Hope Unfolding Exhibition ¦ 21 – 26 July 2017

Studio Upstairs artists will exhibit at the Stoke Newington Library Gallery from 22nd to 26th  July 2017. The opening night will be held on Friday 21st July, from 6pm to 10pm.

This latest exhibition of the artworks of our Dalston’s members and art therapists called: Hope Unfolding, takes its title from the work made by late artist and former studio member Emma Hope, who passed away in March this year at the age of 47. In celebration of  Emma’s life and art work, this group exhibition shows a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and short films, made by art therapists, current and former members of Studio Upstairs.  

Artist Patsy McMahon, shared: “one of the things I miss the most about my late friend Emma Hope is our many interesting conversations about art. I have felt driven to help put on this art show including the posthumous exhibition of some of Emma’s artwork, somehow inspired by our conversations about Inkblots, body maps, the experience of a human body and many other things, as well as by my sense of loss and a desire for completion.”

“I feel very happy this is an opportunity to exhibit  the work of studio members and some of Emma’s friends, who also like she attended Studio Upstairs in Dalston. It would have pleased her, I know, to exhibit with them in this joint celebration of life in general and her life in particular. I hope many people come along and enjoy the show and the Studio Upstairs community.”

David Fried, Senior Studio Manager, added: “this exhibition represents for me a statement of continuity of the creative approach between past and present members of the studio which persists through time even though individuals do not.”

Through this show Studio Upstairs hopes the artistic community, trusting in the freedom of the imagination as a force for good, continues to break new ground, cross boundaries and carries on challenging prejudices and stereotypes, unearthing fresh expression of the many types of human experience.

We would like to extend a big thank you to Dalston’s studio members and studio managers, Emma’s friends and Stoke Newington local stores for their donations and contributions to fund and make this exhibition possible.   

Everyone is welcome to join our opening night, which will include a short performance by the Studio Upstairs Drama Group, on Friday 21st July, from 6.00 pm to 10.00 pm. Please RSVP

Croydon Mayor is proud to support Studio Upstairs

On Tuesday the 9th of May 2017, Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor and Deputy Mayor Councillor Toni Letts joined Studio Upstairs South London to mark its 1st birthday. In his speech the Mayor congratulated Studio Upstairs for its wonderful work over the past year. Speaking of his pride in the project, he shared his own personal experience of mental health and voiced his support:

‘The work of Studio Upstairs and other Croydon Mental Health Care Services is absolutely vital, and the more we can reach out to those who suffer with their mental health the better’

In its first year the South London Studio has supported 16 Members to develop their artistic practice and improve their well-being, 3 of which are now well enough to return to work. One member explains the benefits of the studio:

‘The studio has given me purpose in life and the freedom to express myself creatively without limits.The staff are fantastic and I feel safe. I want to stay well and Studio Upstairs is helping me to achieve this’

Since it’s inauguration in 2016, the South London studio and gallery has welcomed over 2000 visitors through its doors, encouraging people from all backgrounds to participate in the arts through workshops, exhibitions and gallery nights.


Surviving or Thriving?: Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Following this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May) Studio Upstairs Dalston attended St. Mungo’s Mental Health Festival held on Friday 19th May at the Calthorpe Project Community Garden, practically an oasis set in an otherwise grey King’s Cross. This year’s theme was ‘Surviving or Thriving’, promoting good mental health beyond just the absence of illness. Despite slightly ominous grey skies, many stalls set up and visitors poured in. Organisations from all over London were represented, including those offering support for issues such as homelessness and unemployment which often intersect with mental health problems and emotional distress.

“It was a brilliant opportunity to meet potential new members, service providers, and care workers alike, letting people know about what we do at Studio Upstairs and learning about other great organisations,” said: Andrea Zapata-Nalsen, Studio Upstairs Office Manager at Dalston.

Studio Upstairs collaborate with Tate to talk about Mental Health


Studio Upstairs members were actively involved in a collaborative process that brought together various charities and the Tate Modern to exchange ideas, feelings and thoughts about mental health, wellbeing and creative practices, including visual arts.

