Caroline Le Vine

Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Abstract Expressionist Artist

Vicki

Have you always been an artist?

Caroline

No, I did A Level Art at school, then left it alone. Then in my mid 40s, I started getting into crafts. I made textiles  – a big rug and some tapestry work. Some was decorative and some more narrative, trying to tell a story with a picture, subverting the medium a little. Then I got into wire sculpture, I left some figures and some pieces out in the woods just for fun, for people to find. Two years ago, I joined an art group and continued with my wire sculptures there. I did my first exhibition in 2018 with a group in Bath, and it went really well with the sculptures. I thought, “This is exciting!”. I sold stuff, I felt like a rock star!

My most popular work was the stuff I was most interested in, where I tried to represent something of the human condition. I work as a counsellor, that’s bound to come out in my art. I was making some figurative work but also more abstract pieces in 3D. I thought, ‘I’m not a real artist unless I can remember and remind myself that I can draw figuratively’. So I spent the summer drawing faces and facial features, satisfied myself with that and then picked up some paint. I’m improving my practice and making it as aligned as I can with what I have inside me. I don’t do representational work, it’s abstract, expressionist and intuitive. I rarely start with a plan. And if I do start with a plan, by the end of it what I’ve got is something different. The work evolves as I’m doing it.

Vicki

What’s your medium?

Caroline

Acrylic mostly, a little mixed media, when I’m playing I sometimes do mono-printing. If I get anything interesting from the mono-print, I might use that as a bit of collage to add into the work.

Vicki

What’s your earliest memory of producing an artwork?

Caroline

Probably school exams.  Possibly as a much smaller child, but it didn’t really sort of figure as something particularly important or compelling. I was more the academic kid, that was where I focused. More consciously I started in my mid 40s. I found doing something creative, particularly craft, using my hands in a repetitive rhythmic fashion, very therapeutic and calming, grounding. That was good for me at that point. It evolved from there.

Vicki

Do you feel that your counselling work informs your art and your art informs your counselling work?

Caroline

I sometimes work with people who are artists, either professionally or as a hobby. We’ll maybe look at what is coming out in the work that they’re producing that’s important – from an inner world perspective. I also use art therapeutically, sometimes words aren’t always useful – or enough.  I was working with somebody a few days ago who just wanted to get something out, we used big sheets of paper and a lot of chalky pastels and got very dirty. It was wonderful. The satisfaction they gained was a sense of coming back into themselves, “There it is, it’s out there, good, done that. That’s over there,  I don’t know what I think about it,  I don’t know whether I like it, I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t matter, it’s out there”. It is not just what goes on the paper, it’s the process of using your body to create the gestures, to create the marks. That’s just as important as what comes out of the pencil, the pen or the brush.

Vicki

Do you subscribe to the idea that trauma is held in the body? So, the physical act of making art might help release or express that trauma?

Caroline

Oh definitely, there’s a connection there. I sometimes work with the body in my therapeutic work. I pay attention to what’s going on for somebody and I invite them to do the same. It’s all connected. If somebody is tapping their hands and their feet, there’s something energetic happening. Something trying to be voiced, to be released, to be processed. So yeah, let’s have it in the room.

Vicki

Do you want to give me a bit of biography?

Caroline

I was born in Wiltshire, but my parents separated when I was a child so we left Wiltshire and I grew up in East Anglia, near Bury St Edmunds. I went to college, briefly, near Doncaster, tried it, didn’t like it,  stayed there for a year. I was studying social sciences and English literature. Nothing to do with the Creative Arts at all apart from the literature bit. After I left I came back to East Anglia, then spent a brief spell in London doing some voluntary work, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Did odd bits of jobs here and there – deboning chickens in a factory, I’m a vegan now! (Laughs). I did quite a lot of admin jobs, worked in a cafe for a bit, pub work. Then I started working as a legal assistant. I was doing a lot of client work, preparing papers, going to court.  It was Family Law. You could say my creative journey started there, because that’s where my therapeutic journey began, when I was working with people in crisis. My art and my therapeutic journeys are quite intertwined, that was the start of my helping work. I did that until I burnt out, I wasn’t getting the support I needed.

