The Art of Being Invisible – Colin Hambrook

Covid -19 dominates our thoughts, our daily lives have changed dramatically within a matter of weeks/ days. Its difficult to not to get sucked into a quagmire of news feeds, misinformation and cycles of blame, that’s a global pandemic for you. So, its easy to forget (or difficult to find the head space to remember) that other shit continues to occur for  people,  solely on the domestic front there are accidents, breakdowns and trauma to name just three.

Back the pre Covid-19 days Colin Hambrook wrote an essay for Deviation Street which acccompanies his stunning intricate drawings , recalling his childhood memories of witnessing his mother being taken away from him to be placed in a Psychiatric Hospital,  see -Victorian gothic with horrorshow ECT.  You never know what shit is around the corner, whatever your age, but maybe its hardest for kids, who bare thier scars deep within. Art and the art of being creative affords some respite and perhaps the opportunity to make a statement that says “This is also me and I am here”.

Brian Gibson


The Art Of Being Invisible                                                                             Colin Hambrook

I was ten years old when the Psychiatric authorities came to take my mother away. I was interrogated alone in my bedroom by an intimidating, white, middle-aged, male psychiatrist who promised me he would cure her. He asked a litany of questions wanting to know what mum had been saying and to whom – and even at the time I was partially aware of being coerced into the most brutal betrayal.


He took her away to the gothic Victorian spires of Belmont Hospital and subjected her to so much ECT that when we went to visit her she didn’t recognise her own children. I have a distinct memory of walking in the grounds of the asylum and having a strong physical sensation of being thrown into a gap, down into the centre of the earth. And there was a hole where being and possibility and potential should sit in the heart of a boy of ten.



The mother I had known died that day and I went into a process of grieving for her. She had been taken from me. And like many children who lose a parent to death, I believed it was my fault; that I was to blame. But, of course my mother was not dead, just gone… and there were no words of explanation or resolution for what I was experiencing.


And when on the cusp of becoming a teenager I experienced my first full-blown psychosis after a head injury. At the heart of my disordered thought processes was the belief that I was invisible, literally invisible to the eye and to the ear. And I was invisible, in the way that all children of psychiatric ‘cases’ are made invisible by a system that further problematises the parenthood of people with mental illness. My grief was invisible within societies disabling constructs that discriminate and ‘other’ individuals scapegoated as mentally ill.


When my headmaster raised concerns and sent letters home advising I be ‘seen’ by professionals, I managed to intervene and throw the letters away. The last thing I needed was further torture to add to the existential crisis I lived with on a daily basis.


I found my own ways of coping with the mental illness that inhabited me. There was no-one I could talk to or trust. I had no words anyway for the attendant disconnection between my head, my heart and how I was feeling. Intuitively, I painted what it felt like to be invisible. I made several self-portraits – one in particular was of two empty, opaque glass cylinders representing my self, hanging by chains, side by side in a limbo against a dirty blue sea and sky. Mid-point was a setting sun, the place where nothing mattered, as all was in a state of chaos.



The act of making the painting didn’t change my abject fear and horror of what could happen to me because of the ignorance and nascent malevolence within the power of the medical authorities, but it gave me some distance from the intensity of the emotions I had no control over. It was a visual portrayal of my ontological state. And through that distance came some sense that I didn’t have to believe: I didn’t have to believe myself. And that was a crucial step in not being a slave to the compulsions that I was in the grip of. I learnt to tell the voices crowding in on me that they weren’t true, because nothing was true.


The one and only person who valued and encouraged my painting was mum, who despite and maybe because of her mental illness understood what I was suffering and advised me repeatedly to ‘paint it out’.


And now 50 years later my continued struggle for ontological strength is defined by the part of me that was lost that day somewhere down a lightning crack in the earth… a search for Fools’ Gold – the journey to recover from devastation… to find the soul… Fools’ Gold, iron fire, a source of ignition, the folly of answers, identity and parade… all that glistens.


And why is human frailty understood by medical science in binary terms? Either you have a mental illness or you don’t – as if consciousness can be measured by degrees. The wounded healer implies an element of wounding endemic within us all, however that manifests… Fools’ Gold, the gold of fools turning weakness to strength… and the alchemy of ideas turns the social model that stands in contradistinction to the medical ‘cure’– the answer of men dressed up as gods.


Meanwhile I define myself as disabled by a Psychiatry that demands my continued invisibility, dealing with self-awareness in pejorative terms that establish the conditions for creating further mental distress.



Fish Eye and The Mirror

He is thrown into a gap, down to the centre of the earth,

opening like a womb down to the core of creation.

And all is empty, wiped clean as dust,

a silent place of shadow, shovelled-up

with the hubris of centuries of certainty

that the place of the mad is secure…


He is an ocean. He is an ocean raised in air

and living in a bubble below the surface of things.

He is a bright sea extending the full wrap of the orb of the earth

and to the edges of the wind.

He is yesterday. He is tomorrow and all spaces in between.

And he is not these things.


He is the deepest breath – one that seems never to stop filling the lungs.

And he is an even longer out-breath.

He is the rattling cry of the corvid

reaching to break the chains of this moment

and to take in the ocean of generations back and back

to the time when hydrogen and oxygen first decided to mate,

the primary coupling of matter.


He is the birth of spirit into the tearless cry of new-born life.

He is the centre and the periphery.

He is the melancholy grace of the wings of the Whooping Crane,

the sail of the Sea Swallow, the Starling and the Dunlin.

He is a Salmon pushing up-river and all living things searching for grace.


He is without boundary. He is everything and all time and he is nothing.

He is of no consequence, less than a single beat in the story of knowledge.

He is the roar of flame at the core of the groaning planet

turning as a restless foetus seeking revelation

in the womb of its mother.

He is a whisper of red, the all-consuming passion

at the start and end of it all.

Colin Hambrook is an author at Creative Future and editor for Disability Arts Online
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