Deborah Aguirre Jones
Luci Gorell Barnes
Nancy Murphy Spicer
Artist, researcher, facilitator
This project grew out of a series of creative sessions within the
Pathways Programme run by Creativity Works, for women residents
of a medium secure unit in the South West – a project which I have
coordinated since 2009. These women have invited a wide range of
artists to facilitate their regular Sunday art group over the past 2½
years, doing activities such as photography, graffiti, poetry, papiermâché,
collage, ceramics, jewellery, food sculpture and animation.
In coordinating these sessions, I was occasionally frustrated
to hear that, when asked what art form they wanted to do next,
the women’s preferred activity was often card making. My artist
sensibilities were challenged by this; sticking transfers onto blank
cards didn’t feel inventive enough.
I soon realised, however, that the card making itself was only a
detail, their means to an end. Every card was made for a particular
person; it contained a message which was part of a particular
interaction. ‘Thank you’, ‘You’re So Special!’, ‘Sorry’, ‘I Love You’.
Momentous and everyday events were marked, friendships were
created and confirmed, relationships mended and kept alive, all with
the help of the cards being made. Things were being said that may
not have been.
Far from being a distracting time-filler, the activity was an
important part of the women residents’ wider lives.
In devising the project for this residency I connected the
possibilities of communication and dialogue with questions that
interest me as an artist:
Does art communicate?
How might different types of art-making speak to one another?
The basic process of Drawing Together looked like this:
Ten drawing sessions were run with women from Teign Ward
and Eden House
Participants were invited to make an A5 drawing
Each of these drawings was taken to an interested
contemporary woman artist who had accepted the project’s
protocols and guidelines
They drew a reply which was returned to the participant
In some cases this developed into an image-based
conversation for up to 9 drawings
The project was well received by those taking part with a lot of
people wanting to be involved. As the interactions developed, there
was an easy enthusiasm on all sides. In one setting the sessions were
full of talk and laughter, with the whole group taking an interest in the
interpretation of each others’ received drawings. In the other setting,
drawings were done quietly with occasional comments, sharing and
affirmation. The contemporary artists drew alone, in their own
studios, and were not aware of how the other drawn conversations
Once an exchange got under way it happened of its own volition.
There was an understanding, a straightforwardness about what
needed to be done. Someone’s sent me something, I’ll send them a reply.
I felt it was important to be attentive to people and clear about
the process whilst keeping a light touch in my role as go-between,
intermediary, artist and companion. Running sessions, delivering and
collecting drawings, and having conversations with artists along the
way, I have tried to be a catalyst and a connecting thread.
The women received their drawings with excitement and
anticipation. Seeing people open their envelopes, I watched their
careful deciphering of the drawing; they seemed to be questioning
it or puzzling it out, as if they were solving a riddle. What’s she saying
to me? There were comments about any interpretation being one
of many possible interpretations. Sometimes a woman sat quietly
looking at her drawing for a while, then I’d see a puzzled frown melt
into a grin or a nod as something in the drawing revealed itself and
a meaning fell into place. Listening and watching as the different
relationships unfolded was a joy.
There was a sense of each person being individually received
as themselves, as people; the drawing was evidence that they
were given careful, responsive attention, that they were noticed,
acknowledged and affirmed.
The artists talked with me about receiving their drawings and
choosing how to make a reply. One talked at length about the quality
of a single line in the drawing she’d received and based her reply on
that. Another described how she saw aspects of her own life in the
image that had been sent. While a drawing was often considered for
a few days, many of the artists said they chose to reply spontaneously,
acting on a gut response rather than ‘thinking too much’. A few
described to me a sense of care and responsibility, and an awareness
of the power of images.
“How responsible are you for the responses of other people to
Images have an immediate ability to enter the conscious and
sub-conscious mind fast and deeply.” (SB)
This consideration was heightened where the content of a
drawing they’d received was emotionally raw.
Pleasure, optimism, openheartedness, humour and adventure
also featured strongly;
“My first drawing rendered me surprised by joy! The image …
was almost a shock because it appeared so open…” (SB)
Mirroring, contrasts, affirmation and surprise can all be seen,
particularly in the longer exchanges, as the conversations unfold
into what seems to be familiarity and understanding between one
individual and another. The drawing conversations echo how we
encounter each other; sometimes with trepidation and sometimes
with a recognition of ‘I see you’. Some of the conversations end full
of confidence and joy; others with the faltering and hesitant tone
of a gradually emerging trust.
