Please share a bit about you and your artistic background.
I've always been into art one way or another. I think I was about 13 or 14 when I started to get into comics. I liked Sparky, Star Wars and Marvel comics, but more of the horror and sorcery-type ones than the superhero-type ones. I started drawing from there and I kept on drawing.
I did my O Levels and got mediocre results but I wanted to go to Art college, so I started building up a portfolio. I lived in East Anglia at the time and I went for an interview at the art college in Great Yarmouth. I got told that my work was atrocious so that put me off doing anything for ages.
Later, I went through my long period of depression which lasted around 7 years. When I started to come out of it I wanted to do something different. I had been working as an industrial screen printer, which sounds like an artistic thing but it’s just like working in a factory. So when I came out of the depression I decided I wanted to do something in the Arts. I went to the college in Blackpool, where I currently live, to do an Art Foundation course. I did pretty well and went on to do a Fine Art degree, which finished about 3 years ago. I’ve had a part-time ordinary job for a couple years but I’m also trying to be an Artist and Illustrator.
In addition to the Perspective Project, have you showcased your work anywhere else?
Yes, I work with a small publisher in Scotland and I’ve done a few covers for them. I’ve also done exhibitions mostly around Blackpool, as we have a thriving art community here. There’s a cafe in town that has an exhibition space and I’ve been involved in those events quite a lot.
Could you share a bit more about your mental health?
I started having mental issues when I was a teenager and I went through a phase of self-harming. It wasn't a major issue until about 2007 when I had a really bad period. I was married at the time and that started to break down during the depression. My depression, and the way I acted when I was depressed, was a big contributory factor.
My dad had died the year before which probably didn't help things. I had a period of suicide attempts. I wasn't making art while I was depressed as I wasn’t in any fit state to make work. But when I started to come out of it I began making art about depression. Now, making art about my mental health is not something I do all the time, only when I’m moved to do it. It’s not the sort of thing I could do as a permanent subject as I think it could drag me back down into that world again. But sometimes I get an image in my mind or something will spark off an idea and I’ll go on from there.
I want to show people who haven’t been through any mental health issues what it’s really like. Most people think if you’re depressed you’re just a bit pissed off, they don't realise how horrible it is and how ill you really feel.
Could you share some of the feedback you’ve gotten from your art?
At college the lecturer would occasionally worry that my work was too literal. Partly this is because of my love of comics and Golden Age illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th Century. But I wanted the work to be accessible to people who haven't had an art education and wouldn't necessarily understand the message I wanted to convey if the work was too abstract or obscure. The subject matter is difficult enough without making it hard to see what I'm getting at.
The first piece people saw was the ‘Resumé’ as it was part of a college project. My peers were quite horrified by it. Those people who haven’t been through any mental health issues thought it was quite over the top, but that’s just how it was. I do share my work on social media and the response is generally that it’s harrowing work but it’s good that I’m highlighting the issue so that more people are seeing it.
Mental illness is stigmatised a lot; however, a high percentage of the population go through some form of mental health issues. That’s a big chunk but there’s not a great deal of support out there as services are being cut back. Most people don't understand how it can affect you so it’s good the artwork is out there.
Do you feel like the response to mental health has changed over the years?
Yes, people are more accepting of it nowadays. When I was about 14 or 15 and I was self-harming, no one knew about self-harming. I’d never heard of it at that time in the late 1970s. One of the teachers at school realised what was going on and they were a bit flummoxed about what to do.
Now people are more aware. But there’s also the other side of the coin where certain sections of the population just call you a ‘snowflake’ if you’re feeling bad. It’s not helpful to anybody around and it’s also not helpful for those people who have that sort of attitude. It’s likely that they will experience mental health issues at some point and they won't understand how to cope with it if their attitude is ‘I should just pull myself together.’
Please tell us about one of the pieces you have shared with the Perspective Project, perhaps outlining your artistic process and meaning behind the work?
Generally my mental health work is pretty spontaneous so the process is a bit different each time. If the idea or image has just come into my head, as with ‘Social Anxiety’ and ‘Too Much’, it will spark something and I'll just start playing with it and maybe get a result I like. Although, sometimes the pieces will be more thought out because they are a response to something I've seen or heard. In general, the more 'finished' or highly rendered the pieces are, the more likely they are to be the ones I've thought about more.
The idea for ‘The Living Death of Antidepressants’ was sparked during a conversation where someone said that antidepressants saved them, whereas I had the complete opposite experience. Antidepressants turned me into a zombie. I was waking up, going through the motions and going to bed. I tried a number of different medications and none of them did much for me.
As well as being an artist, I’m a life model so I had a photo that was suitable for the piece. I did the sketch from memory and then I did a proper drawing in charcoal. I like using charcoal but my favourite way of using it is charcoal erase, where you colour the whole piece of paper black with charcoal and then use an eraser to draw with. Usually, there’s quite a lot of marks on it but for this piece I wanted to make it smoother and more realistic.
The image is of a figure lying in a coffin but I didn’t know what the inside of a coffin looked like, so it looked more like a comfy leather chair in the background. I had to make it more accurate using google images for reference.
'The Living Death of Antidepressants'
scroll across to see Mark's process
You submitted a video to the Perspective Project as well, is working with film something you’re looking to do more of?
Yes. A friend of mine called Colin lives in Brighton and works for Disability Arts Online. A couple years ago he mentioned a project he was involved in, where they spoke to people who had all sorts of disabilities. They recorded these interviews and took out phrases or quotes and turned them into poetry. They produced a book of these poems and wanted to do some animations to go with it to promote the collection.
Colin sent me one of his drawings and a recording of his own poem to experiment with. I messed about with it - scanned across the images, zoomed in and out and made some tweaks to it. He liked my work so commissioned me to do 4 of the poems in the project.
I did the animation based on Colin's detailed pen and ink drawings. They are quite surreal and abstract but then have faces coming out of them. I did some manipulation of the images in Photoshop first and then used a video editor called Powerdirector. For example, there’s one part where I cut out an image of the wheelchair and had the background move while it was still, so it made it look like the wheelchair was moving. It was when I was doing these videos that I thought about doing the ‘Anxiety’ video, which I sent to the Perspective Project. It’s a completely different style but it sparked my interest.
I’m not great at collaborations if I'm honest, but in that situation it was good. I get fixed ideas of how I want to do things and I like to have control of what I’m doing. I think because art is a personal thing, you don't want your message to get diluted by other people’s message. I’m alright showing my work and talking about it but doing collaborations is harder for me.
I mentioned my ex-wife who had depression a few years before I did, and my experience was completely different to hers. Part of the reason why we had problems was because I don't think she was convinced that I was properly depressed. The way it made me act and feel wasn’t the same as the way it made her act and feel. That’s why I always say that I'm purely basing my work on my own experience because I don't want to speak for other people. People are all individuals so why shouldn't their experience be individual?
Disability Arts Online animation
My final question is any lessons you have learned from your artistic journey and ongoing practice?
It’s difficult because a lot of the time you don’t realise you have picked up the lesson. But the main one is that it’s good to talk. Not only while you’re going through the depression period, but it’s also good to talk about it afterwards.
One of my friends from college set up an ‘Art for Help’ group and I did a talk and showed some of my work there. The way I could see people relating to my work, even though it wasn’t their experience, made me feel like I’d done something worthwhile. It makes you feel heard but also shows others that they can make themselves heard. It’s your own experience but you don’t have to suffer alone.
See more of Mark's work on his website.