Please share a bit about you and your artistic background.
In my early years, during school summer holidays, I found a watercolour painting my father had made of a seagull. I’m not sure what I was doing nosing through the draws in his room! I found his watercolours too. I haven’t a clue what drove us to copy it but I knew I could do it and I knew it would make him proud. It must have worked out well because my father, an accomplished amateur watercolour artist, taught me rigidly the watercolour techniques so that I was fairly proficient early in life. My love for creative expression widened. As I grew through my teens, I linked my voice with my art and experimented with all kinds of arts.
I played around with photography a lot and got seduced by the blockbusters I watched. Back then the film industry used fine artists for many of their ‘effects’, but it was an industry almost impossible for women to break into. ‘Women aren’t strong enough to hold the cameras!' I was advised. I went to Stratford-upon-Avon college to do theatre studies but the art course was horrendously sexist and terribly taught! The teacher regularly entered the room with ‘good morning boys and penisless people’! However, I found a new love, paintings which came to life...acting! I ended up going to drama school instead of continuing into the film industry.
'Hold Still' by Jack
Throughout my drama school days, I sketched my characters, sketched on the tube, sketched in the rehearsal room. I never took my art seriously but all the time I was doing valuable learning. It wasn’t until later, when friends found out I could draw, that I was asked to do favours for people. The favours became commissions very quickly as more and more people asked for more and more sophisticated paintings. Paul (my partner) and I did craft fairs until eventually we opened our own ‘little gallery’. Sadly, we had to close the gallery and I needed to refocus what had become something I took very seriously.
Having been a Christian up to this point, I approached the Worcester Cathedral to host an exhibition. They agreed and I had a year to put an exhibition together. I spent the year studying and painting on the theme of unconditional love. It was a year that challenged and taught me a great deal. The exhibition was a success and led to the beginning of a steady career in art. I began teaching art and all kinds of offers came in, which I was surprised I really enjoyed. I set up my business running classes for adults which I still run today. I worked in a women’s centre, in schools and ran Christian workshops. I also began working for a Christian publishing company and my work featured on CD covers, magazines and even Bibles. I also exhibited new work in Devon, Cornwall, Birmingham and regularly in the Cathedral.
I was on my way to class when my first flashback happened. As complex PTSD truly began to take hold, I realised the life others lived was so separate to mine. I hadn’t realised before that everyone didn't just ‘switch', people didn't have gaps like me. Art became more than just a job. I realised that there was a reason that I had been rejected from so many publishing houses ‘because my style was too diverse’. I realised that for us, art was the only way we could find answers and solace. Each of us finds a different way of expressing ourselves with different techniques and definitely different styles. The reason we were diverse became exceptionally clear. It was so odd when we recognised what was happening, for the first time, like seeing the key to a code!
No longer a Christian, we were swiftly dropped by our publishing company. I had fortunately managed to continue my classes, stepping through the horror of my initial trauma and painting slowly but meaningfully. I was surprised to find people were still interested in my work. If anything our work improved tenfold, as each of us have been given freedom to truly explore our own creative voice instead of trying to mediate between each other.
Can you tell me about your mental health?
I struggle to see my mental health as anything other than caused by an injury. Dissociative Identity Disorder is only caused, according to all latest research, by severe, repetitive, early years, life threatening trauma. In my case it was brought on by emotional, physical, sexual and ritual abuse. I struggle mainly with my mental health to balance living with juggling the process of coming to terms with this in a society that knows little about D.I.D. and finds it difficult to accept, let alone bring to justice those who commit ritual abuse.
D.I.D. often provokes a macabre interest because of the multiple personalities that our brain has developed. Rarely do people understand that each personality is a person in their own right. Each of us has our own opinion, clothes, hobbies, handwriting, habits, and mental health ‘challenges' to deal with. It means that at any one time we, as a group, can be dealing with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating problems, self-destructive behaviour and obsessive thinking. Add to that learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. Recently, we did some online testing and we were unsurprised to find that we are ‘highly likely’ to have Aspergers too! Each of us have these characteristics in very different ways. It means that the ‘switching' that is so well documented by the film industry is actually the least, or only equal to, many of the other difficulties dealing with recovering from ritual abuse, learning to live with complex PTSD and D.I.D. We each have our own gender, which brings with it another whole other set of confusions.
