In 1989, the Fondation des maladies mentales (Mental Illness Foundation), in collaboration with the Association of Contemporary Art Galleries in Montreal, experimented with an art therapy workshop at Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine under the direction of Suzanne Hamel, art therapist.


In 1992, the Fondation des maladies mentales supported the Fondation pour l’art thérapeutique et l’art brut du Québec, which opened a new workshop in Pointe-aux-Trembles.


In 1999, the Fondation pour l’art thérapeutique et l’art brut du Québec decided to become known as Les Impatients and opened its doors in the heart of downtown Montreal to allow a wider audience to benefit from art therapy and music therapy workshops. These new premises offer spaces for the dissemination of Les Impatients art work while presenting a rich and diverse program.


Parle-moi d’amour”, the main event of the year, is an exhibition-auction featuring visual artists and artists from Les impatients. This fundraising campaign, which takes place in February, is a critical source of funding for the workshops that are offered to participants free of charge. To this event was added the box set’s edition "Mille mots d’amour.”


Discover exercises, created by Jean-Pierre Klein, to introduce yourself and easily to art therapy in our article: 3 exercices pour s'initier à l'art-thérapie

If we sometimes mention the name of the Marquis de Sade as a forerunner of the method – due to the shows he directed, around 1800, at the asylum in Charenton and which attracted the All-Paris eager to see insane persons in representation - the origin of art therapy is more seriously attributed to the English painter, Adrian Hill, who first made the experiment in 1940.

With tuberculosis patients placed in a sanatorium, he undertook, during his convalescence, to begin a stroll on paper which, to the astonishment of the doctors, granted him a quick recovery. "When satisfied, the creative spirit [...] will promote healing in the heart of the sick," he wrote. Interested in this approach, the British Red Cross used it on its patients. In 1950, the first training programs in art therapy came to light in the United States.

In France, we had to wait until 1986. Despite a much earlier informal practice, the concept was finally recognized by the scientific community at an international congress.

Exhibition Self-healing by color

As part of a vernissage, the exhibition « De la douleur à la couleur » by Pierre Garel was inaugurated on March 9 at KUNSTRAUM226 in front of the Municipal Stadium of Ouagadougou. This is the first collaboration between the French artist and the Goethe-Institut / Bdl Ouagadougou.

In the beginning there was the yellow color. For 23 years, it has been at the center of Pierre Garel's work. In 1993, seven years before he started living and working in Burkina Faso, he decided to use that color in the future. "It was like a game. I decided to use it until I did not know what to do with it.” At first he was hesitant if it would ever happen. Now he is almost certain he will never reach that point. Once yellow, always yellow. That's why we are not surprised to see this color in all its facets and shades this time as a red thread throughout the exhibition.

“But why? Why is it yellow and not red? "I like this color. I like the warmth it gives off,” says Garel. "But in principle I could have chosen any other color," he adds. More important than choosing a color was the decision itself. This is how he can focus on other aspects of art instead of thinking about color each time.

But in his exhibition "From pain to color" it is much more than the color yellow. "At first I wanted to do an exhibition about my father's work. The idea came to me already in June. Garel's father passed away and the artist had sought a way to digest his pain. He found it in art. For example, Carolin Christgau, director of the Goethe-Institute Ouagadougou, approached him and offered him to use KUNSTRAUM226 for her work.

The KUNSTRAUM226 is a temporary project of the Goethe-Institute which offers an alternative to national and international artists to work on their own exhibition concepts for a long period of time. Until the end of April the KUNSTRAUM226 was a room entirely constructed of wooden pallets that made this experimental construction a work of art itself.

For an artist like Pierre Garel, this setting is ideal for working creatively. He accepted the invitation. The sequel was a process of artistic creation. Garel reflected on his work as an art teacher, which gave him a lot of pleasure and a good standing in society. At 50, he felt like he was between two generations. He wondered what a father can pass on to his son, and so too, a teacher to his students. "There was my father, my students, and the yellow color," Garel said. "I thought about how to combine all this in an exhibition."


His first work was a facility that now bears the name "Work Plan of a Scientific Artist". It contains photographs from his students who have been modified artistically. He had accompanied this group for several years at a high school. Now their paths are different, but he is very proud of what they have achieved together. That's why he decided to let some of them participate in his exhibition. Five students created their own works that are also exhibited at KUNSTRAUM226. "The ability to pass on my knowledge to my students is a way of self-healing for me," he says. Exactly like the yellow color. Working with that warm color helps him digest his pain and heal himself. So it was not a choice.

Garel was inspired by Joseph Beuys. The German artist also had the purpose of healing with art. Not himself but modern Western society that was pervaded by unhealthy mechanisms. Beuys influenced Garel's work in such a way that he dedicates his own showcase to him in his exhibition. Inside, there are photographs of works by the German artist, among other facilities "Schmerzraum" and "Place of work of a scientist-artist". The ideas that are discussed are also found in Garel's exhibition. The theme of "pain" is omnipresent in his exhibition.

The expression "artist-scientist" was however marked by Hervé Fischer and describes an artist who is inspired in his work by the increasingly important societal role of the sciences.

Garel also studied the sciences in an artistic way, or precisely on the work of a very particular scientist: his father. The latter was a biochemist, and his work had always fascinated him since he was examining things that many other scientists did not examine, such as the crystallization of copper chloride. He valued natural and aesthetic processes. Now he has also established a connection between nature and aesthetics, not as a scientist, but as an artist. This relationship becomes very clear in his facility "Portrait of a researcher". It consists of a large retouched photo that shows his father at his desk and a small table on which different objects in the daily life of a scientist are exhibited. Both elements are connected by the yellow thread of a silk cocoon. He runs from a test tube on the table to his father's portrait above.


For Garel, the creative process of creation is as important as the result. "It's art too," he says; and so declares the path to the work an art itself. And he's almost never right. Many of his initial ideas were transformed during the work process. "At first I planned to divide the exhibition in two. I wanted to create a 'Schmerzraum' (space of pain) in reference to Beuys and a 'Farbenraum' (space of color) in antagonism of the first. But in the end everything was downright different. His father, his pupils and the yellow color are treated in each work. Only in the music that can be heard in the showroom, his initial idea could withstand. In one part of the exhibition we hear raucous sounds of modern industrial music and in another part we hear Bach. "From pain to color" is also explorable through Pierre Garel's ear.


A story by Marica Tomiak (trainee Goethe-Institute / Bdl Ouagadougou)

Copyright: Goethe-Institute / Ouagadougou Liaison Office

April 2017