Bobby Baker Diary Drawings Mental Illness and Me
Author: Bobby Baker
Publish Date: 6 May 2010
Publisher: Profile Books; Main edition
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1846683749
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/lists/recently-reviewed-on-graphicmedicine-org
Author website: https://www.dailylifeltd.co.uk
Guest Review by Katya Robin
Bobby Baker is an artist who makes installations and does performances about women’s daily lives. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD; Endnote 1) in 1997.
When she started going to a mental health day centre, diary drawing became a core element of her daily art practice and self-care. Her self-imposed daily drawing continued for the next eleven years, thereafter changing to weekly updates. Over this time, she included a series of more than 700 drawings. A selection of 158 photographs of these drawings were exhibited at The Wellcome Collection (Endnote 2) in 2009. The show provided an insight into her experience of severe mental illness and undergoing various treatments.
Bobby Baker Diary Drawings Mental Illness and Me is the book of the exhibition, it reads as a graphic medicine memoir providing a patient’s account of the closed world of mental health services. The Diary Drawings provides profound and intense artwork about pain, distress, and a call for change. It was awarded the MIND Book of the Year 2011 (Endnotes 3 & 4). The book is now out of print and availability is limited. I hope a new edition is planned. This review is written in 2022 from my perspective as an artist and a cardiac in-patient during the pandemic. Bobby’s record of her mental and physical illness experiences is still very relevant.
Diary Drawings details Bobby’s experience of mental illness, and her distressing thoughts, volatile emotions, self-harm, paranoia, hallucinations, using alcohol and prescribed drugs, compulsive eating, obesity and antipsychotic medication; she also suffered from knee injury, arthritis and breast cancer.
Bobby used daily drawing as a coping strategy and self-directed form of art therapy throughout her time in mental health care. Medical services can be institionising, especially for long-term patients. One can lose track of the days, place, and even one’s personality, just being identified by a garbled version of one’s name, and date of birth. Each page of Bobby’s diary is numbered and dated, like a prisoner counting off the days of a long sentence.
Bobby uses red stabby lines, like tacking stitches, to viscerally illustrate her self-inflicted scratches. There are other scenes of graphic horror, gory hallucinations, and a bloody axe. These disturbing subjects are made tolerable because of the humour and comic exaggeration throughout the book. Her line drawings are overlaid with light washes of luminous colour that give an airy, floaty feeling.
© Bobby Baker and Andrew Whittuck. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021. Photo: Andrew Whittuck.
Throughout the book, Bobby returns to self-portraits in different guises. She draws herself as a caricature with a large head shaped like a Pear Drop sweet, and in profile with an elongated jutting chin, like the jester puppet Punch. She also combines self-portraits with visionary metaphorical landscapes such as The Daily Stream of Consciousness.
Bobby has a talent for scale, opening up big themes through intimate mundane matters of daily life. Similarly, her process is both micro and macro. She uses a pattern blocking technique of a serried ranks of short lines. This pictorial device reminds me of Lubok (Endnote 5), an early form of Russian popular satirical comics made with woodcuts.
Bobby’s individual drawings are brought together into a complex artwork. It’s a warts and all account of enduring severe mental anguish and physical pain, told with courage, humanity and black humour. The collection is more than the sum of its parts. Bobby ‘creates powerful art that changes the way people think’ (Endnote 6). She has also developed a flexible modular process of making a significant body of work incrementally, one drawing per day over a long period of time.
Katya Robin is an artist and writer based in Sheffield, U.K. She went to St Martin’s School of Art, and Sheffield Hallam University. She is supported by Arts Council England. Recent professional development includes Turps Correspondence Course, and Drawing Correspondence Program. Shortlisted for Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2019 (Endnote 7).
BPD is a controversial diagnosis https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/personality-disorders/why-is-it-controversial/
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