Meeting the creators of Parkinson's Portrayed

Parkinson's Portrayed is an exhibition of 5 works of art bringing to life the stories of people affected by Parkinson's, through a mix of animation, portraiture, and sound. We spoke to Geraldine (left), who has had Parkinson's for more than 30 years, and artist Ian Bruce (right), on how they created the work together. 

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Geraldine

Ian and I developed an animated film together about my husband Bob and my life. It felt powerful - vividly telling a story in a way that was accessible. The animation draws you in and allows you to feel the person speaking. 

Ian

I was commissioned by Geraldine, who has had Parkinson's for more than 30 years, to make a piece of work that represented her relationship with her partner Bob. Her personal story was a love affair which spanned 5 decades - it is worthy of a Hollywood epic. I decided to use a process of time-lapse and frame by frame animation combined with portraiture to depict her life.

The finished film did well at various Film Festivals picking up a few awards, and we realised that we could use this format to promote awareness of Parkinson's by creating intimate portraits of people who have the condition.

Why did you choose to portray people with Parkinson's, and to support Parkinson's UK?

Geraldine

I've had early onset Parkinson's for 32 years. With the post-war baby boomers turning 70, the rate of diagnosis is going up, with no such rise in service provision. 

Ian

It was only when I got to know Geraldine that I realised the condition is as unique as the individual. It is a minefield of symptoms with huge amount of medication that have pretty scary side effects. The stereotype that I had in my head of an old person with a tremor completely changed. Parkinson's doesn't discriminate and I feel the general public need to know this.

How did you decide who to paint?

Geraldine

We were interested in people with Parkinson's who had found positive ways of managing the condition and lived good lives. We also wanted a range of ages, races, genders etc.

Ian

With the help of staff at Parkinson's UK we pulled together a group that represent the true diversity of those who Parkinson's affects. Not only in terms of ethnicity but age, occupation, and approach to dealing with it. Each person confronts it in a different way - through comedy, exercise and in one case an extreme bucket list!

Why did you choose to create narrated animations of the portraits being created?

Geraldine

Because it brings you closer to the person, it's a dialogue - you are not just looking at a picture.

Ian

Portraiture and animation is my preferred mode of communication. I hope an audience will engage with the intimacy of the technique and appreciate seeing the 'behind the scenes' of how a portrait is created. There is some nice symmetry between seeing the inner workings of a painting and the inner workings of the subject.

What would you like people to think when they see it?

Geraldine

I hope they will learn much more about Parkinson's. We also wanted them to see it was not defeating, and could even bring new opportunities to people.

Ian

I hope that people will have a greater understanding of Parkinson's in all it's visible and invisible manifestations. And secondly I hope the audience can see the individuals who I have portrayed as unique testaments to the resilience of human condition. They are all so inventive in the ways in which they do not allow the condition to win!

We often hear that people feel more creative after being diagnosed. What advice would you give to any budding artists?

Geraldine

This is a difficult question. I think this project can give people hope. It creates role models so they can see what other ordinary people can do - the main learning point being that you can't fight Parkinson's, it's not going to go away until we find a cure, but you can accommodate it positively in your life.

Ian

Well, if you have Parkinson's and you find yourself being more creative this probably because you have a redefined view of the world, so communicate it in anyway you see fit.

What's been the best thing about working on this project?

Geraldine

A chance to work creatively with Ian and do 2 good things simultaneously:

  • Promote a new way to look at art as a communications tool and to give Ian the stage to exhibit his works.
  • Raise public awareness with a different group of people who may not be directly linked to Parkinson's but have an interest in investing time and money into new projects which are innovative.

Ian

Getting to know the subjects of each portrait animation and how open each person has been with their stories. One of the biggest challenges has been editing down the interviews to 3 or 4 minutes - they had so much top quality stuff to tell me!