Illumination 10 – Sophie Walker

“Instead of asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ a more appropriate question is ‘what’s happened to me?’ When you understand this difference then healing becomes a possibility.”

‘Illumination’ is a 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 struggles with mental health 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 Sophie Walker, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m Sophie Walker and work as an artist and mindful creativity practitioner. I started my business Attentive Art after I experienced post natal depression having relocated from one side of the country to the other five weeks before my second child was born.

In order to understand what was going on, I studied a course in psychology and mental health, followed by a course in mindfulness. I started making art again (I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years) and applied some mindfulness techniques which had great results on and off the canvas. I’m now training to be a certified coach in creative mindfulness.

I have to say I’m okay these days. I have off days and a spot of anxiety now and then but nothing like what I used to. I don’t know where the boundaries between mental health and mental illness lie sometimes. Especially in children. I experienced eating disorders and anxiety before I was old enough to go to school.

Do certain behaviours indicate mental illness if they’re simply coping mechanisms to facilitate feeling mentally better? I had ongoing issues with depression and the behavioural patterns that tend to come with it, but I realised I was asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ a more appropriate question is ‘what’s happened to me?’ When you understand this difference then healing becomes a possibility because we can stop blaming ourselves for things that probably were never our fault in the first place.

I write when I feel like it. I try to operate from a place of ‘how do I feel?’ rather than ‘what should I be doing?’ or ‘I have too much to do’ when really I can choose how much I have to do. So I apply a mindful ‘noticing’ of how I feel and what I’m doing. I make time each week for painting, drawing etc.

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I also go out for walks and do yoga and swim when I can. I find it hard to slow down and try to notice when I need a break and at least stop and do something different.

Does mental health inform my creative process? I think in my case the two are combined. I am of the belief that any creativity is a form of therapy and it is highly necessary for everyone to have a creative outlet. It grounds me and calms me down.

I also have a tendency to think that everything I make or paint or whatever has to somehow be something I can sell. I only realised this quite recently (noticing) and now aim to enjoy the process for what it is.

Listen to yourself and trust yourself. Don’t listen to any thoughts about not being good or experienced enough. Experiment, find what you enjoy and do more of it while keeping on experimenting. Never compare yourself to others. It won’t help you to enjoy your creativity. Stop, look at what you’ve made. Smile.

theattentiveartist.com // facebook.com/groups/AttentiveArt

Illumination 04 – Tommy Stewart

Writer and bassist Tommy Stewart gives a searingly honest interview about his mental health struggles and creative processes.

‘Illumination’ is a 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 struggles with mental health 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 Tommy Stewart, as told to Harriet Williamson.

Photo credit: Jake Lewis

Professionally, I’m a ‘journalist’ who works for the BBC. I use the term journalist vaguely because it’s difficult to define what being a journalist actually is in 2017, particularly if you’re working for a huge global news corporation, as I do. I’m fortunate enough to do a job I’ve grafted for and desired since I was about 15, and I’m also lucky in the fact that that role requires enough stimulation to keep me creatively ticking over on a daily basis.

However, on a personal level, I write. I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever been 100% confident in myself that I’m good at, and sometimes it’s my crutch, my most useful coping mechanism when it comes to not completely losing the fucking plot, and surviving. I’ve had things published in zines and online publications, but to be honest, at the moment, I write for myself and my own mental well-being.

However cliché this sounds, it’s not a hobby or a casual interest, it’s just instinctive and imperative to how I function, and it’s been the case since I was in primary school. I sound like fucking Hannah from Girls, but I guess writing is the root of my creative intuition.

I do suffer from fairly severe mental health problems. I was a regular sufferer of sleep paralysis as a child, which at the time I was convinced was a demon who’d took an inconveniently permanent residence within my room. When I was 19, I had my first panic attack on a flight, which triggered anxiety and panic attacks which I’ve suffered from regularly ever-since. After countless therapists, I was told this was due to PTSD, as in I suffer flashbacks and associative hallucinations.

