Dragon costumes, roses, paramedics and rock stars with guitars are all depicted as part of a new exhibition that seeks to help people understand post-traumatic stress and explore the process of recovery.
“The Twisted Rose and other lives” exhibition is a new series of paintings; each based on a personal account of the impact of trauma on someone’s life. They show how people can grow during their recovery, as well as helping others to understand the feelings that trauma can create.
First exhibited at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham the show moves to Newcastle Arts Centre until 22nd June 2019.
“My hope is that the exhibition of moving and thought-provoking depictions of what it is like to suffer and recover from mental health problems will raise awareness and consciousness of the issues surrounding trauma. The imagery provides new insights into a wide range of people’s experiences from birth trauma to war trauma, as well providing potentially positive therapeutic outcomes for those directly involved.”
These paintings explore the emotions and experience of post traumatic stress and recovery.
If you are interested in exhibiting or purchasing the originals or prints drop me a line via the contacts page
120 x 60 cm acrylic on canvas
“Twisted Rose” was inspired by “Mac’s” story. He suffered childhood abuse, and after therapy describes himself as feeling like “A twisted rose, growing out of the dark into the light, but still carrying the scars of his past”.
Mac gave his permission to his therapist David Murphy to publish transcripts from his treatment.
Andy chose Mac’s metaphor as the title for the exhibition as it seemed to him to sum up much about PTSD and recovery. The past cannot be undone or erased from the memory, but it is possible for people can learn to accept and give meaning to their experiences, and ultimately start to recover and grow.
75 x 100 cm Oil and Acrylic on canvas
Rachel experienced a traumatic surgical procedure during her labour. It left her feeling disconnected from her baby son and as if she herself had cheated death. For 18 months her days felt like she was living in a silent lonely, grey world, and her nights were plagued by flashbacks of her time in the operating theatre.
Through therapy Rachel started to rediscover her old self. She describes opening a door and meeting my old self again. “She’s inviting me back to who I used to be”. Outside of the door is dark and shadowy, but once the door is opened it’s like opening it to an awesome house party, you feel nervous going in, you start talking to friends again, and you are happy you went.
Rachel’s response to the painting was:
I’m actually speechless. I cried! the colours are perfect. The me looking round the corner completely sums up that feeling of lost in the grey world feeling frightened of everything. Welcoming Rachel is the old me too. It’s like you looked in my head and painted. It’s honestly amazing.
I went to bed thinking about the painting and it’s almost like now there is a third Rachel. The one I am now who is able to connect with both the figures in the painting. Which is really nice. Today also happened to be my last counselling session ever so it’s all come together really nicely. Funny how life does that.
100 x 200 cm acrylic and oil on canvas
Danny first shared his story on his own blog, which was then included on the MIND website. These are some extracts:
Between the ages of 19 and 22 I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. For the best part of three years life was a living hell … It felt like the rest of the world was at the other side of translucent bullet proof ice. I couldn’t even cope with basic functions. I was having up to fifteen panic attacks a day. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I went down to about ten stone, which isn’t very much when you are 6ft 2 tall. I almost died. I’d spend all day fighting my thoughts, and all night running from imaginary demons and voices”.
“Once I locked myself in the bathroom because all I could hear in my head were these awful voices telling me to hurt and kill. I didn’t want to hurt anyone but I’d been fighting my thoughts for months and I’d got to the point where I’d become terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself”
The reason I’m speaking out now is because there has been a lot of coverage of depression and other mental illnesses recently. People have come forward and spoken out in really brave and touching ways about how they have learned to live with, overcome and even in some cases embrace the dark side. And I found it inspiring.
I’m really lucky I got help. My mum literally carried me to the doctors in the end, and I’m better now.
Not just well, but better. Better than I ever was before. Back then we’d spent so long trying to write songs and failing, nothing had any depth …Embrace sounded like our influences. Melody Maker described Embrace as a "A lowest common denominator blend of The Chameleons, The Bunnymen, and U2”
Aged 22, I picked up a guitar for the first time and learned some chords. The illness took a while to lift, but as it did, the demons that kept me up all night just enabled me to spend more time writing. So I sat there with my acoustic guitar and I wrote and wrote and wrote …now able to see the world with growing clarity as the ice melted.
Colours burned brighter, orchestras played in my head. I felt so alive, I could taste it. Songs poured out of me.
