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Colin Hambrook reviews the work of an artist whose work embraces a therapeutic approach, asking the question: are disability arts and therapy mutually exclusive?

I first came across digital representations of Maria Kuipers work in 2001. I was immediately intrigued by the reflective 'feel' of her work. When I finally saw it in the flesh at an 'Open House' exhibition in her home, I got excited because it was clear she was reclaiming the idea of making work that has a therapeutic value.

There has been much debate within the Disability Arts movement around art described as having a therapeutic value often being dismissed as Art therapy. This stems from the traditional approach, which takes power away from the individual who is receiving Art therapy and puts it into the hands of the therapist. However it doesn't account for the artist who takes a therapeutic approach to their work.

An intuitive approach

Maria explains, Art therapy is usually created in response to an event, trauma or emotional issue, and that is not the way I work. I don't work in a traditional way either; my methods of working seem to fall in-between the two.

I usually start a painting with a randomly chosen piece of collage or stitch a piece of fabric and place it on the canvas, and from there I develop the work intuitively. The content emerges and evolves but I am not aware of any issues or memory for example at the time of making.

My experience as someone with a disability is integral to my work and the way I choose to work. I consciously let go thinking about the end product and allow each painting to evolve in it's own time. The materials I use become my subject matter and it is through this choice of materials and techniques that I connect and express my emotions and senses for each moment. Considering aesthetic values are more important to me than the emotional content but alongside this I need to 'play'. I feel my whole approach is key to allowing my subconscious to create and often resulting in highly emotive images.

Art as poetry

Maria's canvases have a perfectionist quality about them. The more you stare into the frame the more layers you can unearth. Each layer reveals a little more of the truth of the journey she took to arrive. It is a bit like meditating, or at least trying to follow the breath as you breathe in and out. There is a sense of containment and structure, with frames and borders, lines that demark one area of experience or emotion from another. At the same time there is a sense of opening up into space. The poetry of each mark made; each incision cut into the canvas or area stitched back into the canvas, yields an emotional passage.

Details of Maria's outlets at galleries can be found on her website It also offers a profile, a gallery, exhibitions, as well as a whole section on her therapeutic aims. The emphasis of the approach is about the artist having control over the therapeutic input. It has a value I think needs to be accepted and explored as a facet of disability arts practice.


Maria Kuipers gained a first class Fine Art (B.A Hons.) Degree in 1998 and has received many funding awards. She has worked with many organisations within the art and health industry.

Her work is represented in galleries in London, Cornwall, Brighton and Northampton. She has also run an 'Open House' for several years during the annual Brighton and Hove Arts Festival, showcasing both her work and also participating in group shows.

Her art is informed by her disability as someone diagnosed with M.E. Her concern is with exploring the human condition. Images are intuitively drawn from the unconscious whilst spontaneously connecting feelings with materials and exploring issues of identity and personal history.

Recent works are abstract combined with allusive, figurative forms, including boundaries, dwellings, doorways and footprints. There is an emphasis on the richness and diversity of surface textures, which is achieved through a process of layering and combining oil paint, drawing, stitching, collaged paper and fabric.

She compulsively edits, scrapes back and reworks paintings, often developing them over long periods of time. Each painting is a journey, as well as a reparative and restorative process by which unconscious feelings and issues are explored through the physicality of materials and colour.