Man behind cumberland east's mesmerising mural

Lights flick on and the heart skips a beat. So many intricate images and a kaleidoscope of colours. Where to look first? There’s so much to take in. The 360-degree mural adorning the walls of building 52 is captivating. Mesmerising. Powerful.

The masterpiece is the work of Arnold St Clair (1925-1974), who painted it during his time as an inpatient from June 1971 to April 1972. A professional artist and sculptor, he created murals at hospitals, wineries and jails.

The mural in Cumberland Hospital East Campus is an important and valuable work. Its clear and dramatic imagery captures history, Aboriginal culture and mythology.

The artwork reflects the attitude and approach of an artist experiencing personal conflict. A man of immense talent and energy, but constrained by illness.

Sadly, Arnold suffered periods of mental illness and alcoholism. His self-expectations were often over-powering resulting in frustration and depression.

An art assessor in 1989 wrote: “It is important to note that Vincent Van Gogh had similar levels of self-expectation, and his intensity in expression has elevated him to the status of a master artist 50 years after his death. I am not saying that St Clair was a Van Gogh, but simply pointing to the comparative intensity of both artists.”

Matt Sydenham, Director Redevelopment and Infrastructure WSLHD, said the mural was incredible.

“The stories and experiences painted in this mural and other works by Arnold St Clair, are remarkable,” Matt said.

“Art in health has always been important. It can serve as a therapeutic and healing tool, reducing stress and providing opportunities for self-expression.

“These pieces can provide insight into what a person is experiencing while living with a mental illness.

“The mural can also be meaningful for people on a number of levels. For nearly fifty years, the artwork has been enjoyed and appreciated by consumers, carers and staff.

“It’s important to preserve our history.”

Arnold will be remembered throughout the ages. Described as a real character, he was a finalist in the 1966 Archibald Prize and was also a regular cartoonist for the Campbelltown Ingleburn News.

Arnold St Clair died of pneumonia on 24 May 1974 in Hornsby Hospital. His death followed eight days of the now infamous and discredited Deep Sleep Therapy at the Chelmsford Private Hospital.

Photos: Alan McMurtry, Monique Wakefield.