At 27, it’s a fucking pain the arse to be having Fear and Loathing-esc imagery inhabiting your perceptive view when you’re sat at your desk at work. I also suffer from manic depression, and have self-harmed as a result of this. I live with that dog every day, but it’s only the past couple of years I’ve been completely open and unashamed about it, amongst friends, family and colleagues. It’s a relief that I can be self-deprecating and take the piss out of myself about it from time to time.

I’ve been through more therapists than I would dare to bore you with, and have also been on 20mg per day of the anti-depressant Citalopram for the past three years. In terms of staying well mentally via less scientifically conventional methods, probably the most basic and patronising piece of advice that the doctors always give you before throwing random prescriptions at you as you keep knocking on their door, is physical exercise.

I ignored it and had self-destructive disdain for my body for years, but since I’ve started playing football again regularly and walking back from work, I’ve felt a lot better in myself generally. As well as the initial drug-dose adrenaline it gives you for a day or two after which for an addictive class A thrill-seeker, is a great bonus both financially and mentally (yay I don’t need to buy drugs tonight).

It all sounds dead fucking obvious, but it isn’t, because people don’t talk about shit. Since I ‘came out’ about my illness via a Facebook status, I’ve found it a lot easier to talk about it and relate to people with similar conditions. And on a daily basis, I just write about it. I write sloppy poetry, standup routines, spoken word, lyrics, short stories, anything to cope, process and attempt to understand the torturous complexity of it.

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I play bass in a band, and have been in bands since I was a teenager, and that’s a double-edged sword in terms of the ‘lifestyle’ that surrounds touring aka excessively using narcotics to distract from reality. On the other hand, it’s productive to make music with pals, be creative and socialise with like-minded people. I sound like a fucking advisory sixth form pamphlet, but there’s some pertinence there.

The impact of my mental health on my creative process is so all encompassing, that I’d say it probably defines it. That’s not to say everything I write is about my mental health, it’s not – I just think it’s the reason I’m able to write, and with the day-to-day suffering, writing is an existential release, a distraction. For instance, if I’ve been romantically fucked-up, rather than seeking some sort of juvenile vengeance*, it’s a lot more productive to write something about it amidst the mist of initial anger. Those sort of etchings usually turn out shit, but it’s immeasurably better than a black eye.

*that’s not to say I’ve never sought out juvenile vengeance in this sort of instance, everyone’s been a dick at some point with exes, me more than most.

Own and utilise your mental health. Strain every ounce of productive and creative material from the darkness it inhabits, from the internal prison it scuttles around in so ruthlessly. Because it’s fucking shit, but if you can survive and cope with it, in a totally contradictory way, it can be a fruitful tool for creativity, which in turn can assist recovery or at least offer some sort of consolation or equilibrium.

Do not feel ashamed if it’s killing your productivity; I’ve gone months without writing because I’m too mentally battered to do fucking anything, never mind try to function artistically. It can come and go in waves and abstract patterns, but when you feel like jumping on the horse, fucking ride it baby.

Also, here is something I wrote about falling in love with someone through the commonality of mutually grieving someone, before realising it was fabricated and disguised by that fraudulent fate, and we were in actuality each other’s temporary crutches:

“…The cut thrust nature of rushed assimilation, is exponentially more fulfilling and overwhelmingly, pejoratively, 51% majority, more devastating and blunderbuss heart-breaking than any exit poll or neo-Nostradamus may attempt to foresee or predict…

…In the vacuous void dagger penetration, reactive self-interrogations, suicidal insinuations that transpire from grief’s bloody mire, irrationality is king…

…With the shadow of nostalgia, and the 4am terrorist insomnia, a date at the dulcimer seems a perennially beautiful idea, a way to inhabit then crucify those insipid fears, that lays separately, but between you and me we’ll have another beer…

…Warning signs are fine because signs are merely a reason to do something consequentially not right. But it felt right. It still feels right. But mutuality in feelings cannot be exclusively healing, if I want you, and you do not want me, if the sky is no higher than the ceiling, if this to me is true, if this to you is bleak…

…Love is a bastard who left me plastered on infinite occasions across the bedroom floor. Where the light behind the curtain, feels so daunting and uncertain, but the knife on my wrist makes me feel more…

…Judas and Brutas and Oswald the shooter, traits of betrayal disguised in dead eyes, honesty and jealousy are close to being enemies, but comedic tragedy ensues when they co-align…

…It’s better to admit, to be clear, to not let tears dictate that we’re stuck amidst the mist, the uncertain convicts locked in a Horwitz, an insufferable conclusion, a limbo that won’t go beyond a false collusion, an illusion, idealism of potential persecution…”

@tomandrewstew

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.