Danny McNamara is lead singer of the band Embrace http://www.embrace.co.uk/
150 x 75 cm acrylic on canvas
In 2008 Pete was the victim of a robbery and murder attempt in South Africa. At the time, he thought he had processed the event in a healthy way, and believed he was in a good place. This was far from the truth. His interpretation of the world was slowly evolving, seeing it as a place of danger and leaving him with feelings of deep mistrust. The impact of earlier traumas were also starting to rise to the surface.
In 2015 the symptoms of PTSD had escalated to a point where he was in a constant state of fight or flight, experiencing severe anxiety whilst performing the most mundane of daily tasks. As he says, “In truth, I am learning through my recovery process the exact consequences of not dealing with the trauma earlier on”.
Pete has found his solace at high altitude, an experience where being present is a pre-requisite for survival. He is attempting to conqueror the Seven Summits – the highest mountain on each continent. In his words “Mountaineering has become more than a passion for me, it is a pinnacle of self-expression, a pathway to self-actualisation where I feel capable of becoming the truest version of myself. The biggest enemy is stillness in terms of PTSD. Solace at high altitude comes in the form of needing to be present 24/7 - whether that be gruelling nature of these expeditions, the breath-taking scenery...not sure...what I do know is up there I feel a lot safer than down here”.
Andy chose Everest as the focus for the painting, because as Pete says “Everest - it's where I'm heading, and one way or another I'll get up there. All these other mountains are a prelude. That's my redemption, the ultimate solace”.
You can find more out about Pete’s Seven Summits challenge and fund raising for MIND and the NSPCC via his website 2½ Hemispheres: www.2andh.com
120cm x 80cm acrylic, graphite and oil on canvas
Emil’s trauma relates to abuse he received during his time in Stockholm. It left him feeling empty, lonely, scared, haunted. It is this feeling of alienation and paranoia that Andy sought to capture with an image based on Sergels torg. This is an area next to Stockholm’s Central Station which in the 1990s was notorious for the drug trade.
These grey and oppressive streets are then contrasted with a colourful and vibrant image of a couple dancing the Salsa. The bright colours represent the liberation Emil found when he moved to London. Finding freedom amidst the Salsa bars and pubs of South Kensington.
Emil’s response was to say: “I love the bright picture in the painting. So colourful and happy! It very much makes me think of that night. It gives hope”.
He will remember them
100cm x 80cm acrylic and oil on canvas
The inspiration for this painting was a friend’s reminiscences of his grandfather. He remembered his hours of silent contemplation in his allotment, where he was visited by his lost comrades.
Our understanding of PTSD starts with WW1. The psychological impact of life in the trenches was badly misunderstood. Initially the effects were thought to be physiological due to proximity to shells exploding – hence the term shell shock or treated as evidence of cowardice and malingering. In some tragic cases even leading to execution.
One of the problems after that war, and all conflicts, is the difficult of talking to people about what happened. What do people who were not there actually want to hear? While relatives want details of time and place in order to make meaning out of their loss, do they want to know that the loved one’s body had been blown apart, or had lain rotting unburied for days? There is a ‘natural tendency to repress, being in my experience almost universally fostered by … relatives and friends’ [W H Rivers].
The title is drawn from Lawrence Binyon’s iconic poem “For the fallen”
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Alchemy & Phoenix
65cm x 80cm x 2 acrylic and oil on canvas
Mark was a successful chef working in Michelin starred restaurants. He had a drive and ambition to be the best, which lead him to work harder and harder. Unfortunately, the adrenalin intensity which fuelled his culinary creativity spiralled out of control. Instead of riding high his life became a revolving door of hell. For six years his life switched between successful chef and hospital.
Two years ago, Mark’s changed the direction of his life, and he now works as a mental health nurse and support worker, his demons under control.
Andy created two paintings based on Mark’s experience:
Alchemy was inspired by something Mark mentioned in their discussions. Mark said that he started to feel he was an “invincible chef” able to successfully marry together more and more unexpected flavours – Strawberry and Red Pepper - and was building incredible sculptures out of chocolate. But then as things went out of control one of the voices Mark heard was of a mad scientist. The painting tries to capture this wild fusion of creativity, alchemy and chocolate as his life started to fragment.
