memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Rehabilitation through Art

I cannot claim to know Portuguese people really well (give us a chance, I’ve only been living here for 30-odd years – a couple more decades should do the trick and get it nailed).

More than a few years ago, a combination of circumstances and setbacks (and just sheer bad luck) obliged me to enter an Old Peoples Home in a coastal village in the north of the country.

How have I occupied my time? Well, for one thing, I have proved the theory that a happy, rewarding, busy, dynamic and interesting life occupies exactly the same time continuum as a dispiriting, uncomfortable, restrictive and boring one.

In the last few days I have decided to enter, for the third time, the annual National Art Competition for Disabled People under the auspices of APEXA based in Albufeira in the Algarve, which is an organisation that I whole-heartedly support. The theme of Rehabilitation through Art is one I’ve been banging on about for years. Painting as an excellent recovery therapy, time-consuming, calming the nerves, improving motor responses and eye/hand coordination, increasing understanding of composition and colour chemistry and, in general, viewing one’s environment in a different way.

I was in a black pit in the early days and showed a stubborn reluctance to climb out. I couldn’t even sign my own name let alone describe a curve on a piece of paper. I had a «slight deficit» on the right side of my body; I had problems with speech, stumbling and producing a sort of verbal dyslexia – very different from the fluent, glib, firing-from-the-hip delivery of my former self. But eventually, after all the patient, nagging, nudging hints (someone produced a basic painting-kit and paper, a second person arranged a little table, yet a third lent me some how-to-water-colour books) one day I had (good) idea of trying my hand at a spot of drawing. The first results, the childlike splats, splurges and blobs went straight into the bin but I began to be absorbed. Note the heavy use of ruler and marker pen:


Total lack of colour-control:


Simplistic design:


Lacklustre tonality (if there is such a word):


But things are getting better. This one:


Is taken from this photo:


Back to the competition for us disabled people. For my entry I painted my little heart out and produced this (quite réussi) painting:


It came second in a field of 120-odd runners; the prize was a glass trophy, an artist’s easel and a large wooden box of Windsor & Newton acrylic paints! Congrats all round; I was pleased and gratified. The next year this was my entry:


It wasn’t placed, but received an Honourable Mention and I got a hempen bag of this and that.

Now I’m pondering what this year’s entry shall be.

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