I am extremely privileged to have had fast and secure help for my condition, which is a unique experience amongst many people with D.I.D. I have been excessively fortunate that my partner was prepared for us, as a family, to make the sacrifices necessary to pay privately for therapy immediately. For the majority of the 1 -3% of the population who have D.I.D, they can expect to have at least two hospital visits, be misdiagnosed, often given medication and the average diagnosis time is 8 years! Trauma crisis requires immediate, compassionate, grounding help. It requires heaps of talking and if i'm honest, in an ideal world, love. Recovery is a very long process and an enlightening one .
How is your work influenced or informed by mental health?
Art is expressing your voice, your authenticity if you like. That’s something I have always taught. In class I refer to mark-making as whispers and shouts, composition as the story and the viewer as the reader! I suppose when I naturally turned to my canvas to find my voice, I tried to work out answers to my questions. Through my artwork, I could tentatively work out and say things which I wasn't able to put words to yet. When the others began their work too, more specifically Fi, she used her work very differently and almost as a comfort to Elby and me. She took our flashbacks and made them beautiful using ink and bleach. I love her work.
Elby began using pastels, in an extraordinary way for her age but I don't know how it works. She drew grim images working through graphic flashbacks. I find Elbys work hard to look at though they are horribly accurate. Tom has only done very small amounts but all of them are aggressive! For the others, I think art is a breathing space. For me, art is a key part of balance and an extension of a mind-map if you like!
Do your creative practices help with your mental health and wellbeing?
Our boarded out attic became my ‘studio,’ which my therapist laughingly refers to as our ‘living room’. I think essential to art is play, a thing that so many have lost the ability to do, and which my studio provides me the space to allow. In here is clay, paints, inks, pens. There’s also all of Alfie's science stuff around and Elby's beautiful bower with blossoms and bunting over a daybed. It is, in short, quite mad in here. It means that when I sit in here to write, or to paint, or Elby picks up her violin or Alfie decides to flop on the beanbag and find out a bit more about quantum, none of us are afraid of mistakes. I am finding that it allows me more and more to be confident with what I chose to be mine in my artwork. When I came to my canvas, I was happier to know that geometric shapes, charcoal, pastels and acrylic inks work for me. I know this because I played with them! I’ve made all kinds of horrible mistakes with them, the evidence of which sits on my ‘re-work’ shelf.
I spent 46 years, prior to a crisis point in my life, utterly bound and entirely imprisoned. I thought I knew what freedom was and hadn’t realised that I was afraid of everything. I thought that everyone felt as I did. The safety of my studio, the freedom that art allows me to experiment and play, gives me an element of my identity. But more importantly, it gives me a foundation from which I can explore greater freedoms.
Art has also provided me with motivation for recovery and a voice to the public, enabling me to speak out about ritual abuse and highlight the issues around D.I.D. I continued to run my classes throughout my crisis and still do today. I am open with my students about my condition and slowly they are beginning to understand it. Knowing that I had to turn up to classes gave me a very strong routine in my life, which has been a lifesaver. Being with creative people day in and day out is inspiring and an extension of my own work in a way.
Please talk me through one of your pieces, perhaps outlining your artistic process and meaning or intention behind the work.
I don't have absolute amnesia between our personalities, by that I mean we have developed ways to be able to remember and communicate between each other. That means there can be occasions when it feels very noisy! I wanted to express the chaos, of colliding thoughts, the sharp feeling of demands...like a high treble noise that wont shut up! I rarely paint about the experience of D.I.D but I had felt so claustrophobic and exhausted by everyone’s noise on this particular day so I thought I would simply express the flinch of it.
I have been experimenting with using a language of geometric shapes within my work recently. They have come to represent that immovable thing that damaged us. They seem to be showing up in so many pieces of my work lately. Using acrylic ink makes sense to me, being able to use all my long and underused watercolour techniques but with all the gorgeous flare and colour of acrylic is so much fun. It's like walking a tightrope - so entirely immovable once you’ve put it on there’s no covering up or moving it, living with a mistake is the joy of it. I’ve done loads of work recently using charcoal. It is the filthiest stuff, I come down from the studio looking like I've spent the day in a coal mine! However, charcoal, like acrylic ink, has a freedom and a kind of unrepentant look about where it sits. It makes no excuses for what it is! The charcoal powder I use is also hugely versatile. It can be used really delicately or it can cover a canvas entirely, giving it an eerie darkness. When it comes to faces, using pastels is an indulgence! It's just something I recently found a love for. I didn't want the face in this piece to look entirely the same but to be separated in some way, so the pastels came out too.
I do have a ‘practice’ I use more formally these days with my work. However, I am a strong believer that the image should dictate the medium. If I need a bit of charcoal to finish a piece I enjoy using it. I'm not a purest with regards to materials but I am when it comes to honesty. It is paramount to me that when I have finished a piece, I can feel that it is truthful in every way. If not, it goes on the re-work shelf!
