Mary Barnes

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Mary Barnes
Mary Edith Barnes

(1923-02-09)9 February 1923
Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom
Died29 June 2001(2001-06-29) (aged 78)
Tomintoul, Scotland, United Kingdom
Known forPainting

Mary Edith Barnes (9 February 1923 in Portsmouth, England – 29 June 2001 in Tomintoul, Scotland) was an English artist and writer who suffered from schizophrenia and became a successful painter. She is particularly known for her documentation of her experience at R. D. Laing's experimental therapeutic community at Kingsley Hall, London.[1][2] She is also referenced in the book 'The psychopath Test' by Jon Ronson

Detail from a Mary Barnes painting

Life and works[edit]

Mary Barnes trained as a nurse and joined the army in World War II. She worked in Frankfurt for two years before returning to London as a full-time nurse.

In 1963, after reading R. D. Laing's book The Divided Self, she contacted him and began therapy, which intensified when she entered Kingsley Hall in 1965 and underwent regression therapy. During the process, she discovered a talent for art. She would later be described as "an ambassador for Laing", emerging from her journey to co-author a book about it with Joseph Berke, the resident psychiatrist who helped her.

Her works, vivid oils often depicting religious themes, were first shown at the Camden Arts Centre in 1969. She subsequently became a respected artist, painting evocative works based on her experiences and showing her work on tour worldwide, accompanying it with talks on her experiences and mental health. In 1979 a play was produced, with script by Barnes with David Edgar. This was broadcast on BBC radio in the United Kingdom, most recently in December 2011 on Radio 4 Extra.

In 1985, she moved to Scotland. Something Sacred, her book of conversations, writings and paintings, was published in 1989. In 1993, she moved to Tomintoul, where she died in 2001, aged 78.

In 2010 there was a major retrospective exhibition of Barnes's work at SPACE (studios) in London and in 2015 at Bow Arts Boo-Bah a retrospective co-curated by Dr Joe Berke of Mary's work on paper and board in pastels and oils alsongside photographs chronicling the therapeutic period at nearby Kingsley Hall.[3]

Schizophrenia and Kingsley Hall[edit]

Before Mary Barnes was a well-known artist, she was a patient at Kingsley Hall, a therapeutic community for schizophrenics.

Kingsley Hall was a place where people could work through their illness. While Mary was there, the radical psychiatrists R.D. Laing and D.G. Cooper ran the center. They encouraged her to regress to a childlike state, during which she painted the walls with her own faeces until they gave her paint to use instead. This eventually worked and she went on to become a successful artist.[4]


  • Mary Barnes (play) with David Edgar (1979), published by Methuen Publishing Ltd ISBN 0-413-40070-0
  • Something Sacred: Conversations, Writings, Paintings (1989) with Ann Scott, published by Free Association Books, ISBN 1-85343-101-X (hardcover)
  • Something Sacred: Conversations, Writings, Paintings (1989) with Ann Scott, published by Free Association Books, ISBN 1-85343-100-1 (paperback)
  • Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness (1991) with Joseph Berke, published by Free Association Books, ISBN 1-85343-125-7 (paperback)
  • Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness (2002) with Joseph Berke, published by The Other Press, ISBN 1-59051-016-X (hardback)

See also[edit]

  • Mary Barnes - Obituary, The Times, London, 9 July 2001.


  1. ^ "Mary Barnes obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 31 July 2001.
  2. ^ "Obituary: Mary Barnes (Obituary, The Guardian)". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Mary Barnes: Boo-Bah, Bow Arts, Nunnery Gallery, London". Asthetica Magazine. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  4. ^ Ronson, Jon (2012). The Psychopath Test. London, UK: Picador. pp. 70–72. ISBN 978-0-33049-227-0.

External links[edit]

  • Book Review - Mary Barnes
  • "Mary Barnes"., tribute site to "Nurse, Madwoman, Explorer of the Underworld, Celebrant of Death and Rebirth, Member of Kingsley Hall Community, Artist, Writer, Healer, Catholic mystic, Visionary"