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Formerly homeless ex-addict in recovery has fresh start

Updated: May 14, 2018

Geraldine Crimmins in her studio at the Old Diorama Art Centre, London.

Geraldine Crimmins, the new artist in residence at the Old Diorama Arts Centre, has recently become self-employed thanks to her art and photography.

Despite passing a “not fit for work” test which allowed an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Café Art artist and photographer Geraldine has focused on art to get back into employment with the help of the National Enterprise Scheme.

“The only way I could get back to work was to become self employed, because I would have too many sick days [working in a regular job].” By also selling the MyLondon calendar this year she was able to fund her new art practice she says. “If I don’t sell [any art] for three months I have a bit of cash to get by from selling the calendars. [Selling the calendar] goes hand in had with my [art] practice until I start selling more, and build up my client list.”

The third Café Art artist to be artist in residence, following in the footsteps of David Tovey and James Gray, general manager Jacob Stevens says David and James really helped Diorama develop their creative identity. Geraldine has been given the art studio in the centre until the end of March, when she will have a solo exhibition in the main reception area of the centre in April.

"Jacob and Diorama have been amazing in helping not only raise the profile of homelessness issues, but by helping people with the opportunity to be an artist in residence. I have seen how it transformed David [Tovey] and James [Gray] and I feel really grateful to have been given this opportunity."

Geraldine says she turned to art about five years ago as she needed something to do after a lot of treatment for health issues. She had a few paintings in The Big Issue and this lead to her being interviewed by Channel 4 News – an item that has been seen more than 700,000 times on their Facebook page.

Talking about the artist in residence opportunity, she says she would like to get roughly ten paintings done, “which is quite a tall order considering it’s nearly a painting a week.” She says she is excited that the exhibition in April at Old Diorama will be her first exhibition in the West End “as it’s central for people to come to.”

Her first solo exhibition was in Shine in Turnpike Lane in November where she sold two paintings and three prints. Also last year she persuaded Café Art to organise the inaugural Café Art Competition Exhibition at the Hampstead School of Art and had a painting in the shortlisted top 20 paintings that were exhibited in September.

Geraldine was also successful in two photography competitions last year, both run by Café Art. She had six photos chosen for the Café Art Qbic Hotel photography project which commissioned by Qbic Hotel. The hotel had approached Café Art’s photography mentoring group, run by Neil Cordell and Mo Grieg from The Royal Photographic Society, to get its photographers to take photos of East London for their hotel rooms. Geraldine also managed to get a photo into the top 20 of the 2017 MyLondon photography exhibition.

Geraldine attributes the success in the contests for her the confidence to go from amateur to professional. She says that as well as the competition successes last year she is also getting a lot of positive feedback on Instagram. (please follow her at @geraldine_crimmins)

The National Enterprise Scheme

Geraldine says the National Enterprise Scheme will give her support for six months, adding however, “It’s important to work with your mentor.”

Before she stopped the ESA and started the National Enterprise Scheme she was able to do permitted work – earning up to £120 a week (the amount she can earn now is unlimted). “That was very valuable for me because I was able to pay off my debts. I got rid of my credit card. It gave me a chance to see what it was like to get up and go to work again. [Not working] is a big blow to your psyche.”

She recommends anyone contemplating taking the jump to do it. “It’s been great. The government was saying that it’s better for disabled people to be working – well I tell you, I agree with it because my self esteem has gone up. I found energy I didn’t know I had. I have to get up [every day] now. Before I used to get up and volunteer sometimes, but now I have to get up to pay my bills and develop my business and that’s really exciting.”

Art schools

“I started painting five years ago. I did a BTEC – like an O Level – at my local adult education centre. It was just one day a week. It gave me a chance to just explore [art]. I learnt how to approach painting in a professional manner: how to develop a painting. If it wasn’t working out [I learned] to leave it. I was shown how to go back and I was shown how to develop the paintings. If I wanted to make a painting I had to make six studies in different mediums, like chalk, pen and ink, oil, acrylic. And then I would do the finished product.”

Geraldine completed the BTEC Level Two & Three in Painting and Drawing at Westminster Adult Education Service. “On the course they taught me how to approach a project. It was like creating images. I had never approached art like that before. To me I had just wanted a picture. They were showing me how to develop it and explore it and how to work through the mistakes.

She won the Inspirational Festival of Learning Award for the London Region in 2016. Because her strength is limited, she says the college used to let her sleep at lunchtime, in their First Aid room.

Inigo Rousham at Westminster Adult Education took her under his wing. “He’s a very well-known tutor. He really inspired me and pushed me as well.” At Hampstead School of Art she was inspired by Des Healey: “I had gone to him years ago and had always followed him. He taught me a lot on how to do portraiture. He’s a portrait artist.”

Geraldine with Jacob Stevens, General Manager of the Old Diorama Arts Centre.

While Geraldine is surrounded by portraits in her studio at Old Diorama, she says she’s now getting more into landscapes. “Westminster really pushed me to try other things. I’m studying abstract now at the Mary Ward Centre until September. I’m going to do a year with them. I find that quite therapeutic. It’s a whole different way of working so it’s really exciting for me.”

Geraldine is very happy with the way her life has turned around. “You can’t stay in the house. You’ve got to go out and do a class. Learn skills. Keep your brain active. I could have sat at home and watched television for the rest of my life. I had passed “not fit for work” but I would have ended up getting very ill I think, mentally. It’s important to go out and do voluntary work and get involved in the community. That’s how to recover from addiction.”

Visit: Old Diorama Centre at Regents Place, 201 Drummond Street, London, NW1 3FE.

Follow Geraldine Crimmins on Instagram @geraldine_crimmins

Exciting plans for the Old Diorama Centre

Old Diorama have just launched the Associate Performance Scheme where they provide free performance and development space to new dance companies or dance companies experimenting with new work. They have signed up 12 new Camden-based charities that get completely free space. They are also looking forward to doing a short film festival hopefully in the autumn soon after David Tovey’s ONE Festival of Homeless Arts which will again launch on World Homelessness Day (10 October).

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