​​Healing Canvases: Exploring the Dimensions of Art Therapy in Contemporary Art Practice
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​​Healing Canvases: Exploring the Dimensions of Art Therapy in Contemporary Art Practice

The theme of the therapeutic benefits of artistic practices is widely explored, however, in this article, we would like to examine how the process can also be operated vice-versa: contemporary creators derive inspiration from art therapy and employ it as part of their artistic practice. Within this rich field of self-discovery and healing, creators harness diverse artistic mediums to contribute to the collective well-being of society.

Contemporary art

Polina Epinatyeva - Сurator helping people discover themselves in the objects of culture

Curator and Art Manager - Polina Epinatyeva - at the Healing Creativity workshop at The Russian Impressionism Museum in Moscow

Drawing inspiration from the Creative Self-Expression Therapy developed by a Russian psychiatrist Mark Evgenyevich Burno, Polina incorporates unconventional self-expression methods in her curatorial and art management projects. From creative communication with nature to cultural exploration and meaningful curation, she facilitates transformative projects such as "Healing Creativity", providing the indispensable link between artists and the audience. During this series of events, which took place in 2021 and lasted for 6 weeks in the semi-online format, the artist and art therapist Dairo Vargas, who had previously collaborated with the London-based art office The Art Partners, participated in their residency and conducted a similar art therapeutic project in Italy, has led the masterclasses in Moscow.

In collaboration with the Museum of Russian Impressionism and Konstantin Khabensky's charitable foundation, Polina demonstrates how cultural immersion can become a therapeutic avenue in the realm of contemporary art, creating a unique synergy between artistic expression and profound introspection. Polina Epinatyeva’s curatorial practices are largely based on art therapy, neuroaesthetics, and the latest contemporary art practices pioneered by emerging artists. 

"Healing Creativity" was among the pioneering art therapy projects in Russia, which was able to gather relevant data for future research on existing health conditions among children with special needs and develop a toolkit of methods, which can be used to initiate the healing process. The distinctive method of the project involved maintaining a special diary, where significant emphasis was placed on describing participants' sensory experiences and feelings that were present during the masterclasses when they were creating and interacting with the works of art. Polina's method focused on a two-tiered approach, which not only included a more common method of expressing thoughts and feelings through art making but also the search for self-discovery within the cultural objects themselves. This method is highly promising, while its current use is still minimal and requires further research and specialist advice.


Elena Timokhina, therapeutic narratives through writing

Writer Elena Timokhina at the Bedford Square Circle reading in London

Elena Timokhina explores the therapeutic potential of art through her writing, particularly in her project "Dark Times Diary." This ongoing account, shared with readers in real time, unfolds as a deeply personal exploration of day-to-day events amid the shadows of war. Timokhina's words give new, solemn, and tragic meanings to seemingly ordinary occurrences. She eloquently expresses the complex equation of her life, stating, "There are no flights home. There is no home for me in that place which I could reach by flight." This sentiment resonates with millions, allowing them to release their pain and loss of freedom through Elena's poignant writing. Through contrasting techniques, juxtaposing idyllic family events with the harsh realities of war, Timokhina's work, which can be classified as New Prose, becomes a powerful narrative that aids individuals in breaking through to find peace amid the contemporary "Dark Age" of conflict. The incorporation of live writing, social media engagement, and audience interaction adds a dynamic layer to the emergence of this therapeutic literary creation. 

Natalia Kungurova, fluid art as a journey of renewal

Painter Natalia Kungurova "Deformation and Confluence" (Diptych, 2023)

Painter Natalia Kungurova's "Deformation and Confluence" (Diptych, 2023) showcases her unique approach to fluid art, which is best exemplified in this series. Within the fluidity of acrylic strokes, intricate spontaneous details inherent to this technique, and the dynamic storyboard effect of a diptych, Natalia unravels the seasons of consciousness—a visual narrative of life's transformative phases. Departing from "Deformation," which suggests strain, sudden change, and pain through its shape and predominantly cold color palette, viewers are transitioned to "Confluence," a composition exuding pleasant harmony and well-being.