The result of this collaboration was the event called,  Chain Reaction: How Are You? held on 5th November at the Tate Modern.

Our members and studio managers contributed by responding creatively as individuals to cube structures which were used to make an installation display. The cubes became the heart of the event as members of the public entered the space and walked around them. Throughout the afternoon people had conversations prompted by the images, colours and words they saw in the cubes, which were all related to experiences of mental health.

Sarah Walker, a member of Studio Upstairs, said:

“We took part in this project to highlight mental health issues by creating meaningful dialogues, to strengthen awareness of the work of Studio Upstairs,  and, as artists to create exciting, enjoyable and creative opportunities for Tate visitors.”

Jake, also a member of our studio added: “I  was very honoured to be a part of this project. I found it empowering: to produce the artwork and to witness others, random strangers interacting with the art. I particularly enjoyed seeing my work appreciated. It was also empowering because I felt the event was lifting the lid on stigma towards mental illness.”

At the event, members of the public were encouraged to help to make a long paper chain and placards with messages related to wellbeing; and take selfies or portraits against a background which reflected the person’s mood through the use of colours and shapes. Each one of these activities asked the public to respond to the question ‘How Are You?

Few of our members also volunteered their time to help deliver the activities.


We ask – How are You?

The question initiates one of the most everyday exchanges we all face. We also ask – Is there a way of answering the question so that our actual truth can exist in a world which often seems to require glib and positive responses.

Art, drama, music and poetry create languages for grief, trauma, terror, ecstasy and joy. However, in society, these areas of human experience are usually talked about in the language of illness – depression, mania, psychosis, bipolar, schizophrenia etc. We ask – Can there be other languages to describe people’s existence in a more real way.

In the field of psychiatry, we recognise that there are many individuals and groups who have a supportive and helpful influence for patients. However, we ask – Is it helpful for a person’s thoughts, endeavours, emotional life and struggles for existence to be viewed as symptoms of illness? Can there be more supportive and meaningful exchanges between psychiatry and the people seeking its support? Does mental illness in fact exist? We ask you to join us in exploring these questions.

Using some of the most powerful forms of exchange, art making, drama and discussion, consider the question – How are you? In this exploration we hope to learn more about what it is that we all need in order to connect, create and contribute?

Written by Sarah Walker

Members share insights about their art practices at the Royal Academy

Studio Upstairs members participated an inspirational InPractice event at The Royal Academy in London on 29 July 2016.

Our artists Gillian McCormick, Clancy Gebler Davies and Vera Freire presented a selection of their work and shared the ideas and processes behind each piece.

Our members presented their work to an avid audience. Studio manager Kristina Page shared: “people were very impressed by Gillian’s drawings and paintings and I overheard a few ‘wows’ amongst the group.” Gillian said: “I was very nervous to speak at the Royal Academy, yet it went well, and the whole experience has left a wonderful memory.”

Our member Andrew Mead, who had previously presented work at InPractice, shared he has similarly gained confidence through overcoming his initial fears. Andrew said: “I found it helped me to overcome nervousness about doing a presentation, which is very useful.”  

InPractice events are part of the Royal Academy’s Access Community Programmes Artistic Presentations. These regular talks welcome creative practitioners who are at risk of exclusion from the art world because of various reasons due to ill mental health or disability.  The aim is to create a friendly and relaxed space where the work is encouraged to be discussed and explored.

Studio Upstairs members have regularly participated in these evenings and find the opportunity to present their artwork invaluable to the development of their artistic practices. Kristina said: “It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of an audience and talk about your artwork, but many Studio Upstairs members have done this over the past two years which has contributed greatly to the atmosphere of the InPractice evenings.”

South London Studio Launch, May 2016

It’s official, we have now opened our third art studio, which will provide access to people across South London. 










Left to right: Zlatinka Hristova (SU Director), Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister of Mental Health, The Deputy Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, Tony Bates (SU Chair).