‘I’m Trying To Think’ by Jack
Acrylic, ink, charcoal and pastel
Can you tell me about some of the previous exhibitions you have been involved in?
Previous to complex PTSD and D.I.D coming to the forefront in my life, Becky exhibited many times. It's hard now to really establish whose work that actually was. We can see her style when we look at our work as a whole but you can also see elements of mine and Fi’s. Largely Becky's work was Christian based artwork, it's where she made her name successfully as an artist.
Our most successful and exciting exhibition by far was in London, unfortunately just months before lockdown! We were so honoured to be given the privilege of working with Kim Noble and Perspective Project on an exhibition ‘Identity/s,’ bringing awareness to D.I.D. Kim is already a well-established artist who, like me, has D.I.D. It was so lovely to be able to exhibit alongside her. The exhibition was populated with the who's who of the psychology profession! It really was an incredible opportunity. I was delighted to be able to meet Valerie Sinason, a campaigner for people with D.I.D and ferocious in her attempts to bring Ritual Abuse awareness into the public domain. There were many other campaigners at the event who choose to support people like me and it was extremely empowering. Being a Ritual Abuse survivor is extremely lonely, so being in a room full of people who not only believed me but supported me and who also saw necessity to see change and justice, gave me hope. It was overwhelming!
Creatively, the exhibition has enabled me to be in touch with people who take my work seriously, perhaps more than I believe in myself. The exhibition also allowed me to take a step toward a larger audience. Bringing my voice and my paintings into a wider arena means that I can open up dialogue about the uncomfortable subjects that so few wish to approach. It means that we can take a step forward towards living more freely which can only help my mental health. For instance, being called by my name perhaps one day will not cause an issue! The simplest things in everyday life create such challenges where only a bit of understanding changes so much. Painting is a powerful tool, sometimes I think of it as my sword which can change and challenge opinions. 'Identity/s' was a successful exhibition that went a long way to informing the public and empowering those of us with D.I.D and whom have survived the torture of Ritual Abuse.
Any lessons you have learned from your artistic journey and ongoing practice?
Patience! I want to get there and get it done, I want everything done perfectly and not a thing out of place! When I'm painting, I expect myself to create the very best I can. For a long time I expected to make every square inch on my canvas perfect. Then I realised I couldn’t! I realised it's not what my painting have anything to do with. My work is about the reality of something, the truthful experience, regardless of how ugly and raw that is. I stopped worrying if people would buy my pictures and if they would think they were ‘pretty’ enough. My pictures are anything but pretty! I stopped worrying if they were contemporary enough, if other artists were better. I painted myself! Literally very often.
I've also learned to ask for help! I guess that's a big part of the mental health journey too. I hate it and I hate accepting it too on the whole. Nonetheless, I love my arty help which comes in the form of my ever-patient manager Oliver. Having someone to keep me on track artistically really helps. I hate that we go so slow in the process of launching new stuff and getting things ready for my next exhibition. Learning patience to do things well and in a formal way that I haven’t done before is difficult.
I still haven’t mastered believing in myself! I can do the bluster, I can do the marketing but in truth I struggle immensely with my own self-worth and belief in my ability. I guess that's why there is such an emphasis on the authenticity of a piece. It sort of side-steps the issue of whether or not I think I have painted something ‘good’ or not, and asks the question ‘can I stand by it?’ Instead. I don’t think that's an unusual thing for any artist or necessarily an unhealthy one! It's something that makes you go back and back again to a canvas to ensure it's exactly what you want.
Take your paintings to therapy, take all your creativity to therapy! My poor therapist receives boat loads of pictures, writing and music from us every week, which she enthusiastically encourages regardless of the standard. She is my biggest cheerleader and most insightful motivator. If your work is your authentic voice, sharing that voice enables you to begin the most difficult conversations you need to have.
Perhaps most importantly sharing your art work means you are advocating for your condition. Speaking out against the assumptions so often made about mental illness and providing insight where it is desperately needed. Art can go into places and provoke conversation where it is impossible to normally do so. I guess I have learned about the power and the rebellion of art. That it doesn't always have to hold a polite mirror up to society, but it can hold a question mark, or even an uncomfortable mirror. Those days when I have felt like no one is listening and no one wants to hear, knowing I can pick up a brush and create a painting that says it instead of quietening down.
Having an exhibition reminds both you, and someone just like you, that you are not alone.
'Sated' by Jack
A short video on Dissociative Identity Disorder.