I always knew I wanted to do something creative. At a young age I always sat in the corner of the playground drawing Pokémon into a small sketch book, being somewhat obsessed with the franchise. School was always difficult for me as I couldn’t find the time be creative. The teachers were supportive but they couldn’t let me stray away from the curriculum.
Things only got interesting during Sixth Form where I could concentrate on Art while doing some photography on the side. It was only then could I be in charge of my creative choices and use my inspirations to guide me. During my last Sixth Form project my work had taken a different turn; I began to paint monsters.
I always enjoyed the concept of monsters as they often were included in the majority of my interests. Video games have always been a visual inspiration for me, including the variety of creatures they feature. These creatures could be terrifying while others were friendly with whimsical smiles and personalities to match. My fascination with them probably stems from how different they are from things we see in daily life, and I think this otherness allows me to push boundaries in my art.
My other interest is album covers, which shaped the way I approached the conceptual side of my artwork. Cover art got me to think about using the illustrative technique of telling a narrative through an image while working in a style which was still akin to fine art. My collection of albums, which is about 300 strong, still inspires me to this day.
In Sixth Form I also developed a passion (read: obsession) with inks. Drawing inks have a consistency and vibrancy that other mediums can’t match, and the way they blend is really appealing to me. It’s probably because I explored my options and found ones I liked that I finished with top grades in Art and Photography, which later helped me to get into university to study art. I studied Fine art and Illustration at Coventry University despite initially wanting to do just Fine Art. The tutor who looked at my work during the application process said felt my practice would develop the most while studying for the Joint honours, and he was right.
During the first year of university I was taught to approach projects in a different way, which allowed me to develop my understanding of how to compose images around a narrative. I moved away from using monsters in my work as they didn’t fit the more commercial illustration work we were asked to do, but I took the techniques we were taught and used them in later projects.
I started to struggle in my second year. My depression hit me badly and the best option was to take a gap year in order for me to get my mental health back in order. They were incredibly dark days for me, but I had the right support to bring me back out of the pit I had dug myself into. I sometimes find myself back in that mental pit but thankfully I always leave myself a ladder to find my way back out of it. During this year I got help in varying forms to help combat my constant lows but my problem was that I wasn’t continuing to do art.
Restarting my second year at University was again a struggle but was something I pushed myself to complete. Three months into that year I dropped the projects I was doing and decided I no longer wanted to be following the tutors’ constraints. I loved inks. I loved monsters. While I had no way to incorporate monsters into my work, I did use the vivid colour of the inks in whatever work I created. Thinking back, I can’t remember what I was thinking when creating the pieces but I know that the conceptual side of my work lacked strength and certainly needed time spent on it.
The work above is mixture of pieces in progress during the second year. These pieces although recognisable as my own are certainly a long way away from my current practice.
The transition into the third year was were my practice truly started to develop. My commute into university often took around two hours there and back. Unfortunately this is where my anxiety became an issue. I developed IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, for those who don’t know) within the first few months which made getting into University a huge challenge. It got to the point where I would often have to turn back home and call it a day.
Having daily anxiety problems put a lot of strain on my creative ideas. I was supposed to create five pieces in a month. The weight of this was causing a lot of mental strain so I started painting on different surfaces, drawing into it to represent the anxiety I was experiencing. It began consuming and ‘infecting’ all sorts of objects around me, engulfing them in bright colours.
My favourite of the five works was a toilet seat. In fact, once upon a time it was my own toilet seat. It was broken and had undergone an extensive clean before I claimed it as my own. This piece was rightfully named “Piss Take” and was about my own relentless bullying habits towards my own mental condition.My frame of mind at the time was a very negative one. I was very aware I was often bullying myself for being a grown man having constant troubles with his bowels.
My use of ink on a variety of surfaces represented my anxiety, as each one held the ink differently. While many repelled it, others like wood would allow it to seep into them. My anxiety behaved in a very similar way. Depending on my location the anxiety would either engulf that space or barely exist at all.
For many of the students on my course there was a small break to prepare for the big twelve week module. Since I had missed the beginning of my second year, I needed to complete another module during that break and I used it to play with other materials until I eventually settled onto glass. The module was about our relationship with Coventry city centre. Having anxiety meant the city became very stressful for me and to show this I incorporated the surrounding architecture into my pieces. Coventry is known for the cathedral and its stained glass windows and I used ink to simulate the effect, but I needed to create something that was my own.
This became the birth of my anxiety monsters. I created three individual paintings onto acetate which sat on a window overlooking the city. The three paintings had a composition akin to what you would see in a stained glass window but were monsters similar to those I create now. This gave me a basis for the twelve week module, which I then had eight weeks left to complete.
With all those modules completed, I decided to continue working with the anxiety monsters as a main concept. I painted creatures that represented my own and other peoples’ struggles with the big, scary world around them. In total I developed eight individual paintings, all in different colours and depicting various emotions and problems that individuals had tackled. It was a visual communication of those bad thoughts in my head which allowed them to leave. It was as therapeutic as it was a way to explain what was holding me back from being the person others once knew.
This leads me to the year between me finishing University and the present day. I vowed not to make the one mistake people made after finishing an art course, not continuing their art. I worked all summer on creating paintings about my IBS and the problems I was still experiencing and trying to get control over.
The four images above are the anxiety monsters I created over the course of the summer in 2015 and onwards into Autumn.
This winter I decided now was the time to pursue my dream of being a professional artist. I had ideas and prospects I could look forward to, so it was a matter of combating my own demons and pushing forward with the help and support from my loved ones.
I am now currently sat in the garage of my parents’ house sat on a small piece of carpet, surrounded by paintings and ink. My hands covered in ink and my clothes splattered with paint. This is what I want to do. I want to make art. I want to communicate in the form of imagery and provoke reactions. I want to be an artist and I always have done.
This is my chance to make it a reality. We have to start somewhere.