John Bateson (pictured) is the new volunteer art therapist at Caritas Westminster's Bakhita House. Here he talks about the brightness and resilience he sees in the guests, all of them survivors of trafficking and slavery, and the inspiration behind his new painting of St Josephine Bakhita.
'Becoming a volunteer at Caritas Bakhita House was definitely providential. One of the sisters in my parish used to volunteer here, and she told me that the volunteer art therapist was leaving. Did I know anyone who might be interested? Yes, I did: me!
'I’m a freelance artist, and had been feeling for some time that I needed to find some voluntary work: something to take me away from my easel at least once a week, and ground me in another reality; something which would allow me to express my faith; and ideally, somewhere where I could use my art. This seemed ideal, I’d originally trained and worked as an occupational therapist, so I felt I’d also be able to use that experience.
'Since November 2021, I’ve been coming to Bakhita House one afternoon per week. A small group of guests gathers around the table: sometimes they create art using familiar ways, and at others, they learn something new, like making linocut prints. Part of my work as an artist is as a print maker, and my hope is that print making is like learning a new skill. Certainly, the guests have discovered that they can have fun making simple, colourful designs using lino and coloured inks.
'And whatever we’re working on, we always have fun! There’s a lot of chatter and cheer, and I’m always struck by how bright and chirpy the guests are, how considerate towards each other, how resilient and how much laughter there is, in among the creativity. When I set out to create my painting of St Josephine Bakhita, I wanted that lightness and fun to be in there.
'I find inspiration in Matisse’s Circle of Dancers, and having created some circular images before, I was able to lift a few sketches from elsewhere. I wanted movement, and inclusion and colour! I had looked up various icons of St Bakhita, and was especially struck by some, such as the one by William Hart McNichols, but Bakhita was always dressed in her black habit. It’s an important part of her identity, I know, but colour felt important, too. So, I added a bright, patterned poncho, like one of the ones my wife wears.
'Before coming to Bakhita House I knew very little about trafficking, I’m now learning, gradually, and about St Josephine Bakhita, who I’m getting to know. She’s quite an inspiration! And I hope my painting which now hangs in Bakhita House, overlooking our art sessions, shows just how much life and joy I receive from my volunteering, and from everyone in the house.'
Caritas Bakhita House is one of the many services supported by the Cardinal's Appeal. Support their continued work by donating here. To find volunteering opportunities that match your skills and talents, visit the Caritas Volunteer Service.
Header Photo: John Bateson (Learn more about John Bateson and his art at www.johnbatesonpaintings.co.uk/)