Portraits of bi-polar disorder by Josephine King

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The Independent Culture

An exhibition of 80 self-portraits by Josephine King examining her battle with bi-polar disorder opens in London next week.

"This is a grim and terrible subject, and the fact that she has shown it as playful and child-like images make it more frightening,” King’s friend Paula Rego said of her work.

“They seem to me to be totally truthful pictures, from the heart, and they frighten me. Many people will identify with these images."

King spoke to The Independent Online about her work:

I haven’t had any previous painting exhibitions due to my illness. I’ve been set back a lot with that kind of thing. Although I was quite well established in Lisbon for three years with my tiles. I painted tiles quite successfully there and had a gallery which showed, and still shows, my work.

My painting is something that I held back really. The work for this exhibition took four years to make. I was quite ill when I started making them and wasn’t really in a fit state to show or plan it. I just wanted to make them. It was just like a train. For about four years I was just making them because I wanted and wasn’t thinking of showing them at all.

In some ways I paint to treat my illness. I did a terrible suicide attempt (sic) and the only thing that dragged me out of that sort of state was to keep painting. Then, for the first time in my life, I turned towards my inner self. Before I was just painting more figurative stuff like rooftops, my dogs, people, places, trips - all kinds of different things.

But because I went through such a devastating experience, I naturally started painting from within myself, my own feelings. That meant doing a self portraits. I started adding text around the edges because it was the only way to explain further my feelings about everything that had happened. The paintings became like a diary of myself.

I was a model for Paula Rego for six months in the 1990s. I’ve modelled in three of her paintings. We also had a kind of a friendship because I was living in Lisbon and she was there a lot. We both showed our art at same tile gallery. We’ve known each other for a long time. I was very pleased with what she wrote about me [in the quote above] because I think she was honest about it. I don't think she would have said anything if she didn’t like my work.

I’ve been painting for 25 years so I suppose I’ve built up a technique of my own. I’ve become, through practise, quite good I suppose. I try to keep the colours very pure. It’s all pre-thought out. I layer on the colours to get the maximum effect. It’s not just done by chance or anything. The colours have to be in the right glaze according to the picture. I draw a lot, too. Drawing is the first thing that I do and then the colour later.

'Life So Far' opens at the Riflemaker Gallery in London from Monday 13 September to 30 October 2010, riflemaker.org