Illumination 01 – Natalie Wardle

Natalie is a visual artist and photographer from Manchester. She talks to me about how mental health has informed her work.

‘Illumination’ is a brand new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their mental health struggles may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Natalie Wardle, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a visual artist/photographer from Manchester. My work looks at how women constrict their bodies to fit in with society’s ideal physical standards, exploring shapewear and tape that is placed over nipples to both cover and repress their form.

I graduated with a BA in Photography from Manchester School of Art. I’ve exhibited my work around the UK and internationally. My project ‘Control Pant Symphony’ has been shown as part of ‘Modern History’ curated by Lynda Morris at The Atkinson in Southport, and the Parkside Gallery in Birmingham.

I’ve also attended a Canadian artist residency ‘Naked State’ at a naturist park where I explored the nuances between a ‘real’ and naked body, in contrast to a ‘fake’ and controlled body. Recently Lynda Morris curated my work again at the Cooper Gallery, where I did a live performance of Control Pant Symphony.

My creative ambition is to make art that’s relevant in today’s society, highlighting issues within the beauty industry and raising awareness of the pressures women face. I often use my own experiences and turn them into art work. I feel as though my main reason for creating the art I do is from feeling theses pressures myself, and turning bad experiences and bad moments in my life into positive work.

Since I was in high school, I’ve been told by doctors that I needed antidepressants, something I always refused and kept a secret from people around me that doctors where trying to prescribe me with things to help my mental health. I always just ignored this and thought I was just ‘growing up’ and it was normal to feel the way I did.

tittape screenshot

Only last year I really came to the realisation that I had a serious mental health problem that was now affecting my everyday life. It took until I collapsed at work from a panic attack for me to go back to the doctors to be treated. I again refused medication due to my own personal view that I’d be too dependent on medication if I did take it, and I was offered talking therapy instead.

I have social anxiety, something I never thought I would have – and something people around me never thought I would have due to me being so over the top and seeming confident. What people don’t see is the build up to me entering a large social situation and the panic in my head that something bad is going to happen. I’ll convince myself that everyone hates me and that if I leave the house something really bad is going to happen. If I’m in a social situation where something triggers it off I’ll have a full-on panic attack where it actually feels like my heart will explode.

This is the first time I’ve talked publicly about this, and only close people know about my mental health because I’ve been embarrassed to open up to people. I didn’t want people to look at me and think ‘oh she’s overreacting’ and ‘she just wants attention, nothing’s wrong with her’ but people need to stop with that view on mental health, lucky we’re all becoming more aware about different mental health problems and how it is something to be taken seriously.

I felt like talking therapy was the best thing that has ever happened to me and I’d recommend it to anyone! I feel as though I’ve been taught so many amazing skills, I swear everyone should give it a try. I also feel as though opening up to a few people about what I’m going through has helped, I don’t feel ashamed and like I’m a complete nutter. Having a few people I can go to when I’m having a rough day and feel anxious has really helped.

I feel as though I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without my mental health problems. I feel as though when I was going through a bad time, I took the panic and bad energy I had and turned it in to art.

I feel as though anxiety has made me more aware of my surroundings and how I take something I’m passionate and having a bad time with and turn it in to art almost takes the piss out of myself feeling that way.

One of my art pieces I did at the peak of going through a bad time is ‘Sexual Symphony’, I was getting verbally harassed in a sexual way at 2 different jobs I had and I felt trapped and as though I couldn’t just walk out of my jobs due to needing money. I wasn’t being taken seriously when I was telling people how the comments where affecting me. I was sick of horrible sexual comments towards me when I was just trying to get on with doing my job and it made me full-on panic and get in a total state before going to my day job and a DJing job I had.

I took the fear I was living in and thought ‘fuck this why the fuck should I put up with this shit’ and then made it into an awareness art piece saying that this kind of thing should be taken more seriously. If it wasn’t for the bad anxiety I had from going to work and how I overthought the situation, I wouldn’t have made an art piece to let out my emotions.

Suffering with a mental illness isn’t always a bad thing, just turn it in to a positive. Use your mental illness as a creative lens on something, and use the bad energy you have inside you and turn it in to creative positive energy. Don’t think you’re alone and suffering as you’re not! There are a lot of people who can help you. // Facebook // Vimeo


Author: harrietpwilliamson