Natalia’s wide, gestural approach, coupled with a limited colour palette, captures the essence of "the art of tiny deaths," guiding viewers to contemplate their inner worlds. Through her concise fluid art pieces, Natalia becomes a storyteller, offering a unique perspective on life's challenges and the subsequent renewal. Her paintings serve as profound reflections, inviting viewers to embark on their own introspective journeys. 

Coma Yank, transforming life's trials into visual poetry

Coma Yank's artistic approach is forged in the shimmering space between dreams and reality. "Black Water" (2023), an ink-on-paper hypnotizing and emotionally evocative image plays with the metaphor of life's burdens, influenced by the music of Nick Cave. Mr Cave’s creative spirit echoes in many of Coma Yank’s works through her choice of colour, subject matters, and some fleeting poetry and irony of life’s challenges and miseries. As if both artists wanted to communicate a message to us that in the end, everything is beautiful, and we should not resist or judge our life experiences. However challenging they may be, we should rather embrace them and see the poetic and self-imposed nature of our trials. 


Mixed media artist Coma Yank, "Black Water", 2023

Here, the black water serves as both a threat and a lifeline, symbolizing the duality of life's challenges and the potential for salvation. The witty and minimal composition of the work strengthens its impact, as nothing distracts the viewer from facing the nature of their existence directly and bluntly. Coma Yank’s rich yet strikingly laconic symbolism invites viewers to contemplate the intricate interplay of archetypes and dreams within the experience of our daily existence and to evoke catharsis and healing in the viewers.


Maxim Badikov, capturing urban contrasts of Mental states through photography

Photographer Maxim Badikov. “Ignite” (2022)

In the realm of photography, Maxim Badikov explores the theme of the city and its inherent contrasts with human nature. His photographic works depict the juxtapositions between the young and old, the rich and poor, and the healthy and sick. Badikov's keen eye not only focuses on the city streets but also the faces of its inhabitants. In his work “Ignite" we see a young woman on a rainy day sitting in the front seat of the car. Her bright smile and the excitement of her eyes create a vivid contrast to the setting of the scene. This work has a mystery to it, as the viewer is not aware of what ignited this spark in the eyes of the young woman. 

Badikov's exploration goes even deeper and studies how the structure of the modern city and society influences the psyche and well-being of urban dwellers. Maxim's ambitious goal is to employ his photography as a mirror, reflecting the citizens to themselves, encouraging self-reflection, acceptance of their conditions, and perhaps redirecting their paths. This bold approach to embracing reality, with all its imperfections and the complex, layered life of the city, holds a therapeutic effect, revealing Maxim's art as an intriguing exploration from both an artistic and psychological perspective.


Aleksei Vasilchenko, journeying into the psychology of human existence through photography

Photographer Aleksei Vasilchenko, “Movie Nature. Abkhazia” (2020)

Aleksei Vasilchenko, another photographer with a profound exploration of human psychology and emotions, takes a contrasting approach to Maxim Badikov. Venturing beyond familiar environments, Vasilchenko becomes a traveller, perceiving the world with fresh eyes and rediscovering the meaning of human existence. Vasilchenko's series of photographic artworks dedicated to Abkhazia utilises colour contrasts and unusual lighting conditions, creating dramatic combinations of deep violet, blue, orange, and red, juxtaposed with a black structure of the bridge in the foreground. 

These visual techniques, coupled with mystical natural effects, photographed with precise exposure to create a blurred mystical effect, evoke a sense of sacredness. Aleksei's work suggests that viewers are on the verge of discovering their true nature—a fundamental aspect of the healing process. Through his lens, Aleksei invites his audience to immerse themselves in the profound mysteries of existence and embrace the transformative journey toward self-discovery and healing.


by Victoria Dini