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Art Therapy and Acquired Brain Injury
by Scott Trevelyan

 

 
Editor's Note from Karen Adler: I met Scott Trevelyan, a visual artist on the North Coast of NSW, Australia, via an international art therapy project. Scott used printmaking techniques as a cathartic tool to overcome life-threatening injuries sustained in a traumatic motorcycle accident in 2002. He currently runs art therapy classes for Acquired Brain Injury survivors at his wheelchair-friendly, purpose built studio, ‘Willowbank Studio’.

Self Portrait

Most people refer to it as a disability. I almost see it as a gift. To experience near death and be able to view life from a new positive perspective is something I have found many Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) survivors have in common.

In August 2002, I was riding through the hills behind Byron Bay NSW when I crashed my Ducati motorcycle in a high speed accident that left me with eight broken vertebrae, a couple of broken ribs, a punctured lung, a dislocated femur, a broken shoulder and a traumatic brain injury.

My name is Scott Trevelyan and I was halfway through a Visual Arts Degree at Southern Cross University (SCU) studying printmaking. The accident changed my life.

It took a year of hard work teaching myself to walk again properly whilst learning strategies to overcome severe fatigue before I could find the stamina to return to study and resume printmaking in the university studios. In that time, I found the repetitive nature of printmaking very cathartic and almost meditative. It has always been a strategy that I utilise to ’recharge my batteries’ and gain a little headspace whilst culminating in a sublime state of accomplishment. I also developed a strong desire to share the benefits I had encountered whilst making art, with other survivors of an ABI.

As part of my course, I worked with staff from SCU and the North Coast Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service to design and build a wheelchair friendly art space, Willowbank Studio, on my property at Alstonvale. I also joined a Ballina based organisation known as BISSI (Brain Injury Support Service Incorporated), where I was later elected President and have held the position for the past seven years.

With over 60 current members who have survived an ABI in some form, BISSI’s priority is to help members (and their carers and families) learn to live with the everyday challenges associated with such a complex injury. The aim is to promote social reintegration so that members may once again be accepted, productive contributors within our community. With a strong focus on empathy and understanding, BISSI is run by people with brain injuries for people with brain injuries.

During my time with BISSI, I have played an integral role in the group’s development, taking on specialist volunteer tasks such as designing the BISSI logo, chairing committee meetings, co-ordinating fundraising and raising awareness of our Art Therapy sessions. I also initiated a now long-standing arrangement with the NSW Attorney General’s Department to a program called Community Conferencing. This worthwhile and effective program allows offenders of crimes such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or offenders charged with assault to come face to face with an ABI survivor from similar causes.

Willowbank Studio was officially opened in November 2006 and has held fortnightly workshops for members of BISSI ever since. These workshops are facilitated by myself and occasionally with the services of a qualified Art Therapist. They aim to bring together people who live with an ABI in a safe, creative environment, to participate in art activities designed to facilitate self-expression, self-awareness and healing targeted to their specific needs. A further aim is to support participants to make connection with others who may understand and share the very great impact of ABI on daily lives and functioning, thereby decreasing isolation and increasing a sense of empathy and relatedness. Some participants find that even just showing up and drinking cups of tea is a rewarding experience.  All art tasks are designed to ground participants in the here and now, respecting the path they have and will travel as a result of their injuries, via guided therapeutically oriented art making.

The studio receives no external funding and relies solely on voluntary time and energy. There is no charge for access to Willowbank Studio for survivors of an ABI.

 

'Sogno di da Vinci'


My own personal art practice has evolved somewhat from the quite dark ominous nature of the injury/motorcycle imagery to the current predicament that the honeybee, Apis mellifera, faces with the globalisation of the predatory bee mite, Varroa destructor. (see Exhibition/Events tab on my website)

 

Accessible Arts Residency, Bundanon

When I was selected as the successful applicant for the residency at Arthur Boyd’s complex, Bundanon, I was a little bit apprehensive about being away from my home for so long. I originally figured that I could fly back to Ballina halfway through my time there, just to check on my home, catch up with my family and friends and see my beloved pooch, Indie.

It was only after I arrived there that I appreciated what the residency offered. Following a brief introduction to my own studio and self-contained apartment, I was left to experience a month dedicated to nothing but my own art practice.  Four weeks of being totally in an artistic state of mind with no outside distractions to dilute my focus. Even the lack of mobile phone reception was a welcoming thought! But it was reassuring to know that staff from Bundanon Trust were only 15 minutes away and proved to be very responsive by simply calling them from the landline phone provided in my apartment. Even if it was just to change an out-of-reach light globe in my studio.

It took me a couple of days to wind down from the long drive from Northern NSW and set the studio up to suit the needs of my practice. During this time I met with other artists in residence (AIR), all of whom were staying for two weeks only. This meant that I was lucky to meet two different groups of wonderfully creative people during my month’s residency, each working on their own individual art forms. As I began drawing I observed one artist performing movement art in the kangaroo paddock next to my studio whilst listening to another playing violin. During the second half of my residency I had the pleasure of listening to a concert pianist playing her compositions on a grand piano in the nearby musician's cottage. I no longer felt the need for a brief return visit home.

'We're Outta Here'

As an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) survivor, the attention and focus that I was able to dedicate to my practice whilst at Bundanon, was priceless. I was able to immerse myself into a very healing and refreshing headspace that I rarely encounter in the everyday duties of life at home. This meditative-like state enabled me to produce a more informed and resolved quality in my artwork. I hope to pass on this discovery to other ABI survivors in my capacity as an art facilitator during fortnightly therapy workshops held at my own studio, ‘Willowbank’. I also came to the conclusion that I must dedicate at least a couple of days each week at home on my own practice to maintain this cathartic technique.

Apart from the rewards I discovered after arrival at Bundanon, I also began to realise the positive effects media attention was having on an emerging artist such as myself. Through the Accessible Arts/Bundanon residency selection process, my name was passed onto Penrith Regional Gallery in Sydney to be included in an upcoming exhibition on motorcycling called ‘Born to be Wild’. This has provided an opportunity to exhibit my work alongside some of Australia’s most renowned and successful contemporary artists.

As a regional artist with an ABI, the odds are stacked against me to make a successful career in the art world. However, the time already dedicated to my artwork and desire to make a successful occupation from such efforts has been recognised by Accessible Arts. I hope that more of the same sort of programs will continue to be available to other artists with a disability.

 

 

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About the Author


Scott Trevelyan is a visual artist practicing and residing on the North Coast NSW. He completed a degree in Visual Arts at Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW. His favourite medium to work with is print where he uses various printmaking techniques as a cathartic tool to overcome life-threatening injuries sustained in a traumatic motorcycle accident in 2002. Scott currently runs art therapy classes for Acquired Brain Injury survivors at his wheelchair-friendly, purpose built studio, ‘Willowbank Studio’ at Alstonvale, NSW and has been doing so since 1986. He is currently studying an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts at Lismore TAFE.

Art institutions such as the State Library of Queensland, Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon Trust and numerous international collectors have acquired Scott’s artwork. His artwork has been commissioned alongside some of Australia’s finest printmakers and he has exhibited in various Australian, Asian and European Art Awards.

Scott’s current body of work portrays the increasing demands that have been thrust upon the honeybee, Apis mellifera, for survival.

To download Scott's current CV click here.
For more information, sales, or to enquire about any of the works email info@scott-trevelyan.com.


 

 

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