Mary Barnes in Bow - Spring 2015.

The unofficial catalogue
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Mary Barnes was a nurse who went into a Carmellite convent in Wales, had a breakdown and, after periods in conventional mental hospitals, entered an unconventional community where she was allowed to be as mad as she wanted. She doodled in her own shit and, being encouraged to use crayons instead, discovered that she was a brilliant artist.

This is an unofficial catalogue of the Mary Barnes exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery Bow Arts Trust, 183 Bow Road, London, E3 2SJ - 15.1.2015 to 29.3.2015. The exhibition has closed, but the catalogue will continue to grow.

Mary Barnes at Kingsley Hall and Bow Arts
"Mary Barnes was our neighbour; she lived, breathed, regressed, progressed, and created work in walking distance of Bow Arts" (Martha Orlet)
Kingsley Hall is in the lower right (south east) corner of this OpenStreetMap, on the northern corner of Bobs Park by the B140 icon.

The present "Bow Arts" is on either side of "Bow Arts Lane"

Dina and Andrew visited on Thursday 12.2.2015. At the entrance you are only told that this is an exhibition of Mary Barnes' work and that she was born in 1923 and died in 2001. The paintings have no labels. Knowing more about Mary and her paintings would have helped, so we wrote this unnoficial catalogue

The art of Mary Barnes is part of an ancient story of Judaism and Christianity and how their images relate to joy and despair. Why, then, does an art gallery present the pictures without words? Maybe so that your own words can inhabit the visions. Mary believed that the imagery belongs to all of us, whatever our beliefs or unbeliefs. It is yours to make what you can of it, and to share.

Boxes of Mary Barnes paintings arrived at The Nunnery on 11.12.2014

Martha Orlet wrote a preview blog

The show opened 15.1.2015.

twitter #MaryBarnes

The thirteen

The suggestion has been made that the first room focuses on early works.


Materials Mary began modelling and painting with her own shit. None of this survives. The way she developed from there is partly related to the materials she used. On cards sold and in press reports, the Bow Exhibition sometime distinguished between "polymers" (early) and "oil pastels" (later).

Not clear what polymers means in Bow Arts literature, but see Wikipedia acrylic paint - switch from acrylic to synthetic polymer. Mary used wax crayons and decorator's paint at first (after her faeces).

Old tins of paint and brushes

"One night I got hold of a tin of black paint and started painting black breasts all over the walls of my room. I wanted to paint and I wanted to suck those black breasts." (Sunday Telegraph 11.10.1971)

Lining (wallpaper backing) paper Pictures that appear to be on lining paper are 1. small figure - 4. Dancing - 5. Haircast - 7. Orange circle - 1., 4,, and 5., are noticeably paper cut unevenly. Pictures that may be on lining paper are 9 and 10 Finger paintings and (back gallery) Love poem to Joe Berke.

Crayons and Oil Pastels

Paint tubes Mary started classes at the Cass School in January 1966. She had access to materials (clay mentioned) and books. In March she was encouraged by the artist Felix Topolski. By this time she was painting with artists oils on lining paper. She moved on to oil on hardbaord and canvas and also used pencils, crayons, charcoal, poster paint and water colour,

Finger painting According to Mary (p.220 and 1969 Catalogue), her finger painting began in May 1967, with paint squeezed onto her fingers from artists' tubes and pulled across the paper. She said in spring 1969 that all her work since then was finger painting. Joe Berke suggests that finger painting began in 1968 (p. 368), but this appears to be a mistake or a misreading of what he meant. Pictures in the Bow exhibition that are stated or appear to be finger painting are: 3. Head of Christ - 6. Time of the Tomb - 9 and 10 Finger paintings - and (back gallery) INRI Crucifixion

1. small figure - untitled - polymers on paper. A copy in the catalogue.
"Small Figure, an early work, is made up of hurried, smudgy lines, but they are deployed deftly to reveal a little girl whose hunched awkwardness is expressive, moving and characterful, not clumsy." Benjamin Mortimer East End Review 16.2.2015

2. [thought? - an indian shaman? - orange bird?]

