Siris Hill

Siris Hill is a self-taught artist whose creative practice is centred around Renaissance and Baroque inspired figurative painting. His work explores the effects of mental illness and other psychological conditions of the mind on an individual. Focusing on the struggle of perception, he depicts the beauty of individuality, but the strongest message is the struggle of trying to live. ​Siris is a digital fine artist, replicating the textures and movement of oil and acrylic paint.

“I’m Siris Hill. I’m 27. I have suffered from anxiety and depression since my late teens, and, have become somewhat agoraphobic due to the anxiety, which makes it difficult to network with other people. I sometimes find it difficult to share my work. This is caused by past rejection, anxiety about approaching people, and not feeling good enough.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at birth. I practically lived in hospitals until the age of fifteen when I decided I was sick of them mistreating me. I stopped taking my medication, and have been physically healthy ever since, although I began getting anxiety attacks due to the trauma of my childhood.

I started painting 4 years ago, as a way to relax. Since then it has become a form of meditation for me. I am self-taught and my work portrays the raw feelings and emotions felt living with mental illnesses. It might be difficult for a person living without a mental illness to understand what it’s like for me – I often feel frustrated and isolated.

I love oil painting, but I’m unable to use it due to the fumes and certain materials triggering my anxiety. I taught myself to replicate techniques of Renaissance painters such as Rembrandt. Due to the advancements in technology I’m able to replicate traditional painting almost exactly, the only difference is drying times between layers.

I use a graphics tablet which tracks the movement of a pen that I hold to paint so my hand movements are then replicated on the screen.  Other than that my process is almost exactly like Rembrandt’s, from what I’ve gathered through research at least. I build up a rough sketch to find a composition, fill in light and shadows, work in black and white to realise my forms and then glaze colours on top (although sometimes I work with colour straight away).

Painting is my way of expressing what I can’t talk about. My art may seem dark, but, I feel it reflects the reality other people like me live with day to day.”

To see more of Siris Hill’s work, please visit his website, www.sirishill.co.uk/, Instragram, and Facebook profiles. Siris recently exhibited with ten other artists living with mental ill health. Their self-curated show, Absence, can be viewed online, here.

 

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Artist: Laura Greenway


‘Abstract 20’

Laura recently got in touch to show us her artwork and talk a little about her mental health history.
We particularly like her most current abstract work, and her use of colour. Seeing the square tiles of daily paintings piled up is a wonderful thing – a collection of emotions and mental states expressed through colour and line. Laura has been kind enough to write the following – an open description of her mental health history, and how her art relates. All artwork ©Laura Greenway. You can see more of Laura’s work on her website, here.

I’ve battled with mental illness for the majority of my life, suffering from severe OCD, depression and anxiety from the age of 11, and more recently being diagnosed with psychosis.

“I’ve been a mental health service user since the age of 12, firstly being under the care of CAMHS (Child and adolescent mental health services) and now under the adult mental health services and the EIIP team (early interventions in psychosis). Despite having a lot of trouble with day to day life, I recently graduated from the University for the Creative Arts, at which I studied a BA honours in Fine art.


100 Squares

Art has always been a huge lifeline to me during times of struggle, and it was at uni that my practice began to focus solely on my experiences with mental illness. Whilst I like to experiment with a number of different mediums (I have used photography, photo manipulation and sculpture in the past) I work primarily as a painter with watercolour being my favourite media.

My work explores a variety of different aspects of mental illness, with my main focus being on art as a therapy. I find art extremely therapeutic and use my paintings as a way of expressing my emotions. The majority of my painting is abstract – I like to paint as a raw communication of how I’m feeling at the time and often work whilst practicing a type of therapy called mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique in which a person focuses entirely on what they’re doing in that moment. It involves acceptance of distressing or distracting thoughts, but the ability to try and let the thoughts pass without judgement. When I paint I try and focus on the action of the brush, the colours I am using and how they blend and interact with each other, but as well as this I really try and acknowledge my emotions, letting them spill out onto the canvas. This is why I mostly identify my work with the movement of abstract expressionism.


‘Abstract Experiment’

Recently I have also become really interested in colour theory, and try and use colours in a way that express how I’m feeling as I paint, however I usually try and use colours that jump out at me or that I identify with, instead of going for colours that are obvious choices. For example, I don’t choose the colour blue purely because it’s often associated with depression, however if I am drawn to that colour when I am feeling low then I will explore it. I also sometimes use illustrations to personify the emotions I’m feeling, creating characters that represent my mood and integrating them into the abstract paintings.