Being able to draw (whatever that means) doesn’t really come
into it – being able to listen does.
Deborah Aguirre Jones
Talking to no one is strange,
Talking to someone is stranger
Kevin Coyne, 1971
Humans are social beings. We need to talk to each other, to share
feelings, ideas and experiences, to find common ground and build
Our mental health depends on interaction, which is why solitary
confinement, except for very short periods, is widely considered a
form of torture. We learn to understand ourselves, and others, by
talking things through. Without language, we’re borderline human.
And yet talking can be risky, even perilous.
You might be in danger, yeah,
If you say too much in this world
It’s so easy to say the wrong thing, to put your foot in it, to
wound someone or in turn face judgement and hurt. Even the most
assured can be tongue-tied in unfamiliar situations. Some need a
lifetime to find the confidence to speak; others lose it through
If we need to talk but are fearful of opening our mouths, we’re
Art can help us out of that dead end, which is one reason for its
existence. It lets us say things we can’t – or won’t – put into words
precisely because they aren’t said; they’re suggested, implied, inferred
and open to interpretation.
Art is a safe place to share thoughts and feelings because
everything is deniable. ‘You see it like that? Well, how interesting, but it’s
not what I had in mind…’
We can hide behind the idea that the work speaks for itself, which
it does, of course; but what is it saying?
Whatever art is saying nowadays, it often seems to say it
very loudly. It’s true that artists invented rhetoric, and having the
confidence to broadcast oneself can be seen as part of the job:
hectoring the world with a bullhorn.
But there are other, more intimate ways of making art, and they
are sometimes more profound. They don’t shout or draw attention
to themselves. They take time, but they repay it with unfolding layers
All art is a dialogue between the creator – the person who makes it
– and the recreator, the person who sees, reads, hears, feels, thinks
and imagines it.
What we call art – a picture, story or song – is just a link
connecting two minds. That connection is usually limited because
the recreator cannot return anything to the creator. It is, after all,
one of art’s capacities to enable communication across space and
time between people who don’t or can’t know one another.
This project is different. It makes the partners in artistic dialogue
equal because each is both creator and recreator, a drawer and an
interpreter of drawing.
And it is the untrained, nonprofessional artist who starts, who
creates a space for sense and who sets its tone. The invitation made
to a professional artist, to respond to something made by another,
is already a subversion of the normal relationship between artist
But then the artist’s response requires its own answer, like a letter
from a friend. It’s not an email or text that appears – ping! – and gets
an instant message back. This drawing is on paper and like a letter it
must be physically carried from one hand to another.
That takes time and it gives time – time to reflect, to wonder,
to imagine. Time to get to know one’s correspondent through the
images they offer. Time to think through what to share and how
to share it.
But first you must decide what’s being said and, since this is a
drawing not a letter, that’s open to question. Curiously, though, the
ambiguity is not threatening: it’s liberating. No honest, open response
to a drawing is ‘wrong’: there can be no misunderstanding. So what
goes back, after careful study of each image, is a truthful reply. And
that in turn invites a reply…
The exchange of drawings, like all gifts, creates obligations. You
must give something in return, not just a picture but, in it, something
of yourself. You must give a little trust, a little truth. And so the
threads of relationship are plaited and strengthened until, like
climbers, we’re ready to trust our weight to them.
There are always people on the margins of society. The strong take
their places in the sun, uncaring or unconscious of where falls their
shade. Those who can speak, and are listened to, easily take that gift
for granted. They may believe that others, if they’re noticed at all, are
silent from weakness or choice. Things are not so simple.
And even if they were, everyone is still entitled to take part in the
endless human conversation: listening in is not enough. It’s a bit like
solitary confinement, with the sounds of everyday life drifting through
Art can be exclusive too; it’s not immune from the forces that
shape the rest of human experience. But it doesn’t have to be. Artists
have ways of opening up to the margins, of creating a dialogue with
people on life’s riverbank. In fact, being naturally curious and working
in that safe space in which people do say all the things they can’t say,
they may be especially adept at making those bridges.