Picture appears to have been painted on a plastic sheet that might have been furniture covering but has been cut with zig-zag lies and stuck to a painted white board.

"in orange on the table a bird appeared" (About myself)

3. [Thorns - head of christ above the following poem] "untitled undated polymers on board"

Postcards of this picture can be purchased

My Friends -
How they devour me,
Biting off chunks of
my flesh, which with
relish, they chew, spitting
the crunched up bones
onto my soul, and still
I LOVE them, for they
are my Friends

The poem is on page 114 of Something Sacred (1989)

4. [dancing]

5. not sure [cemetery?]

"I think it is a desperate woman who cannot see through a wall"

The figure of the woman casting her long hair down over her head appear clear. But is she desperate or experiencing freedom?


6. [man in tree] Unlabelled - undated - but corresponds to Time of the Tomb below. The imagery alludes to crucifixion, burial and resurrection, all at once.


"Time of the Tomb" Kingsley Hall, 1969. This was displayed at the Camden exhibition in April 1969.

This picture from Something Sacred (1989).

Title suggests that the imagery relates to the sabbath day between Christ's death (Friday) and resurrection (Sunday).

The imagery of a man in a tree has a long history. See Charlotte Mew's manifesto Men and Trees


The trunk in the centre of the room contains artwork by Mary, some of which is spread out in front of it.

"What is the box about? Is it part of her being? Did it follow her everywhere?" (Dina)

Note says the artwork relates to the 1965-1970 period. However, a label on the trunk addresses it to Ninian Stuart, Moncreif (?) House, High Street, Falkland, Fife, KL7 7BZ, Scotland. Second thank you at the end of the catalogue is to "Ninian Stewart". [Current address of "Moncrieff House" is High Street, Falkland, CUPAR, KY15 7BZ

A picture from the metal trunk

Audio - you can listen to audio to accompany the exhibition by listening to the headphones

Track 1 - Guilt - stories read by Mary Barnes written by her as presents for children of her friends

Track 2 and 3 - Recording of Mary Barnes (radio play) by David Edgar - unconfirmed players.

"You can also listen, on headphones, to a play of her screaming".


7. [orange circle]

Decorators paint on lining paper?

Warm enough for David Kessel, Peter Barham and Raga Woods to have a group hug.

8. [grass - green feather - dripping paint] as yet untitled

"The row of colourful Untitleds on the opposite wall bear similarly visible artefacts of their creation but their connected flow and intricacy of pattern have all it takes to trap a viewer's stare." Benjamin Mortimer East End Review 16.2.2015

9. Finger painting (1969). Polymers on paper. - available as a postcard and reproduced in catalogue.

10. [A similar finger painting, but using some brown. The paint used in both is shiny and the painting may be on lining paper]
Part of the brown finger painting. Light reflections prevented it all being photographed.


11. [Evening sky hung sideways - Holy sky ] Untitled. - available as a large card

Or could be fire streaking from the sky - Joe Berke and Rosamund Murdoch (below) appear happy with this vision on 15.1.2015

12. Volcanic Eruption

This is the image that Bow Arts used (below) as their visual theme for the exhibition.

13. [Fire and water - with lady floating calmly on river] The only picture Kingsley Hall is still in possession of.

Bow Arts Trust framed it so that it can be better preserved. "However the debate at the moment is if it has been displayed in the correct direction" [email from Nat Fonnesu 19.2.2015]

Gordon Joly responded 25.2.2015: "I believe that the painting is correct in its orientation. The reason is that I was there in 2006 when Sid Briskin donated it to Kingsley Hall (I took it out of the taxi and placed it somewhere in the hall). Hence Sid was happy that we had placed the picture correctly, and my image" [below and on [on Wikipedia] "is from that day."



Blackbird in a Tree - untitled - undated - oil pastel on paper - A copy in the catalogue.