The main aim I have with my artwork is to create a dialogue about mental health, hopefully challenging and breaking the stigma that so often surrounds mental illness. Although with a lot of my abstract works it may not be clear at first that they are about mental health, I hope that the work intrigues people enough that they find out about the meaning behind my paintings, opening them up to a conversation about mental illness. I also aspire that my work will encourage other people with mental illness to express themselves via art as I have found it is such a great way to communicate my experiences and to aid in my recovery.”


‘Colourful River’


‘Broken Clouds’

Ali Fisher

“I suffer from mental illness myself and am still in the services since 1996. I am now 36 years old and have used art to cope with my illness of schizoaffective disorder.

Here is some of my art done in oil, acrylic and charcoal. This painting is called ‘A soul of entrapment’, hence the fist grasping hold of that fine line of light between reality and unreality, the soul going upwards towards the lighter side, the more positive.

This next picture is done in charcoal. I call that one ‘Judgement’, as the life after death, as you can see the skeleton bowing in front of his judge, whether to accept him as a angel into the next life.

This final one I call ‘Hope’, after suffering from psychosis. It was a dream so I decided to paint that dream, and that is done in oil paint. As you can see the hand reaching for the light, guess you can say the light at the end of the tunnel, as I was trying to block out the voices.

Hope you enjoy.”

The Agony – Perry Barclay-Goddard

“THE AGONY started as twelve piece visual opus that allowed me to
record and process the journey of my recovery. Divergent from my
continued development as an artist these works have been fundamental
to my personal reconstruction. Having grown to 20+ individual pieces,
the series has not end or definitive number. As with my journey, THE
AGONY remains a work in progress.

Intended as a personal self reflection THE AGONY has already drawn
considerable attention, primarily from those navigating their own
journeys of recovery.

An unforeseen outcome of developing THE AGONY has been the discussions
initiated by my children. These pieces have providing a focal point,
from which they have been able to ask questions and develop a stronger
understand of who their father is.

This collection of original works covers a continuum of emotions from
desperation to hope, from surrender to rebirth. Each piece demands the
viewer evaluate their own internal turmoil to achieve a heightened
sense of self awareness. From the smaller intimate pieces to the
larger more powerful pieces THE AGONY records the journey of recovery
shared by many.”

– Perry Barclay-Goddard, 2012

Karen May Sorensen.

Karen May Sorensen is astounding. She is an artist, living with schizoaffective disorder for the past twenty years, and has produced an amazing body of work. I’ve got to say I’m a little bit biased when it comes to Karen’s work as it reminds me of all my favourite art – folk art, outsider art, frenetic, vivid and immediate. I personally love these pieces, especially ‘Monster Couple’, and would love to have some prints for my house!

If I was a shrink I’d probably say that there are certain paintings more than others where you can see Karen’s disorder speaking out from the canvas. Who knows if that is true. It seems that way, in the same way that Louis Wain’s cats became more schizophrenic as his health took a tumble. I read somewhere that Karen kept a record of paintings she did on different medications. The results would be very interesting. I haven’t found that yet but I’m only just getting through her website and blog so hopefully will stumble across it soon.

Karen does a fair bit of autobiographical writing on her website and shares her thoughts on her own life, medication and ‘normals’ (people unaffected by mental disorder) amongst other things. She also writes a blog which she frequently updates so please do have a read. I have lifted a bit of writing from Karen’s website for you to read as she can explain herself and her mind better than I ever could. I cannot stress how much I love this artist.

This I Believe by Karen May Sorensen

“I believe in the power of art. I once worked at an information desk in a world famous art museum. The kind lady who was my boss also happened to be an artist. On some days she wore a pin that peaked my curiosity. It said, “Art Saves Lives”. It seemed an extreme statement. I wondered if it were true.

I was young when I worked in the art museum and I had an enormous amount of enthusiasm. I was, I decided, going to be someone, someday. I certainly did not feel as though my life needed saving, not by art, not by anyone. I liked to write and I hoped that someday I would write a book. I practiced writing, knowing that practice was the best pathway to becoming a good writer. I also went to school. While I was in school I realized that I could not have a job, even a part time job, and go to classes at the same time. My life was filled with too much stress. So I quit my part time job (which I loved quite a bit) to concentrate on school.

At that time I also had a boyfriend who I liked to go dancing with. School was tough, and during final exams I became anxious and depressed. It wanted to be a good student, but it was so very difficult to get the assignments done. Eventually I realized that I could not go to school and have a boyfriend at the same time. Both seemed to take up all my attention and concentration. I thought to myself that I did not like feeling so divided between commitments. My boyfriend never made me feel anxious and depressed, so I decided to drop out of school and keep the boyfriend. I could still write, I went to the library every day to write.