Thanks to Kit Oates Photography

Alike our 28 years established Dalston and Bristol studios, the main activity is the creation of visual art within a therapeutic, safe and social space.  However, our new site boasts it’s very own art gallery, whilst adding to the current programme of Exhibitions, Workshops, Performance Groups, Visiting Artist Talks, and  Gallery and Museum visits.

We would like to thank those of you who have supported us along the way, and joined Studio Upstairs fr the launch on the 10th of May. Along with Luciana Berger, MP, Shadow Cabinet Minister of Mental Health and The Deputy Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor…in cutting the ribbon!



‘…Studio Upstairs provides a huge range of creative support including access to creative therapies in galleries and access to art materials, as well as opportunities to take part in public campaigns and to get involved in the day to day running of the organisation…’   (Luciana Berger MP)

Boosting Your Wellbeing and Happiness

by Katie Smith

Positive activities that help relaxation after a stressful day at work, or a tough week are often difficult to self prescribe. We might be aware that we need to give ourselves a bit of time out in order to cope with the build up of daily stresses, yet it can be difficult to find time, motivation or direct ourselves.

Taking a creative stance can be an extremely effective way in which we can alleviate common issues such as anxiety, stress and low mood. This is something Studio Upstairs offers in collaboration with the City and Hackney Wellbeing Network free to local residents. The courses are also open to residents in other local authorities at £20 to £30 per session.

Studio Upstairs runs those sessions so they fit around your working hours. The evening and weekend courses currently include:

Discover Your Inner Artist: explore your inner creativity and remove creative blocks in a small supportive group of people dedicated to unlock their hidden talents. This course is an intense guided journey in a closed group and will involve commitment to complete tasks and exercises between the sessions.

        11AM – 12:30PM, Saturdays for 12 weeks

Life Transitions: explore ways in which you can manage changes. The sessions as facilitated by Erene Kaptani, Dramatherapist will use movement as a way to address emotional conflicts. As the course progresses, participants will discover ways to cope with difficult transitions and feel more able to actively create life changes.

       5.30PM  –  7.30PM, Wednesdays for 12 weeks

The Art of Breathing:The course will encourage art making following short and simple guided meditations. The Art Therapist Benjamin Prosser will guide you to explore your physical and mental awareness via drawing or painting. The aim of the workshop is to give you skills in your day to day life to achieve an increased awareness, calm and creative freedom.

6PM – 8PM, Wednesdays for  4 weeks

It is important to note that no experience of art making, drama, or meditation is necessary for any of the sessions.

If you are interested to sign up for the above creative groups, please contact us on 0207 503 1330 or email to londonstudio@studioupstairs.org.uk for more information.

Blurred Lines and Shifting Sands: Working with Open Studio Models


by Katie Smith

I signed up to attend the first workshop of the new year held at London’s Studio Upstairs – with unthinking enthusiasm. Studio Upstairs works as an open studio where the Studio Managers, who are HCPC registered Art Psychotherapists work alongside members in a therapeutic community setting to bring about wellbeing.

On the day, I arrived five minutes late and brought along with me the anxiety of a first day back at school. I told myself to act my age, sat on my hands to stop them from shaking and tried not to think about a potential escape route. As I tried to ignore myself, I studied the room – a beautifully light studio of perfect size and layout, just small enough to settle into and large enough to feel free. I was warmly welcomed by the Studio Managers and shared smiles with other people attending the workshop as we introduced ourselves. Most others were MA students of Art Psychotherapy or already working within arts and mental health organisations, so as a new Studio Upstairs Office Volunteer, I was extremely aware of my inexperience. Following a welcome to the studio and explanation of where paper, paints of all kinds, inks, clay, lino printing materials, paper and reference books were kept, the art making began. In my case, it didn’t.

