UOW exhibition searches for the personality within dementia patients

Case studies: For several years artist Xi Hsu would patiently try to paint the portraits of dementia patients.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Case studies: For several years artist Xi Hsu would patiently try to paint the portraits of dementia patients.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

The men and women of Gerringong's Boronia Hostel would lapse into a trance-like condition - or sleep - while portrait artist Xi Hsu was attempting to paint them.

Other times they would wander off, or turn unexpectedly against him.

"[A resident] once sat there for three minutes, then suddenly she looked at me angrily and said, 'What are you doing?'," said Hsu, a doctor of creative arts candidate at the University of Wollongong.

"I'm basically anonymous for them ... after three years."

On Thursday Hsu unveiled his final exhibition at UOW, including a series of portraits of the anonymous dementia patients - many of them unfinished, telling the stories of their subjects' malady.

The works are the result of the artist's incredible years-long study of the condition, during which he would visit the Gerringong dementia facility on a weekly basis.

A well-known portrait artist in his native Taiwan, Hsu told an audience at the exhibition opening he had found parallels between the residents' state and his own feelings of anonymity, as a newcomer to Australia.

The exhibition, Searching for the Vanishing Subject in Portraits of Dementia, is in UOW's Creative Arts Building until May 23.

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