"Barnes's later works, done in oil pastels, have more solid blocks of colour and more figuration. They feature vividly drawn personages whose psychedelic colouring adds to their mystery, as though they were figures from an unknown religion." Benjamin Mortimer East End Review 16.2.2015

Baby Bear This is a strip story Mary composed for children, with words and pictures. Possibly on wallpaper roles. It is signed Mary Barnes Nov.(?) 1966

Baby Bear was
out to play,
rolling on the grass
Suddenly, in the
wind, he smelt a

warm sticky smell
Mm, Mmm
he growled licking his lips
"I must follow this
beautiful scent".

Under the Bamboo tree he stopped.
"Here we are"
The smell was rather high on a branch
Baby Bear jumped
1 Once 2 Twice 3 Thrice

His paw touched the nest
"Oh / Oh / OH /
Growled Baby Bear
A big bee had stung him,
Licking his paw, Baby Bear sat
grizzling [sign for] on the ground


Suzy the snake
curle forth from
her vine.
"Oh Baby Bear what
is the matter?"
"I want, I want ------

Baby Bear sobbed and
sobbed [sign for]
He could smell the
sweet emll. It was
coming in great big
waves all over him
Oh said Suzy, "you
want Honey".

Baby Bear, my juice is
good, making honey even
sweeter, I'll squirt
it up into the tree.
then the bees will fly away.
For her mouth Suzy
did pis
1 One 2 Two 3 Three

All the bees buzzed away.
(Pissed off, they were)
Baby Bear he
laughed with glee
[sign for] and the
wind then shook the tree.
Down it fell into his hand

a big comb full of golde[n honey?]
Growling gurgles of d[elight?]
[sign for]
in his paws so tight
The honey it all squelched
and ooozed warm and sticky

Baby Bear all soft and [heated?]
licked and licked from [?]
to tummy all the
declicious HONEY.

Group of six small pictures some of which were previously displayed at Kingsley Hall on 25.11.2001. I suspect they are all Oil pastels on artists' cartridge paper from a pad (block). When displayed at Kinsley Hall they were unframed but the paper kept its shape on the wall.

1. [not sure - mountains?] Possibly a lunar landscape with sun, sand, peak brown mounds - and plants. This one and Joe and Shree are both large compared with the others in the set. Possibly A3.

2. Joe and Shree 1995 - available as a large card

Displayed at Kingsley Hall on 25.11.2001

Joseph Berke married Roberta A.E. Berke, at St Marylebone in (April-June) 1971, with whom he had two children. Roberta was a writer and a teacher. The birth of Joshua Damien Berke was registered in Westminster in (January- March) 1970 and (again) in (January- March) 1970.

Joseph Berke later remarried Shree Berke, also known as Lisa Becker, another psychotherapist. (Dutch Wikipedia)

3. "Sun The Sun" - available as a postcard
Displayed at Kingsley Hall (unframed) on 25.11.2001 this way round. Displayed framed at Bow vertical with left as top. Framed about A4 size.

4. Trees "Way of the Wind" 1993 - available as a large card

Displayed at Kingsley Hall on 25.11.2001

Framed about A4 size.

"Mary is expressional" (Dina).

The wind in the trees and the emotions within are one experience.

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit". (Jesus in John 3:8)

5. Son of the Rabbi - Oil pastel on paper - A copy in the catalogue.

About 11 inches high and 6 inches wide.

6. [Yellow iris]
Displayed unframed at Kingsley Hall on 25.11.2001

Framed about A4 size.


[INRI Crucifixion]

"INRI" is an abbreviation for the Latin "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum" ("Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews"), posted on the cross in Hebrew, Latin and Greek by order of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate.

This is the same as "Crucifixion oil on hardboard mounted onto polystyrene taken from the windows of Kingsley Hall 179 x 117.25 cm - see Robert Tufnell 21

The coarse white polystyrene is the (about) one inch filler between two boards. This could well have been the boarding up of a broken window.


Joseph Berke, born 11.1.1939 Newark Beth Israel hospital, USA, came to London in 1965, where his professional life, as a psychotherapist, was built and shaped through his relationship with Mary Barnes, with whom he co-authored a book published in 1971. In the conclusion to the book Mary wrote: "Joe is Jewish. For him, the Passover seder, the ritualistic telling of the exodus from Egypt, is an expression of his being."