Talking to someone may be strange indeed, but it’s life, and life
13 September 11
Matarasso, F., 2011, Drawing inferences, Version 2 (9/2011). Commissioned by
Creativity Works as part of its Pathways Project, this work is licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales.
You are free to copy, distribute, or display this paper on condition that: you attribute the
work to the author; the work is not used for commercial purposes; and you do not alter,
transform, or add to it. http://web.me.com/matarasso
Questions About Communication
Does art communicate?
How do we communicate across divides?
How do we communicate when we’re in times of transition?
How will the drawings interact?
How will the artists be viewed, in relation to each other?
How will their artworks be viewed, in relation to each other?
What roles do notions of authenticity, professionalism and skill
play in how the drawings are received by participants or by any
Is it possible to bridge the two ends of a spectrum in my practice
(socially engaged arts practice on the one hand and a studio/
’fine art’ practice on the other)?
Are they apart from each other, at ends of a spectrum?
When I provoke others to make art, am I being an artist?
How do we safely and imaginatively explore virtual interactions?
The initial conversationalist:
Do I have anything to say?
Do I want to speak (draw)?
Do I want to speak to someone?
Do I want to speak to you?
If I say something, will you hear it?
(If I draw something will you
Do I want to be heard?
Do I want you to hear me?
Do I have anything to say to you,
Who do you remind me of, when
I don’t know anything about you?
shall I use?
What language do you speak?
Will you understand me?
Will you misunderstand me?
Will you laugh at me?
Will you recognise me?
Do you care?
Do I care enough?
What will I reveal?
Will you hear more than I want
How do I represent myself?
How do I control how I
Will you accept me?
Will you reject me?
Do I like you?
Do I want you to like me?
Is it important to know
You’ve said something to me.
You know nothing about me but
you have spoken (drawn) to me.
You have given me something.
Do I understand what you
What do I feel like, listening
to what you’ve said?
Does it make me happy?
… or curious?
… or angry?
Does it make me feel like
Were you telling me a joke?
Did you know I’d smile?
Did you know I’d cry?
What do I want to say to you,
in response to this?
Is what you’ve said familiar to me?
Do I feel like that?
Have you told me something
I didn’t know about before?
Do I like that?
If I reply, will you hear what I say?
What medium shall I use?
What language shall I draw in?
Will you understand what I’m saying?
Can I speak (draw) in the same
way as you?
Do I want to?
What happens in the space
… in the silence between what
you say (draw) and my reply?
Is there enough space?
Is there too much?
Will we know each other,
Is it possible to know someone
you don’t meet?
What have we made, between us?
Would other people hear it?
Would they understand it?
Do we want to show it to
Do we want to speak to them?
Are we proud of what we’ve
done, and how it sounds (looks)?
Could we have said this in any
other way (another language,
What does it say?
What does it ask?
Is it curious? …or new?
… or clever?
Is it beautiful?
Does it stand on its own,
Deborah Aguirre Jones
A fragment from a fictional dialogue
between a drawing and John Hammersley
John: …so you don’t communicate across divides?
Drawing: What do you mean by divide? Do you mean the divide or
gaps between different groups or individuals? Or do you mean the
spaces or gaps between one experience of pencil being put to paper
and the next?
John: Well, you mentioned divides earlier in our conversation and
so I guess, I am trying to understand what you mean by that idea in
the context of this project?
Drawing: Oh! Maybe the divides are like pauses in my work,
pauses in conversation that allow others to reflect or have an inner
conversation. I don’t have to be there to facilitate everyone’s inner
conversation all the time. Even when I am not working with the other
person they might think about what might be said when we come
together to work again.
The artist might ask whether they understand all of the work of
this project and drawing in advance of working with me on this project.
The viewer might ask… they might ask themselves, ‘is this what I
like doing?’ or ‘would I prefer a different role in this collaboration?’
Being able to imagine doing the work of others sometimes helps
when people work with me. But othertimes I guess, people may
not even realise they are having this inner conversation about our
work because they are also busy with their day-to-day lives – but of
course, that can always be brought into our conversation. It is not
like our work (drawing) and everyday life are separate, divided. No
I wouldn’t say that. Quite the opposite sometimes but you asked
about the communication aspect of my work. I am not sure I see
communication as the most important aspect of the divide. Maybe
the divide is kind of like the surface of this work. Does that sound
odd? I am not sure I am putting it very well, maybe I function or
work in that gap between, and I draw people together in a sort of
interaction, or multiple interactions. Communication may just be
a small part of it.
