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Bryan Charnley - Biographical Note

The Letter, Issue 10, Summer 1997, Pages 73 - 85


Phil McAree

In 1971, while a student at the Central School of Art and Design, Bryan was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. In 1982, he began to use what he called his 'inner upheavals' as a source of inspiration. 'My work' he wrote, 'springs out of the necessity to make something positive out of the impossible situation I find myself in'. Bryan's ultimate creative act was a series of seventeen self-portraits, painted between April and July 1991. They represent a deliberate attempt at self-investigation. There is a commentary to accompany each painting except the last two. Ten days after their completion, he committed suicide. Bryan says in the commentary to one of his works, that his hope was to 'state with depth what it is to be human and schizophrenic'.

Freud said in a letter to Marie Bonaparte:

Mediocre spirits demand of science a kind of certitude which it cannot give, a sort of religious satisfaction. Only the real, rare, true scientific minds, can endure doubt, which is attached to all our knowledge. I always envy the physicists and mathematicians who can stand on firm ground. I hover, so to speak, in the air. Mental events seem to be immeasurable and probably always will be so. [1]

In art interpret these works, although I will most likely end up doing so. In this case the artist was committed to exposing his inner self, expressing what it is to be schizophrenic and human at the end of the twentieth century. The link between the feeling of the artist and the forms of his art is not in question. I want to look at them in conjunction with Lacan's structuralist paradigm of the psychosis and the mirror stage, emphasising the individual's constraints rather than his freedoms as replicated in this series of paintings.

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