Mentoring Neil Thomas’s Art Trajectory with Jonathan Hayter
Neil Thomas is clearly someone who has experienced many traumatic events in his life,
including addiction. Although I am not a professional psychotherapist, it is clear
to me that his addictions in his earlier life might have been the result of misdiagnosed
severe mental health problems. This point, I think, is important to keep in mind
when focusing on Neil’s creative and mental health recovery today.
My observation of much of Neil’s obsessive attention to the practice of his art
is that it follows the addictive pattern of behaviour that once formed part of his
former destructive life. However today Neil’s` practise as a painter is now a positive
addiction, in my opinion. My understanding of this has helped me to help him nurture
a constructive positive approach to painting and help him see that some of his previous
behaviour can be a positively realigned when seen in this way.
The continued ability for Neil to be able to practise his art, in my mind, is essential
to facilitate a healthy and well balanced approach and help reassure him he has a
good future ahead of him.
My background as a professional art practitioner, working in schools for 25 years
as an expressive arts facilitator, and more recently facilitating similar projects
with the elderly too, has given me a unique insight into helping others. This has
enabled me to see and focus on what Neil needs to maintain his interest in his art.
When I met Neil, (he originally attended my life class I ran in Krowji), he was
already painting. Much of his painting up until this time reflected the style and
content typical of someone that I would associate with his mental health issues.
For example; much of his work on canvas involved intricate pen work , with patterns
and intricate decorative details making much of his work appear as what many art
experts might consider to be `Outsider Art` .
When I ask Neil about the meaning of many of these earlier images his response
is often that they reflect his experience of confinement in mental institutions,
hospitals, and prisons over an 18 year period. I can now see how art has been a
powerful transformative outlet for this trauma, and how important art is in maintaining
stable mental health.
But also looking at these earlier images ,at the time, it was clear to me that
Neil had the potential to achieve so much more with his painting.
My work since this time with Neil has been to open up more avenues of expression
for him in his painting.
The result of my support and encouragement for his creative exploration, is that
nearly 3 years later he has developed a channelled outlet for his challenging mental
health condition in a new positive and expressive way.
Now his work also reflects his developing interest in the art scene in general giving
him confidence in other areas of his life and to speak more confidently about his
art too by comparing it to many artists familiar to us all , such as Picasso and
He now paints more freely applying paint directly to the canvas to create images
from his imagination and observation .These are often figurative reflecting his attendance
for 2 years at life classes where he has been able to explore the significance of
the human figure in painting.
My hope is, that with continued support, Neil will continue to remain a more balanced
person with the ability to cope with the challenges his mental health presents him
with everyday. I feel it is essential for Neil to continue his creative persuits
to maintain a healthy approach all areas of his life.