John: Can I ask about you about how you interact with others?
Drawing: Do you mean artists and viewers or other drawings?
John: Well, both I guess.
Drawing: Well, it is never the same twice, so I would have to
look at some of our drawings to answer that.
Creativity Works is a charity specialising in delivering creative
projects with communities.
We believe creative activities encourage individuals and groups
to explore, develop and grow.
ensures that wellbeing and health agendas run through
our programme of activity.
specialist skills and knowledge enable us to work with
participants and artists to ensure development and
encourages vibrant community engagement by bringing
leads and sustains active conversations that are
dynamic, effective on both professional and community levels.
The Pathways Programme
2009 – 2011
Funded by Lankelly Chase and Avon and
Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust
An ongoing 3 year project run by Creativity Works, The Pathways
Programme provides recreational art for women experiencing
challenging situations and times of transition in their lives. Initially
the programme worked with women in a medium secure unit in the
South West in partnership with AWP NHS Trust. Women residents
participate in weekend art sessions and take part in running the
programme which provides a creative, reflective space for women in
transition and supports decision-making. Pilot projects are taken to
settings which provide support for women who are (or may be at risk
of becoming) involved with the criminal justice system, mental health
or probation services such as Eastwood Park Prison, Eden House
Teign Ward, Fromeside, Avon and Wiltshire
Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust
Teign Ward is a 12 bedded ward within Fromeside medium secure
unit, the service is dedicated to women from the West of England
and Peninsula. Women are admitted to the service based on clinical
need, under the Mental Health Act 1983 therefore the philosophy
of the service is to provide a therapeutic environment to empower
hope and recovery. All women receive individually planned, patient
centred and holistic treatment based upon the Model of Care
which has been specifically developed in line with the Attachment
Model. Freedom to engage with and experience art through varied
mediums has enabled the women to explore their roles, values and
core beliefs without judgement or inhibition.
Day and Outreach Services provided for women involved in the
criminal justice system, offering a one-stop service that engages
women in making positive changes to their lives – reducing their
propensity to offend and increasing their access to mainstream
services and opportunities. Eden House is run locally and managed
in partnership with Avon and Somerset Probation Area (ASPA).
A steering group to develop and support the project comprises
Safer Bristol, Avon & Somerset Police, Avon and Somerset
Probation Area, Bristol Magistrates, HMP Eastwood Park Prison
and the National Offender Management Service South West
It has been good for service users involved in the Drawing Together
project to see it through from start to finish. It has enhanced their
communication skills and improved their self esteem and confidence
to see their work published alongside professional artists.
With Thanks to…
The artists and the women who have been so creative.
Francois Matarasso who shared his insight and knowledge.
John Hammersley for his supporting perspective and context.
Gill Nicol, joint curator of the show with Deborah Aguirre Jones.
Philippa Forsey, who has held and overseen the whole project.
Lesley Featherstone for enabling the work to happen.
Marie-Anne McQuay for generosity with her time in talking with us.
City Edition Studio for patience and commitment to designing the project.
All made possible by artist Deborah Aguirre Jones as catalyst, mediator
1. Hayley B & Rebecca Swindell
2. Jackee B & Alice Forward
3. Louise C & Luci Gorell Barnes
4. Rhian C & Nancy Murphy Spicer
5. Michelle H & Celia Hastie
6. Delaine J & Elizabeth Adeline
7. Rachel L & Frances Bossom
8. Sam L & Eleanor Glover
9. Lea M & Éilis Kirby
10. Sarah M & Annabelle Craven-Jones
11. Becky P & Deborah Aguirre Jones
12. Jean R & Kirsty Claxton
13. Zoe R & Luci Gorell Barnes
14. Marcia S & Susi Bancroft
15. Teresa S & Beth Carter
16. Debra T & Kirsty Claxton
17. Priscilla T & Lucy Austin
18. Tracie T & Deborah Aguirre Jones
19. Alex & Elizabeth Adeline
20. Amy & Lucy Austin
21. Becky & Frances Bossom
22. Frankie & Clare Thornton
23. Kate & Gill Nicol