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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.

www.nataliewardle.com // Facebook // Vimeo

 

MADE IN MANCHESTER: An Interview With Mystery Artist Mancsy

Mancsy’s art reads as a love letter to the city of Manchester and its people. Every screen print and mosaic celebrates the industrial roots of the city, and the contemporary creativity that makes it such a unique and exciting place to live.

Mancsy’s art reads as a love letter to the city of Manchester and its people. Every screen print and mosaic celebrates the industrial roots of the city, and the contemporary creativity that makes it such a unique and exciting place to live.

The brand new Mancsy Visits Victoria Warehouse exhibition will run from Thurs 23 April to Sun 10 May, and features twelve new designs, plus well-loved favourites from Mancsy’s online catalogue.
I chatted to Mancsy to find out more.

Harriet Williamson: Let’s start with the big questions! What inspired you to become Mancsy?

Mancsy: It was an idea I had while hanging about Stevenson Square one day, thinking about the hazard stripes on the back of Dry Bar, looking at the double yellow lines crumbling on the road and thinking about Manchester. I’d been looking at the coat of arms around this time, so the bee graphic emerged. I thought about spray painting it as a tag but felt that it was meaningless. I decided to make a set of limited edition screen prints and give them away using the streets as a gallery. I started in January 2012. My concept was really to get folk to look about them and see the beauty in the streets of our great city.

 

H: Talk me through some of the symbolism in your screen prints…

M: The bee is the symbol of the people of Manchester, Greater Manchester as well. The bee comes from the coat of arms representing the hive of industry in the industrial revolution. My bee has a hazard stripe referring to our cultural development. Today I believe we are a capital of creativity. Manchester has a history of firsts and it stands to reason that creative people make things happen. In other pieces my ideas emerge. Sometimes I’m just making something for me. In my second year of prints I supported a cause, unbeknown to the organisers, like The Feral Pigeon Project or Dogs in Salford Facebook page. It went down well.

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H: Has every piece of art you’ve left in public been found and appreciated?

M: In the early days I made 20-25. I always keep number 1 of each edition. Some got rained on. One recently got tore up by a teenager in Ancoats who was gutted when someone told him he could have sold it for £25!

H: The prices on your website are really, really reasonable. Is this deliberate? Are you trying to make your art accessible rather than charging top dollar for it?

M: Until September 2014, other than ones sold in the Kosmonaut exhibition, I’d given all my work away on the streets or posted prints out to people. It was getting to a point where I could no longer afford to keep Mancsy going. Mrs Mancsy calculated I’d given away £28,000 worth of art at my website prices. I felt that was a good thing.

It was crunch point, so I had to do something. I set up the online shop and revamped my website so people could check what they had. It was a success. In effect, the site’s there not to make me rich but to sustain the street giveaways. Each month a new design can be found, if you don’t find one you can now buy one.

H: In your opinion, what makes Manchester a unique city?

M: The people are brilliant, they shape a place. I love the city’s atmosphere, its architecture, its reinvention. It’s my home.

H: Do you have a team helping you or is Mancsy a lone wolf?

M: I was a loner with a big ball of blu tack, now I’ve a small team. I trust them explicitly, plus they all signed a non-disclosure agreement!

H: Any exciting plans for 2015 that aren’t top secret?

M: I’ve an upcoming exhibition with Manchester Mosaics, she’s turning some of my most popular designs into A1 mosaics. I’m always exploring new ideas.

www.mancsy.co.uk
Made in Manchester