Finally, I got into what I needed to do therapeutically for myself, as a client. The process means that you come much more into yourself and become aware of what you need. Not on a head level, not in a thinking way. You get drawn to places, to people, to environments, to courses that help you grow and help you progress. I was a therapeutic client for some years. I can’t remember why, but I started a little introductory course into counselling. I followed it up and then suddenly realised I could do this as a job. I still remember that moment, it was like the whole world just sort of exploded in front of me. There’s a lot of creativity involved with therapy, with being a client and being a therapist. You have to be in the moment and create a new way of looking at a situation or relationship. The creative path was underground – I didn’t talk about it, or even acknowledge it, but it was there in the therapy work.  I qualified as a therapist nine years ago. Not long after that the craft work started to come in, that other expression of me that had been dormant pushed through.

Vicki

So how do you feel about Heart of the Tribe? Have you exhibited much before?

Caroline

I’ve not exhibited a huge amount before and I’ve never been represented by a gallery. I can scarcely believe it, it’s very exciting. I’m thrilled to have been chosen to exhibit there. I’ve exhibited with groups and done open studios, but this is something completely different. It’s a brilliant concept. I love the fact that there’s going to be stuff going on there, it’s not just going to be dead space with pictures in it. It’s going to be active, full of life and energy and events. I’m just so thrilled that I’m involved.

A selection of Caroline’s work hanging in the Gallery at Heart of The Tribe

Vicki

Let’s talk about the process of making art for you.

Caroline

As I said earlier, I rarely have a plan.  I just do something and see what evolves. it’s about something coming from inside me, without me thinking about it much. What colour do I want today? What texture do I want?  What am I drawn to?  I get that down on the board or the canvas. Then I feel my way through, so my work is a lot of layers, it often goes through several iterations. It will start off one way, I’ll think it’s finished, I’ll stick it on the wall. I’ll even exhibit it, and then look at it and think, “No, that’s not done”.  So I’ll take it home and do something completely different, or just tweak it a bit.  It’s evolving and in that way it’s very much like the work of therapy.  It’s layers, understanding what comes before and what sits on top and what you’re hiding. A lot of my work is about hiding and revealing.  I might put a layer or a glaze over a portion, or even all of the work, and then scrape some of it off. I decide I’m going to just mask something but leave something else exposed.  I find that quite an interesting therapeutic and artistic process. What do we choose to reveal?  What do we hide?  Why do we make those choices?  What is it about this thing that we’ve revealed that is perhaps more acceptable than the stuff I’ve covered up with layers of paint?

The process at the beginning is very intuitive, it’s playing, it’s making a mess.  I’ll make something really ugly and hate it, and wrestle with it and want to turn my back on it and sometimes I do. Then comes the bit that’s more thoughtful.  It’s having in mind some of the basic principles, none of which I really learned, because I haven’t been to art school.  How does it look on the wall?  How is it balanced?  How are the colours sitting together? What’s it feel like to look at it?  If I haven’t looked at it for a while it’s great to go back to it and realise it is saying something to me today that it wasn’t saying before, so I need to interact with it. I need it to speak to me and tell me what it needs, whether it needs something else. There has to be a little bit of thoughtfulness, a little bit of structure, a lot of editing, to make it into something that is more meaningful rather than just a kind of splat.

Vicki

Do you engage with the viewer? Do you ever get into conversations with people about what your art says to them?

Caroline

Yes. Those conversations are very different. Some people will say, “I can see a duck, or two people, or a hedgerow”. I just have to say, “Okay, that’s you, you put that there. That’s cool, you take what you want from it, you engage with it. It’s probably not what I intended.  But you are having the conversation with the painting now”. Then there are other people that want to know “Why did you do this?”  They might be interested in the process or in saying how they feel about it.  Sometimes I make marks with pencil or pen on some of the work. One woman had a really visceral reaction to that, it took her straight back to being told off as a child, scribbling on the wall. “Oh, she shouldn’t have done that!” she said. They can throw people into all sorts of different places. It’s so interesting to get all these different reactions. Some people just fall in and go, “That makes me feel peaceful or dreamy”. That’s fine. I’m equally fine with people not liking it, too.

Emerging Through Blue

Vicki

Is your partner supportive?

Caroline

Very. Especially as I work from home in our tiny flat.  He does his own creative thing; he’s into making audio collages, often quite troubling ones, quite dark ones. They’re incredibly atmospheric, and some of them are so powerful that I can listen only to a little bit and then I have to leave. His vibe is “don’t wait to be invited. just go out and do it, find a space to do it and you’ll attract people” and he does.  He’s got this group of people, they meet every month, they do their sound thing. That’s incredible, he’s created this out of nothing. I love that. I took that inspiration from him to get involved with open studios, to do this art course, to try for Heart of the Tribe, to put myself out there.