Love poem to Joe - Joseph Berke "was nick-named "Boo-Bah" in a love letter scaling over a metre high and scrawled in Mary's inimitable handwriting."

Ascension Day
JOE Hip-pip Hoorey!
I love you with the coolness of the moon
I love you with the burning heat of the sun
I love you with the pain and anger of my soul
I love you with the saints of heaven
I love you with the living cross
To the Sacred heart of GOD
Mary Barnes

The husband of Mary, mother of Jesus, was Joseph

Mary Barnes was baby bear in some of her stories. Joseph Berke was big bear

The case of photos included:

  • A copy of "Unknown figure on the roof of Kingsley Hall 1960s" reproduced in the catalogue.

  • A photo of the Kingsley Hall dining room with "Christ Triumphant" - the three stages of sacrifice - on the wall
  • Christ Triumphant - three stages of sacrifice

    "A huge finger-painting I did in 1968 was of the crucifixion on the dining room wall. It is called Christ Triumphant, being the three stages of sacrifice: the lamb in fire, of the Old Testament; Christ, the lamb of God, crucified; and the Host, the sacrifice of the Mass."

    The Bow Arts photograph (left) shows the picture behind the dining room table loaded with food.

    The photograph (below), from Something Sacred shows Mary looking at it in another situation.

    The photograph from the Mary Barnes web gives a much clearer impression of the picture.

    The extract from Mary's first book tells the story behind the painting of the picture

    "Mary in front of her mural Christ Thrumphant - three stages of the Sacrifice of the Lamb" from the Mary Barnes' website

    the story behind the painting of the picture

    "Morty Schatzman and his wife-to-be, Vivien, were living with us at home. They helped me quite a bit, especially with regard to meeting other people who lived in he house. I was completely raw, like flesh without skin.

    Visitors were a problem. Although I often felt like getting to know other people I never know how. Once, when feeling bad and crying on the roof, I said to one of the other people, David - David Page Thomas,

    'What am I? Nothing, nothing!'

    He replied, 'Is it not enough for you to be a suffering member of humanity?'

    I realized it was, though I could not then know the fullness, the deep happiness of resignation, that resignation Christ must have experienced in carrying the Cross.

    It did now seem safer to paint outside my room, and this time my paintings weer tolerated in the Games Room. Through the help of Morty I was given the dining-room wall to paint and on it with my fingers I did Christ Triupmphant. Ten feet by twelve, it took eight hours and a step ladder to do it. The upper part was the thre stages of sacrifice, the lamb in fire of the Old Testament, the Lamb of God, Christ Crucified, and the the Host, the sacrifice of the Mass. Blow was the foot of the Cross, St. John, the Mother of God, Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Cleophus.

    Then when I had finished it there was a storm. terrified, my heart sank, but the painting survived.

    On the wall: Notices for two previous exhibitions, both in 1995

    One at Stavanger in Norway (at the Kulturhus) from 24.4.1995 to 28.4.1995. The other

    OPEN DAILY 10am - 7pm. SUNDAY 2pm-6pm

    Further along in a case: Catalogue for the 1969 Exhibition - A copy of the cover is reproduced in the catalogue for this exhibition.

    The 1969 exhibition catalogue on display at the Bow Arts exhibition contains a great deal of information. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to read. On our second visit to the exhibition on Thursday 19.3.2015, members of the Survivors History Group managed to read (Richard Humm above) and photograph (Nathalie Fonnesu) the catalogue and we will enter its contents here.

    Andrew took the 1969 listing of contents from this copy.

    On our second visit, Richard Humm explored the catalogue in greater detail and discovered on the back that the Camden Arts Exhibition was not the first time Mary's paintings were exhibited. Some were shown at

    The Dialectics of Liberation International Conference. The Roundhouase, London, July 1967

    Hampstead Open Air Exhibition August 1968

    Tower Hamlets Art Group, Members Exhibition, February 1969

    About myself

    At Kingsley Hall, where I live, I have been through madness.

    My first paintings were black breasts all over the walls of the Hall.
    November 1965 Joe gave me a tin of grease crayons.
    "Here, just scribble". I did, on and on. Suddenly a picture
    emerged, a woman kneeling with a baby to her breast.

