with this paradox.

Drawing by Doris Jones.

“Most of the people in the class are looking at the model as if for the first time. Many start with no memory of what they drew before. The drawings are remarkable. The work has become more proficient and confident as a kind of motor memory kicks in. Is it art, science or therapy?

“According to senior lecturer in art Chris Milton, the drawings have an incredible spontaneity, and a sense of sophistication evocative of abstract and expressionist art. Dr Paresh Malhotra, a neurologist from Charing Cross Hospital, who attended one of the classes, thinks the project has a lot of value with repeated engagement, the concentration and the well-being it induces. So much better than doing something passive, he said.

“Apart from the likely mental health benefits, the sense of well-being and calmness in the class is palpable, not to mention the songs, the saucy comments and the infectious laughter that can overcome everyone present – apart from Mike our model who keeps a straight face and a steady eye, but he’s smiling inside for sure.”

The first chance to see the work of the Drawing Life participants will be an exhibition at Hastings Court next Saturday. The show will be accompanied by an ambient soundscape made entirely of sound effects recorded by Keith Rodway during the classes.

Drawing Life Exhibition Saturday 19 December, 3-5pm. Hastings Court Care Home, 314 The Ridge, Hastings, TN34 2RA, tel 01424 755151. At other times by appointment.

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Posted 11:39 Sunday, Dec 13, 2015 In: Health Matters

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