17 Self Portraits Of The Schizophrenic Artist Bryan Charnley!

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Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.

The paintings of Bryan Charnley (1949-1991) used visual metaphor and symbolism to vividly illustrate the physical experience of schizophrenia, an illness Charnley lived with from adolescence until his premature death in 1991.

Here is some information about his life and the self-portraits he painted in last a few months of his life, which captured and reflected the effects of Schizophrenia. Below each image, you can see the date the painting was made, together with his own diary notes in which he explained the the imagery.

Source: http://www.unbelievable-facts.com/2016/0...

1. Bryan John Charnley was born on 20th September 1949 in Stockton on Tees.

11th to 16th April 1991

"Conventional portrait painted in two sittings. Is it a good likeness? Drug dosage was two 3 mg. tablets of Depixol daily plus two 25 mg. Tryptisol. I was sleeping a lot."

2. In the summer of 1968, aged 18, he suffered his first nervous breakdown, which would be later diagnosed as acute schizophrenia

20th April 1991

"The person upstairs was reading my mind and speaking back to me to keep me in a sort of ego crucifixion. I felt this was because I was discharging very strong vibrations which could easily be interpreted. I tried to express this in the painting. The large rabbit ear is because I was confused and extremely sensitive to human voices, like a wild animal."

3. Despite the breakdown, he was able to complete a pre-diploma course in art at Leicester school of art later that year. He gained admission at Central School of Art and Design in Holborn, London in 1969.

23rd April 1991.

"I had come to the conclusion that most people around me had some extra sensory perception ability which gave them access to my mind. In this respect I was like blind man. Hence the crosses on the eyes. They also let me know verbally what they had picked up from my thoughts. I was like a dumb man in this respect and hence the cross over the mouth. The crossed out dates are because I was becoming obsessed that I had taken two sittings rather than one on the first self portrait."

4. He was not able to complete the course due to other nervous breakdowns.

24th April, 1991.

"The spots on the brain of the head are real blood to try and get over the mental pain I was experiencing. I was smoking heavily, hence the pipe. No eyes to see what is really going on and a stitched up mouth. The blood is my own. I stabbed the base of my thumb. Not the kind of thing you are able to do on the tranquillisers. Still on only one tablet of Depixol and sleeping pill (tremazepam) but know I cannot go on much longer."


29th April, 1991.

"Things had really being getting out of hand. A strange spiritual force was making me feel I should not smoke or I would incur a disaster. This was driving me crazy as I am normally a heavy smoker. 

I kept taking high dosages the next few days but nothing was having any effect and I felt I might have to got to hospital."


2nd May,1991.

"I was almost completely without energy. This explains the simile technique. I hadn’t the energy for anything else. This is expressed by the pupa. The torpid state in insects. The spirit, expressed by a bird is crushed by the maggot. My Oedipus complex is represented by the hooded phallus. My conflict of thought expressed by the man with two heads, one is a nose. The clothes line is to say that all my dirty washing, or thoughts are on display. The split crosses are a reference to schizophrenia being a type of ego crucifixion. The man with the hat is watching me and keeping everything under his hat. Additionally the split in the cross expresses lack of real direction, of a split in the will, as with the man with a nose head."

7. He lived with his parents for six years from 1971-77 undergoing various treatments including ECT (ElectroConvulsive Therapy or Electroshock Therapy).

6th May,1991.

"I feel like a target for peoples cruel remarks. Especially negroes. What is going on?"

8. 1978 saw Charnley shifting to his own accommodation in Bedford.

14th May,1991.

"The ego splitting like a cancer cell as it comes under attack, a gory mess.  

I also feel Rome was the real decider and actually crucified the Christ. My ego is being crucified. My feelings, my Oedipus complex is summed up by the leg of an Italian.

 am a target with no hope of victory only total humiliation. I completely acquiesce to this but am still deeply hurt all the time."

9. This period saw him flirting with prevalent styles in the art world.

18th May,1991.

"My mind seemed to be thought broadcasting very severely and it was beyond my will to do anything about it. I summed this up by painting my brain as an enormous mouth, acting independently of me. The trouble seemed to me rightly or wrongly, to stem from a broken heart on my left so I painted a great mass of gore there to express this. The foot that connects to this is pushing the mouth open for the thoughts to be broadcasted. I feel I am always divided against my self by myself. Again the nail in the mouth expresses my social ineptitude and an in ability to socialise which makes me a target. "

10. 1982 saw a change in Charnley’s focus, when he began to use schizophrenia as his subject.

23rd May,1991.

"I really tire of having to explain my paintings. It is very much my tragedy that people cannot understand the straight forward poetic use of symbols I am employing. The blue of the portrait is there because I felt depressed through cutting back on the anti-depressants. 

At this stage my central worry was thought broadcasting. This would pass as I gained insight and effects of drug withdrawal wore off. I was much worried about radio and television because I seemed to intertwine with their broadcasted waves and expose myself completely which I found humiliating. People laughed at me when this happened or let me know it was for real by acute remarks. I continued my retreat from social contact."

11. This was because he was greatly influenced by the (collection of) paintings at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind (then Bethlem Royal Hospital).

24th May,1991.

"Perhaps a broken heart is the cause of it all. Certainly it hurts. This is expressed best as I can on the left side. 

The spiders legs on the right are to express my inhibitions and the feeling that comes over me as my thoughts surface and broadcast. Scary. I feel all the time now that I am getting nearer to a more acute expression of my schizophrenia."

12. Though he obtained some success and recognition as a painter, this was soon to be outweighed by his daily struggles with his illness and the strong medication he was prescribed to counter it.

8th June,1991.

"The spiders legs seem to be my central condition. 

The spiders legs represent inhibition, social and otherwise. Is this is truth of my condition? 

I was to find out otherwise but it was certainly part of the truth."

13. His final work Self Portrait series was painted as he experimented with varying dosages of his medication – Depixol and Tryptisol.

13th June,1991.

"There is nothing wrong with my technique except when I have to try too hard because of the demands of the imagery. People keep me in misery because they keep coming up to me with some gossip about my past and I know nothing of theirs.

The eggs have been emptied like a head stripped of its contents. It has nothing left in it, no more secrets, they went to satisfy somebody’s appetite, some body that has power over me. 

They enjoyed every tasty mouthful."


19th June,1991.

"Do they just want to party? An intrusion into my mental interior life, like everybody has a foot in the door.

 Nailed mouth and tongue tied I have no effective reply to them."

15. His last 17 portraits graphically display his steady decline and the terrible suffering he endured as he cut/played with his dosage.

27th June,1991.

"An extremely complicated picture as I feel I am closing in on the essential image of my schizophrenia.

I am transparent firstly. Make crazy attempts at some sort of control over what has become an impossible situation (the man with the control stick). My brain, my ego is transfixed by nails as the Christ who could not move freely on the cross without severe pain. My self respect my ego my feelings about me are crucified as the Christ."

16. The Self Portrait Series was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in 1995.

12th July, 1991.

The central text reads: The cards are no good that I’m holding unless they are from another world This is a line from Series of Dreams by Bob Dylan, the last track on The Bootleg Series, Volumes I-3.

17. Charnley committed suicide in 1991 with his final self-portrait still on the easel.

19th July,1991.

There was no commentary from Bryan Charnley for his two last portraits. It is assumed that these two colors (Yellow and Red) is indicative of his acute mental anguish.

Who knows?..

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