The relationship between psychology and art is a dark, twisted and often liberating one. Inner Worlds: Portraits and Psychology isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But it’s an incredible display of portraits of the psychologically tortured, leading psychologists and an impressive collection by artists including Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan and Joy Hester who were fascinated by the subconscious mind and intense mental states.
Curator Christopher Chapman has been researching art and the human psyche for years. “Creative ways of thinking lead to new ways of doing things,” he tells Time Out. “Creativity is closely tied to mental processes, and how we perceive the world.”
Back in the 1990s Chapman was working at the National Gallery of Australia. There he became enamoured by Albert Tucker’s expressionistic portraits when the artist drew portraits of injured veterans at the Wangaratta army camp and Heidelberg Military Hospital in 1942.
In a 1979 interview with writer James Gleeson, Tucker gave an example of one man who “had his nose cleanly sliced off with a shell fragment.” Tucker continues with gory details: “He didn’t have a nose to blow and so the cavities in his face just kept dribbling. He was apologising and mopping his face all the time, and I was doing my detailed drawing.”
In the interview, when asked about how this memory of staring into a man’s cratered face reoccurred throughout his works, he simply said: “It goes in and works its way out somewhere.” It’s easy to see why Christopher couldn’t let go of the power in these works. These works and more are on show at Inner Worlds, as well as pieces by Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, Judy Cassab, Anne Ferran, Dale Frank, Mike Parr, and Danila Vassilieff.
The exhibition also tells the stories of leading psychologist through portraits and biographies. “I am repeatedly struck by the passionate and dedicated attitude the pioneering psychologists had towards their work,” Chapman says. “They were great advocates for the humane treatment of individuals suffering from psychological trauma, and had progressive views of the betterment of society.”
Inner Worlds is Chapman’s way of showing how complex the human mind is. “It looks at some of the ways in which the mind has been explored by psychologists with different interests and approaches; and by artists drawn to intense mental states in themselves and in others. We each experience the uniqueness of being in the world in our own way. This can be a confusing and challenging experience at times, but it is one that we all share.”