    About the house, left over from decorating, were old tins of paint
    and brushes
    . On the walls of my room I painted moving figures,
    on my door twining stems and leaves and in orange on the table a bird
    appeared. Finding odd lengths of wallpaper I made picture
    stories. Then on strips of wall paper backing paper on the walls
    of the house I painted big, very big at high speed.

    Through the spring of 1966 work poured out. All my insides
    were loose. The painting, like lighning was streaking from the storm
    of me. Joe suggested "paint the crucifixion". I did, again and again.
    Hungry for life I wanted the Cross.

    Going right down, in bed again, from June 1966 my painting was left
    alone. But in the autumn with oil pastels and a sketch book I
    made more stories with pictures including The Hollow Tree for
    Ronnie's birthday, and The King and the Donkey.

    The Hollow Tree

    There was once a tree in the forest who felt very sad and lonely for her trunk was hollow and her head was lost in mist. Sometimes, the mist seemed so thick that her head felt divided from her trunk. To the other trees she appeared quite strong but rather aloof, for no wind ever bent her branches to them. She felt if she bent she would break yet she grew so tired of standing straight. So it was with relief that, in a mighty storm, she was thrown to the ground. The tree was split, her branches scattered, her roots torn up and her bark was charred and blackened.

    She felt stunned, and thought her head was clear of the mist she felt her sap dry as she felt her deadness revealed when the hollow of her trunk was open to the sky. The other trees looked down and gasped and didn't quite know whether to turn their branches politely away or whether to try to cover her emptiness and blackness with their green and brown. The tree moaned for her own life and feared to be suffocated by theirs. She felt she wanted to lay bare and open to the wind and the rain and the sun, and that, in time, she would grow up again, full and brown from the ground. So it was, that, with the wetness of the rain, she put down new roots and by the warmth of the sun she stretched forth-new wood.

    In the wind her branches bent to other trees and as their leaves rustled and whispered, in the dark and in the light, the tree felt loved and laughed with life.

    May 1967 saw the start of my finger painting with Peter before
    . Using more and more colour I raced on, through
    the Red Sea with the Children of Israel, to the Nativity, the
    Resurrection, the Ascension and across the dining room wall came
    Christ Triumphant, dome with my fingers as all my work since then.

    These paintings are reflections of my life. The different
    worlds through which I have come are revealed in them. Buried
    deep in the twisted tangle of me the paintings lay. How I
    came to it is part of my whole experience at Kingsley Hall,
    about which I am writing a book.


    "I took to my bed for four months until Joe (Dr Berke) got me out. He would sit me in a chair and I would stay there for hours until he moved me again. One day Joe gave me a set of 'grease crayons and told me to scribble something. I did, on and on. Suddenly a picture emerged, a woman kneeling with a baby at her breast. I found some tins of paint, left over from decorating, and I painted picture stories about mermaids, tramps and children on the back of old wallpaper. (Mary Barnes. Atticus column interview in the Sunday Times 13.4.1969)

    Rather clever photo posted by Bow Arts on Twitter shows the three wallpaper exhibits:

    Baby bear

    Red men running

    Zoomy overshot the runway

    [Red men running - Not explained, but could be one of the paintings on wallpaper]

    Picture stories on the back of old wallpaper. One line is "Zoomy overshot the runway"

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    About myself


    Baby Bear

    Joseph - Roberta - Shree

    Christ Triumphant


    Finger painting

    Finger paintings (two abstracts)


    Green feather-grass dripping paint

    Hair casting

    Hollow Tree

    Joe and Shree

    King of the Jews

    Kingsley Hall

    Lining paper

    Love poem to Joe Berke


    Oil pastel

    Orange circle

    photo case


    Red men running

    Sidney Briskin's donation


    Son of the Rabbi


    Sun The Sun


    Time of the Tomb




    Tree bird

    Tree man

    Tree wind


    Volcanic Eruption

    Wall one

    Wallpaper stories

    Yellow Iris

    Zoomy overshot the runway