Phoenix the second painting shows Mark’s re-birth, the mythical bird rising from the embers, or in this chocolate, as a metaphor for his change of direction. �
120cm x 80cm acrylic, graphite and oil on canvas
Wayne, an ex-serviceman suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a result of what he witnessed in the former Yugoslavia. He was there as part of the UN Protection Force in the 1990s. Since completing active service in 1999 he received no support from the army; he was told “here are your discharge papers, see you later”.
Wayne was OK for about ten years, but then everything came to a boil. He ended up having a breakdown and found himself in a mental health ward. He lost his home because he couldn’t pay the rent, and his job due to injury. He had nothing.
His recovery started when his Community Psychiatric Nurse introduced him to a local nature reserve that supported people with mental health problems by getting them involved in nature-based projects on the reserve. As Wayne says “I didn’t even know there was a nature reserve where I lived, and I certainly didn’t think that nature could help me in my situation, but I tried it. Now, looking back, if I hadn’t taken that chance, I definitely wouldn’t be here now”.
Andy photographed Wayne at the nature reserve where he works as a volunteer. A still proud soldier haunted by the memory of his experiences in Bosnia. The reserve is a place of solace and safety from that world.
The man inside
80cm x 100cm acrylic and oil on canvas
Adam has been a paramedic for more than a decade. The nature of that job means that he has been to many traumatic situations involving death and serious injury.
Being a paramedic means you are the most qualified at the scene, you are expected to be in charge, as Adam says:
“people look at you for guidance, reassurance and leadership. We are still however people with emotions and like anyone else feel lost at some traumatic jobs, but we can't show any weakness or wanting of help as there is nobody else most of the time … you go into a focused trance of concentration. You isolate and dissociate yourself from the situation. The way I'd describe it is that I'm at the dead centre of someone's worst ever nightmare who's begging for help, and the more I want to go forward to help, the tug of someone else needs you, you're stuck in a mental tug of war of decisions. You dissociate yourself almost like you're in a dream but you are trying to do the best you can.
After the event, you then process and recap what the hell has just happened, did I do everything right, could I have done anything different, but you can only remember snippets, and they are probably not accurate. That 2 hour ordeal you attended, has left only 5 minutes of memory, you forget most of it, you then worry that you should've done more or you missed something.
Then you attend another one and it repeats.
When Andy first approached Adam, the idea was that any painting would be anonymous, so people couldn’t identify him, but in order to tell his story Andy wanted to show the man inside the uniform. Adam and his wife agreed that by doing so it could be a good way to get people talking and open up.
In Adam’s words:
… underneath the mask of a uniform, we are all still regular people. We have emotions and that at the jobs where we are either helpless to assist people, maybe down to scope of practice, or deep down because we know what we are doing is sometimes futile, we carry on.
Unfortunately, on occasions we carry these stresses on with us too. We often care more about other’s emotions and wellbeing more than own.
I believe it's not just the Ambulance Service staff that can be affected this way but also the Police and Fire Brigade.
900cm x 120cm acrylic and oil on canvas
Sue is a keen gardener and she likens her recovery to that of a seed which had over the years, been bruised and beaten and denied the sustenance it needed to grow. At times it had gasped for breath and searched desperately for water so that it might at least remain intact, but the environment around it was often barren, and yet somehow it managed to survive all those years in the wilderness.
Her trauma had left her feeling disempowered, dehumanised, re-traumatised, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, terrified, guilty and angry, but most of all desperate. Medication only made matters worse, as if she was slowly being suffocated in a sea of feathers.
For years she searched for a gardener and the right environment where that seed could be nurtured. Until she realised the head gardener was herself. And whilst it has taken every ounce of courage and strength that she possessed she has gradually found ways to nurture that seed allowing it to spread its roots, to grow and to flourish.
But as she says “ I didn’t do it alone - there have been “other gardeners” - my children, my friends, my work colleagues, my peers and my therapists - whose courage, strength and love for me have enabled me in one way or another to feel safe, in control and a valuable member of the human race … However there is one more gardener who I must not forget to mention – without her courage, strength and love I would not be here today, writing this piece. That other gardener is the little Sue who kept that seed alive with her bravery, sheer stubbornness and outright bloody-mindedness, and managed to survive the horrors she was subjected to.”
It is “Little Sue” we see in the painting nurturing the warrior seed.
