The graceful Georgian exterior of 48 Rodney Street in Liverpool masks the fact that its top-floor flat resembles an explosion in a curiosity shop. Artist Adam Nankervis converted his digs into an independent gallery in 2004 and now every available inch of space, including the toilet, is utilised for display purposes. Its latest exhibition is a selection of works by Birkenhead-born Tommy McHugh.
McHugh spent most of his life working as a builder and had a history of drug abuse and violence. His only previous attempts at art were scratching tattoos into his arms while serving time in prison. Then, in 2001, he suffered a severe stroke. Surgeons saved his life but when he awoke he was severely disabled, common in the aftermath of a stroke. Less common was Tommy’s sudden and unrelenting desire to create art. This is a phenomenon Doctors call ‘sudden artistic output’ and it is extremely rare.
Since the stroke Tommy has created a vast body of work in a great variety of forms, though his main focus has been painting and sculpture. He says, “There is the constant popping of ideas in my head, even if I had two pairs of hands I would still not be able to create all the things that I think of.”
His art seems to focus on the violence that has gone on in his head and in particular the split that it caused in his personality, “I like to explore that” he says. “We all unconsciously portray 100 personas automatically everyday. You act differently in different situations and with different people, in a way we all have a split personality.”
Tommy is greatly concerned with how his experience may aid others, “There is a lot going on in my head besides art, there is information and maybe help for other people who have been labelled disabled or damaged, they may have this hidden in them too.”
His work also helps him on a personal level, to cope with what he has gone through and the massive changes that it has brought in his life. “The art is a lifesaving therapy, without that I could have continued to put my energy into the negativity of the world.” He adds, “I’ve got nothing to lose, every day that coil in my head that keeps me alive is contracting, I have no idea how long I have got and I need to get it all out.”
By Kenn Taylor