My boyfriend was a nice young man. The one frustration in our relationship was that there were many activities that we could not do together. When he wanted to go dancing, he wanted to travel to other states, to visit the biggest parties. Long hours driving, long hours dancing, these things I found too adventurous for my taste. We would spend half a Saturday together, perhaps go bicycling in the morning, but then I needed a nap and wanted in the afternoon to do only quiet things. He wanted to do activities that filled the whole day, but I quickly sputtered out and lost steam. I was jolly and good company for a couple of hours but then my whole state of mind changed and I became fragile, remote, and unavailable. It seemed to me that my boyfriend had too much energy for me. So we parted ways amicably.

I had gone through a process of whittling down my life, making it more and more slender, until I arrived at a very simple life where the one thing that I would do was every morning go to the library and write. When I got to the library I would write for exactly half an hour. Sometimes, through tremendous effort, I could write for forty-five minutes. Often I had to rewrite the same sentence over and over again. Making a paragraph was a big deal. The rate of writing was very slow. But I was happy with what I produced. After rewriting every sentence many times, and rewriting paragraphs just as often, the words really began to flow. The imagery was special. The voice was unique. I had perhaps five pages of beautifully written writing when I finally gave up on that particular book project.

I tell you a story and some of the choices I made may seem strange. Many people have jobs and go to school at the same time. It is stressful but they handle the stress. Also many people date and take classes at the same time. People juggle the demands of home and work all the time. And if I choose having a boyfriend over the more serious, life building activity of school, it makes me seem frivolous and lazy. But there is a strong hint as to the core of the problem that existed. When I wrote, I could only write for half an hour at a time. And a college usually requires hours of study from their students. I remember one term paper due that turned out to be twenty-eight pages long. I loved school, I loved learning, but the reality was I found the demands that school placed upon me to be torture. I was an excellent student when I was in school. But in order to be excellent I had to endure mental conditions that stretched the boundaries of who I was. All the choices I made were made with the intention of preserving sanity.

There is an explanation for why I forged such a failure strewn path. My brain is not like most people’s. I had a normal brain up to the age of nineteen, and then my brain changed. It weakened, and then it broke. I lost many abilities. I stopped talking and I stared off into space. I had to be hospitalized for two years. The hospital would not release me because I could not stop thinking about killing myself. My brain is diseased. Scientists hypothesize that the chemical balance in it isn’t right. I take medication every day trying to correct the balance in my brain. The type of disease I have is a form of schizophrenia that is called a schizoaffective disorder.

In the twenty years I have lived with schizophrenia my brain has tried, in its own way, to heal. Making art has been very important in that healing process. I feel that when I write, or draw, or paint my brain is involved in something very much like playing a beautiful symphony. When I make art my brain is at its best, functioning in a balanced, coordinated effort, using the highest and most complicated of thought pathways. Creative thought is beautiful thought. Making art is entirely wholesome. When I have failed at doing so much in life, in making art, I have succeeded. And this success is due to the twin facts of perseverance and skill. I have molded through years of practice a skilled schizophrenic brain. In psychiatric jargon I am both low functioning and high functioning. To live so divided, to be both very weak and very strong feels at times odd and not real. Making good art is like watching a very sick woman rise out of bed and dance a jig. You are shocked at what, in her delicate state, she can accomplish. Making art and being mentally ill is like the case of the magical cow. All day long it stands in the field and moos and chews grass. But for one special hour, at the break of dawn when no one is looking, the cow grows arms and writes sonnets. I believe that in the midst of most mental illnesses there are moments of health, and I know for certain that these moments of health are present in the making of art.

I think I finally know the secret of that audacious claim “Art Saves Lives”. I feel that I have a purpose in life, and that purpose is making art. Without a driving purpose I am lost. I must have a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and starting my day. Before I shut my eyes at night I must be able to look back over my day and identify some small accomplishment. I don’t have very much pride, but what scraps of honor I own, all converge on the statement, “I am an artist”. Making art is my past, my present, and my future. How lucky I am that art is like a strong rope, binding me down and tying my soul to life on this earth. Art has saved my life.”

All work copyright of Karen May Sorensen. All images above can be found in Karen’s gallery.

Bobby Baker’s diary drawings.

In June 2009 I went to the Wellcome Trust museum to see a wealth of drawings, watercolour paintings and diary entries by the performance artist and once mental health service user Bobby Baker.

It was truly an astounding body of work; Bobby had written an entry for nearly every day of her time as both inpatient and outpatient at day centres, psychiatric wards, sometimes in therapy and sometimes on medication. In total there were 711 drawings from over 11 years, of which 158 were selected for exhibiting at the Wellcome.

Read more about the archived press release here. A book of the work exhibited is available to buy from Amazon (although you don’t have to buy it here!).

Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings on exhibition in 2011 in Amsterdam