90cm x 120 cm Oil and acrylic on canvas
Marissa’s experience of personal trauma stems from the pregnancy and birth of her daughter Gretel. She carried her for 20 weeks knowing that her baby was suffering from a life-threatening heart condition. Birth was a bitter sweet experience, with the constant fear of her child’s fragility.
The world became grey and monochrome, full of fears and uncertainty. Heightened with memories and flashbacks triggered by bleeping monitors and sirens.
Marissa’s personal recovery is epitomised by colour. Colour coming into her daughter’s body and into Marissa’s world. The painting features a picture taken of Gretel wearing a dragon costume. This was used by the British Heart Foundation in a national fundraising campaign – Ramp up the Red.
The image of Marissa holding a monochrome heart rather than her baby was based on Marissa’s recollections of her strength, courage, determination, resilience, but also vulnerability.
80 x 60cm Oil and acrylic on canvas
Sandra’s painting is deeply personal and the result of an extremely traumatic experience, and many years of trying to come to terms with that experience. Thirty years ago, her first two children were murdered by her husband who also committed suicide. This event was the culmination of years of serious physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Sandra remarried and had a second family. For many years she tried to hide the pain of the grief and her sense of guilt for not being able to protect her children. But through a combination of a physical injury which prevented her from playing sport, which had been her coping mechanism, and the death of her father her symptoms escalated out of control.
However, with the help of Stephen Regel and the team at the Centre for Trauma, Resilience and Growth she has become stronger, in her own words:
“Now I am stronger. I don’t feel guilty at all. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel…one of the biggest things I have achieved, and it has taken me 23 years, is I have put an album together of my first two children. I am going to put the photographs of all the children on the wall in my dining room. I haven’t got any photographs up of my first two children, I haven’t got any of my two grown up children either, because I felt guilty”.
When Andy read Sandra’s story he suggested creating a painting that featured all her children as a way of both celebrating and commemorating her family.
120 x 90 cm Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
Susana had a difficult childhood in Spain. Growing up speaking her mind wasn't always easy or safe. She would hide in her bedroom and escape into an imaginary world she could control. She learnt to supress many unexpressed thoughts, feelings and emotions that bubbled under the surface. Whilst this enabled her to cope with day to day reality, now as an adult she has come to realise that this coping mechanism was in fact the beginning of her sense of self slowly fading. She felt she was losing herself.
Finding a way to express herself creatively has been something that she has been striving to do her entire life. Through the years she has looked for different outlets that would allow her to find her voice - writing fiction, journaling, drawing, and painting, but it is through photography that she has found her outlet.
Alegria is based on one from a series of photographs that Susana took of herself, as she says:
“They don't follow a preconceived idea, aesthetic or script - they are simply the result of me stepping in front of the camera and moving on instinct… These spontaneous photographs are the first attempt at self-expression that I consider a personal success. Although I didn't know it at the time, by standing in front of a lens and removing my clothes and all distractions I was able to really look within - which then gave me the confidence me to gradually start showing others what I saw”
To anyone feeling lost or struggling with who they are, try picking up a camera to explore the world around you. Talk to strangers and the people in your life, photograph them, and also point the camera at yourself. Photography is a great equalizer and you will probably find a bit of yourself in there. And, in time, the images that the camera reflects back to you will clearly and unequivocally show you what has been there all along”.
The painting is combined with a photograph taken at a funfair when she was about 9. Susana remembers this scene because it was from a brief period which was “the happiest in my life … I had a tonne of friends, was doing great at school, even had a 'boyfriend', and was generally a happy go lucky child … the word at the top reads Alegria - Joy in English”
"The greatest hazard of all, losing one's self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed." Søren Kierkegaard
120 x 90 cm Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
Anna is a life coach who specialises in self-esteem. The painting is inspired by the roller-coaster of emotions that Anna herself dealt with following mental abuse, threats, divorce, and low self-esteem.
She has been able to overcome these through meditation. One particular image she uses is to imagine herself leaving her body and floating into the universe. Once there she visualises handing over her pain, sadness, and worries to the universe, trusting that the universe will provide her with the right answer.
As Anna says: “Every time I feel sad, frustrated, worried or even happy, I return to this safe place, my universe to ask for peace of mind, to say thanks, to reconnect or just to feel the immensity of life around me.”
By learning to love herself, and to reconnect with a damaged inner child, she has been able to forgive and grow.
