Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

Erica McGilchrist - The Abandoned (Kew Mental Hospital)

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The CCWA may accept donations of artworks to the collection through the Ministry of the Arts Cultural Gifts Program, provided they fit within acquisition parameters.

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Gemma Weston
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Cruthers Collection of Women's Art

 

Erica McGilchrist, The Abandoned (Kew Mental Hospital), 1954, oil on board, 92 x 69cm. CCWA 974. Cruthers Collection of Women's Art, The University of Western Australia. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Phillip Boulton (c) Courtesy the artist's estate.

Image of artwork by Erica McGilchrist

The Abandoned (Kew Mental Hospital) is one of an important series of paintings and drawings produced during McGilchrist’s 18 month period as an art instructor at the Kew Mental Hospital.

About the production of the ‘Kew Mental Hospital Series’, she writes:

In 1953-54, my sympathy and identification with the `dispossessed’ (perhaps the product of a rootless childhood and a marriage that didn’t offer me a sense of final belonging or true bonding) led me to establish art `classes’ (`art therapy’ was not yet a word to describe such activity) at Kew Mental Hospital in Melbourne, at the invitation of Dr Cunningham Dax, then Director of Mental Hygiene, an Englishman with a special interest in psychotic art and the potential value of pictorial expression as an aid to diagnosis and treatment of certain mental illnesses… The `dispossessed’ - or `possessed’ - were concentrated there in hundreds, perhaps thousands. Kew Hospital was a prison where patients who had been classified as `incurable’ were collected, waiting for death to release them. A series of works on what I saw and experienced at Kew was inevitable.”[1]

The Abandoned (Kew Mental Hospital) is both a poignant and critical examination of these conditions and an examination of a more abstract, psychological and emotional state of being. It draws from McGilchrist’s immediate experience, but also makes reference to the legacy and the impact of the holocaust, and then-recent turmoil of WWII – an influence documented in McGilchrist’s letters and explored more explicitly in later paintings.

Erica McGilchrist made a significant contribution to both Australian art and to feminism; in addition to her work as an artist, she was a founding member of the Women’s Art Register and worked as the Register’s co-ordinator from 1978 to 1987. McGilchrist was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1992, although her work is not widely known.

The Abandoned (Kew Mental Hospital) was exhibited for the first time in Perth at the University of Western Australia, as part of a retrospective of McGilchrist’s work in 1970 for the Festival of Perth. Now, this generous donation of the work through The Ministry of the Arts Cultural Gifts Program marks the first inclusion of this significant artist in the University of Western Australia’s Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.

 

[1] Erica McGilchrist biography, Design and Art Australia Online. Transcribed by Sandy Kirby from the Erica McGilchrist folders held in the Women’s Art Register, Carringbush Library, Melbourne. Slight editorial changes were made with the artist’s permission.