RT Projects Durham: A Paintbrush not a Pill

By Anna Thomas

Beano signs off his emails ‘Sunshine&Birds’. The first time he replied, it made me laugh at myself. I think mine had said ‘Yours sincerely’. Beano is one of those people who can turn the world on its head with a grin. He runs sessions at RT Projects, an art therapy charity, in Gilesgate. It is an oasis of calm and colour, hidden inside a little grey bungalow.

Francisco de Goya’s ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’

I popped into an ‘Open Art Surgery’ to chat to him about paint, mental health, and all things arty.

It is an oasis of calm and colour, hidden inside a little grey bungalow.

It’s quite often a snobby thing, Art. Conversations about it, and especially modern art, usually go one of two ways: ‘why the XYZ would you pay XYZ for that?!’ or ‘a bit of chewing gum, three nails and a toothbrush on the floor is not art’.

But, art can be a method as much as it is a product. It is easy to forget how to participate in ‘Art’ when it seems so impervious, so exclusive, and so enigmatic. Beano noted these barriers that art poses. This conversation, however, took place in a room wallpapered with art, both famous and home grown.

RT Projects focuses on achievement. As I looked around there were silk paintings, acrylic paintings, sketches, doodles and a complete sense of focus.

The thing that struck me the most was how people reclaimed art for themselves and made it their own.

Francisco de Goya (18th Century Spanish painter, not a cheery man) etched ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ sometime around 1798. The epigraph to this monoprint reads:

“My Madness Rose” – RT Projects Durham

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

I know nothing about Spanish political history (it’s allegorical, apparently), but I do think that his epigraph is a nice way of approaching art. A little logic and a little imagination put together can achieve brilliant things.

This is where Goya meets Gilesgate. “My Madness Rose” is the name of a monoprint done by a young woman who attends RT Projects’ sessions to help manage her mental health.

She’s switched out the paper and pens for a laptop and broken the black and white with some colour. But the point still stands. Whether mid-summative stress or representing more serious struggles, it’s a relatable picture for an invisible feeling.

A relatable picture for an invisible feeling.

Beano reminds me that ‘Art is a communication tool’ first and foremost. He adds that it is RT project’s ‘duty as facilitators’ to ‘ground their clients lives around the art’. Most clients walk into RT Projects as people experiencing difficulties. They leave calling themselves ‘artists’ – not necessarily because they are aspiring Picassos, but because they are learning to communicate through art.

RT Projects, in an afternoon, showed me how realistic aims can achieve brilliant things.

With exams looming over us all, take a pinch of salt and inspiration from Beano and his team – more Sunshine&Birds and not too much Yours Sincerely.

Featured photograph: RT Projects Durham

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