The photograph used for this painting was taken by Anna’s friend Susana, a photographer, whose self-portrait forms the basis of the painting Alegria.
120 x 80 cm Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
Mark is a Detective Sgt. in the police. Whilst through his work he is exposed to traumatic events, his mental health issues stem from sexual abuse as a child and the Warrington bombings. Mark now speaks out about his experiences within the police and more widely:
“I have been delivering a presentation to colleagues (and recently the NHS) on my experiences of abuse and suppression and the more I have spoken about things, the less emotional impact they have on me …”'
He believes that daylight is a powerful disinfectant, and that suppression causes severe damage to people. Within his work when debriefing traumatic incidents, he tries to emphasise how useful it is to get things out in the open by talking about them. As he says
“From my own perspective, I have always thought about what I did as being suppression, putting things in a box and sealing the box. Unfortunately, boxes leak and it is my firm belief that those leaks are what caused me to develop MH problems. I felt for a long time like it was poisoning me.”
The idea of lifting the lid on his ‘box’ and letting the daylight in was the start point for this painting. Mark’s box is a bit battered now, but back in the past it was a dark, dangerous, leaky and toxic place. As the light is let in those dark and toxic thoughts are replaced with positive experiences such as being on Arran, on a boat, by the sea.
3 X 60 x 75 cm Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
Vicky’s personal story of trauma stems from experiencing two miscarriages, one of which required a surgical procedure. Vicky had little understanding of miscarriage prior to her experience and as a result found the emotional loss and physical pain very distressing.
Following the miscarriages, Vicky was able to give birth to a daughter. However, during the pregnancy, there were signs of miscarriage again, and Vicky thought she was losing her baby. This experience and an admission to special care shortly after her daughter was born caused a great deal of anxiety for Vicky who often still feels her daughter will be taken way.
One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, however despite these statistics, miscarriage is often not talked about. By being involved in this exhibition, Vicky hopes to raise awareness, and inspire hope for those who may experience a miscarriage.
Andy wanted to represent Vicky’s sense of loss by portraying her in the style of three studio “Mother and Baby” photographs. The paintings are based on a series of photographs taken of Vicky with and without her daughter.
100 x 75 cm Oil on Canvas, 2019, based on an original poem by Laura, more of her work can be found on Instagram @laurawritespoems
I hid the girl,
she was crying and weak,
it was for her own good,
that I buried her deep.
With spiritless limbs,
and a broken mind,
gasping for breath,
she was easily confined.
Desperately she begged,
to be carried a little further,
to be comforted in a place,
where nobody could hurt her.
We had walked too far,
so I cradled her for the final time in my arms,
and I lay her in a place,
away from this harm.
She didn't stay silent,
she cried out from time to time,
she reminded me that her hurt,
was also mine.
Inside of me,
she manifested herself as physical pain,
she tormented me with truth,
until I blacked out again.
She was haunting me,
seemingly intent on my decline,
but I was coping,
I was fine.
I built a persona,
to defy her existence,
I lived out my lie,
by creating distance.
I carried the weight of that girl,
I hid her behind my back,
I focussed my mind,
I stayed on track.
I flew solo,
I prided myself on being insular,
I created my own,
I carried the girl,
as I collected my grades,
as I pushed away,
the few real friends I had made.
I carried her,
though with increasing fatigue,
I presented great confidence,
but I battled low self esteem.
in the face of unimaginable pain,
I had buried her,
so I could live again.
I could deal with whatever life threw,
though inside me I screamed;
'if only you knew!'
I was drowning in the deep end,
but it looked like I could swim,
how could I be struggling,
when I'd consistently win.
I lived out that persona,
with an air of hostility,
I treated those who didn't cope,
with complete lack of sympathy.
I was a warrior,
with an overwhelming desire for embrace,
though I was tensed by touch,
in every case.
I wanted to drop the ball,
to let everyone see,
that this wasn't,
who I was meant to be.
I'm not cold,
I'm not working eighty-five hours for fun,
I'm not really staying here,
because I'm not done.
I'm not awake all night,
for lack of time,
all these thoughts of mine.
It's not unremitting energy,
I'm not superhuman,
but you'll understand,
why I create that illusion.
I repeat my life-long mantra,
I see you buy in,
to my optimistic propaganda.
I carry this girl though my body is tired,
I carry her,
because I do what's required.
But I cope,
and I'm fine,
and I only hurt,
from time to time.