Anna McNay

Review of Xavier White’s Full Circle, a glass art exhibition, at ORTUS Learning and Events Centre, The Maudsley Hospital


Xavier White’s Full
Circle, a glass art exhibition

ORTUS Learning and
Events Centre, The Maudsley Hospital, 82-96 Grove Lane, Camberwell, SE5 8SN

16 July – 26
September 2014

With its spacious atrium and glass ceiling reaching up to
the clouds, Duggan Morris Architects’ award-winning ORTUS learning and events
centre at South London’s Maudsley Hospital couldn’t be a more appropriate
location for Xavier White’s Full Circle, suggesting that, with an appropriate
amount of effort, anything is attainable.

White is certainly someone who strives hard in the face of
adversity. Growing up in the shadow of the Maudsley, little did he know that
he’d end up there himself in 1985, following a near fatal cycling collision, as
a result of which he lay in a 10-day coma. Now, 29 years later, White returns
to his place of recovery, coming, as the exhibition’s title puts it, “Full

As an artist who, since his accident, has been rehabilitating
creatively through working largely with glass, this exhibition is both a
retrospective, a culmination of his achievements – both in his career and his
life – to date, and a promise of things to come. It speaks of his personal
struggles, but also of those of his fellow survivors, and, seen through a wider
lens, calls out to all of us who battle our demons and are challenged every
day. After all, we all have brains.

Included are works such as What’s on at the Globe tonight? (2004), a piece White made during
his City Lit foundation course. Following instructions on how to make the model
in wood, White made his in glass, going on to win the V&A’s Inspired by competition for people in
adult education and then being selected for a Bonham’s glass auction. On the
stage, he has lovingly engraved a scene from his painting class where he was
working on a large canvas as part of his ongoing Cohedia project, creating an
imaginary, mind-expanding cityscape.

“The entire stage of the theatre corresponds to ‘working
memory’, the immediate memory system in which we talk to ourselves, visualise
places and people, and plan actions,” says White, referring to the work of
eminent psychologist Dr Bernard Baars. “Mental architecture can be described as
a working theatre. Working theatres are not just ‘Cartesian’ daydreams – they
do real things, just like real theatres.”  

White is a thinker, who has researched deeply into the
fields of neurology, neural architecture, learning styles and brain function.
And yet, since his accident, after which he had to learn, from scratch, how to even
put one foot in front of the other, he unsurprisingly struggles with formal
education. Windows of Opportunity
(2008) is an ode to these struggles: hexagonal glass panes, painstakingly
painted with literary and scientific figures and references, designs for the
university building in Cohedia. “Rectangular windows pushed out, phat with
knowledge,” says White.

Why is Life Set Chess
Game? Moves, Interactions, I can’t keep up!
(2009), which has a companion
work living in White’s own salon gallery at his home in Blackheath, is an
exquisitely hewn chess set, composed of precariously but meticulously balanced
glasses and decanters, pieces from his ongoing Verrelic Spires collection. The analogy
is clear; the perpetual need to think, plan, and take action, with the risk of
losing hanging heavy.

Think about it… (2014)
comprises further such arrangements, displayed in a pristine, and somehow
scientific vitrine, etched with images of hands, eyes, ears and mouths, nostrils
flaring, visualisations of our senses, the closest most of us get to the
functioning brain. Colourful glass nuggets, coded as charged ions,
neurotransmitter inhibitors and exciters, are scattered about, resplendent in
the refracted light. Either side are a thinker and a gung-ho teenage White,
cycling along blithely, unaware of the life-changing event to come. Both
symbolic of freedom. A beautiful sight, art to be enjoyed for its aesthetic
value, but also a lesson in science, with White’s written reminder: “As you are
observing this, your brain’s neurons are passing information to each other
through an organic electrical exchange, releasing neurotransmitter molecules at
synaptic clefts. This metabolically driven exchange is how we feel and think at
the micro-biotic level.” And this exhibition is certainly one to incite both
feelings and thoughts.

Upstairs on the roof terrace, with views over London’s
greatest glass structure, the Shard, White has decorated the tinted glass wall
with frosted vinyl circles, celebrating the metaphor of his journey. Opposite
this large meditative arrangement are three smaller circles with the words Health, In and Mind, comprising Maudsley
Learning’s mantra. The exhibition and its location point to White’s achieving
the pinnacle of success (not to say he won’t continue to climb from here on in),
and encourages others to likewise reach for their dreams atop the spires. As
White concludes: “Xavier White’s full circle is on a roll.” 

Xavier White’s Full Circle on Facebook

Installation shots all courtesy of the artist