Vicki

Have you sold work?

Caroline

Yeah, not masses yet but I haven’t been out there very long. Any sales I make I’m delighted with.  At the moment the therapeutic work is supporting my artwork financially. That may never change.  I may never make a huge amount of money from it, but just having somebody like it enough that they want to hand over some money to me, that’s astonishing.  It’s a wonderful feeling knowing someone likes a part of me that much. I’m very lucky because I’m not relying on my art to feed me or pay the mortgage, so I can take risks, I can play.

Vicki

I’m really interested in the art therapy angle because you’re the first person to really talk about that in these interviews. Have you studied art therapy?

Caroline

No, I don’t want to kill it. I really don’t like being told what to do. I like the freedom to create, not just in a kind of physical art way, but to work with whatever the client and I have in front of us. I’m sure there are techniques that I could learn, but it kind of dries it up a little bit. I say to clients when I first meet them “I haven’t got a map”. This isn’t like CBT where you do this and you do that and then you do this and then something else will happen. We’re just fumbling our way around together. Looking for whatever we find. For me that’s a much more humane, organic and actually effective way of working. That’s what I do with my creative stuff as well – I fumble about till I find something with no preconceived ideas of what the thing will be.  A client may come in and say, “I want to get here. I want to feel like this”.  I say, “We might get there, but that might not be where you need to go. We won’t know unless we examine all of the terrain, rather than just going for that point over there”.

Vicki

Psychotherapy is Jungian isn’t it?

Caroline

It can be. I have a little bit of Jungian stuff in me but it’s broader than that, psychotherapy is basically another word for counselling. It’s interesting you refer to Jung:one of the first pieces I sold to a therapist friend of mine was called “Ode to Jung”.  He was a very creative man who used a lot of art in his work. He got clients to draw what their dreams were and what they were feeling and he did it for himself.  He built these amazing structures, these towers. They were places of meditation and refuge and they had all sorts of meanings for him.  I made this little cave out of wire with lots of pretty little sparkly bits on it. It was supposed to evoke the feeling of the best birthday ever when you were six. It’s just something sparkly and lovely that you could crawl into and it was beautiful.

Vicki

I’m interested you said that you didn’t want to muddy the water between you as a therapist and as an artist. You deliberately made yourself difficult to find on the internet. Would you explain why that is?

Caroline

It’s a debate that I’m having in my head at the moment: how much do I reveal about my art to a client. To begin with I was very clear that the art was just for me, something I did privately that could get in the way of my therapeutic alliance with my clients if they knew about it. They actually don’t know much about me; if they start to know about me the focus is away from them. Now, particularly with Heart of the Tribe, I’m much more out there and I have to think about whether and how I introduce this side of my life to clients.  I have taken one tiny little step, to put on my email signature that I’m a counsellor, psychotherapist and an artist.  So it will leak out that way. I need to work out how far I integrate these parts of my life, because if I introduce it in the therapy room clients might (quite reasonably) say “Oh that’s what you do? Well, that’s interesting. Let’s talk about that” and then the focus is off them and off the work that they want to do.  Equally, I don’t want to lie or withhold…  It has to be handled really carefully.

Vicki

With most of the other artists I’ve interviewed for Heart of the Tribe I talked a lot about their family lives and backgrounds, but you necessarily keep a distance.

Caroline

Yes, that’s true, very well observed!  The work I produce is all about human experience and the marks that are left on us all by our histories. The marks in my head, my heart, my body, they’re all there because of the journey that I’ve taken, because of my story. The way I think, the way I feel, the way I act, all of that stuff is a marker of where I’ve come from. It’s also a marker of the fact that I’ve done a lot of work, therapeutically. I’ve processed a lot of it. Am I going to put that story out there?  No, I’m not.  It’s there in the work although it might be well-hidden!

The work that I do (both therapeutically and creatively) is, I think, a series of quiet acts of radicalism.  What any creative, empathic, socially aware or community-focused person does, that stands in opposition to the prevailing narrative which tells us that acquisition and economic growth are the only measures of success.  Surely success is connection, encouragement, compassion, authenticity, isn’t it?  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is a luxury to be understood.”

Let It Come

You can find Caroline’s art on Facebook @LittleBeast2017 and Instagram @littlebeast

Interview by Vicki Steward from Normal For Glastonbury February 2020