A second wave of fear had slapped me in the face. I watched each person in the room head towards whichever materials they felt appropriate and instantly get on with creating. Slowly my anxieties dissipated as I drew confidence from seeing others seemingly fearlessly focus on working. Despite my confidence growing, I felt like my creative block could be sensed and it was a problem. The studio manager to my left did sense this, but after a short and indirect chat, I relaxed again. The studio manager nearest me carried on calmly with her work and I drew my own calm from seeing this. I thought about how subtle this moment was, yet how effective it was in drawing me out of anxiousness just enough to allow some sort of creative release. How effective the community of Studio Upstairs must be for its individual members. One of the main roles of the Studio Managers (Art therapists) in this setting, is to ‘hold the space’ (Gadiel, 1992) and I felt I was witnessing exactly that. Interestingly, at the same time as there being support, there is also a natural movement to the working space, for instance, people worked over initial drawings with heavier materials like paint or discussed starting all over again because the piece didn’t feel quite right. An intention of the workshop was to put ‘emphasis on how containment and boundaries are held or lost when the studio is a fluid shared space’.

Personally, I had gone from being stuck in my own negative thoughts, gradually shifting out of those constraints and into a pleasant state of focus via drawing. I realise that this would not necessarily of been achieved outside of the open studio model and that must be the case for many people who are now involved in Studio Upstairs. In such a variety of cases the open studio model succeeds in allowing the unraveling of tied up and difficult emotions through a connection back to the artwork and a knowing that they are supported within a community.

David Bowie and the link between creativity and mental illness

by Monika Kalytyte

Yesterday was a day of sadness for millions of people across the world, as David Bowie, a bright star, departed our world, leaving behind a powerful legacy and writing the last line of a book which has marked a number of generations in oh so many different ways. David Bowie’s legacy, discoveries, visions and far-reaching influence, will undoubtedly remain with us, and I am confident it will be communicated with the generations to come in a similar way that it happened with Freddie Mercury.

The very element of Bowie as a person, that powered his great lyrics, his personas, his complex arrangements, his extravagant fashion ideas, his paintings, was also the part of him that he worried could at any moment defeat him.

His intellectual life was so sharp; he believed mind was not always an asset. ‘Sometimes a mind goes haywire. Sometimes a mind sends you into deep darkness, or even off the roof of a mental institution’, quite often Bowie talked about how he struggled in life with his fear of the same sort of mental collapse.

Creative people are genetically more likely to suffer from mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or depression. Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, demonstrated a link between some mental disorders and creativity: ‘To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.’

Some studies have backed up this notion, suggesting that writers, artists and others are more likely to have a mental illness and that people with certain mental illnesses, such as depression and mood disorders, appear somewhat more likely to be creative.

To be creative is to make sense of and connect the small details of everything we experience, the good and the bad. All the creatives naturally tend to think more, and think about their very thoughts too. This type of thinking, lets individual examine different subjects, related with personal knowledge or the outside one, in more depth. Analyzing certain subjects creates inner war, which is sometimes necessary for bringing up some artistic outcome; however there is a fine line between that, and getting driven into mental darkness.

Otherwise, one does not need to be an artist to create, to use art as a self expression tool. Among others, art is a healing, meditative, self motivating and emotional unloading tool. Art helps to communicate and send a message to the outside world.

Through our long year experiences, we can highlight the importance of art and creativity, as integral components of recovery. Painting, sculpting, performing, and other arts are pleasurable activities but can also be a channel for expression of those parts of the self, which may not have been expressed in any other way. Art can be used as a powerful healing tool to explore deep emotions – turn them, into materials. You have way to forget for the moment, what you can’t do, be empowered to improvise and innovate.  It has the ability to transform us, awaken us and our parts to recover and heal from earlier traumas or memories. Through artwork, people can develop their own personal vocabularies for a fuller identity.

There is still so much silence around the subject of mental health, yet it’s something that can affect all of us at some point in our live. Studio Upstairs works with people and for people, to provoke thoughts, to bring the understanding and to reduce stigma at the wide audience.

It could be a New Year’s resolution for all of us; end the stigma and discrimination around mental health and become open about it. It is so important to know that you are loved and that there are people around you that care and are there to listen.

Please join and support, in any possible and appropriate way, our beautiful community at Studio Upstairs. We really need your ideas, donations, time, to maintain our everyday life here, which is so precious and special for all of us and especially for our studio members. There is place where they feel independent, safe and able to unleash their creativity.

This year, help yourself by helping others!