From the streets of Norwich to the walls of galleries - artist Siris Hill
PUBLISHED: 17:31 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:31 13 November 2019
Marcus J. Ranum, all rights granted to Tenable, Inc.
A Norwich man has transformed his mental health anguish into remarkable art which is helping people around the world
Ten years ago Siris Hill was homeless and battling suicidal thoughts.
This month his paintings will be selling for thousands of pounds.
It was as he contemplated ending it all that Siris realised that he could begin something instead. Now his pictures are helping people struggling with mental health problems around the world.
They make the torment of living with mental illness visible and Siris, now 30, regularly receives messages on social media telling him they have helped people explain how they feel to friends and family.
They are inspired by renaissance and baroque portraits and although Siris began painting in oils he discovered the fumes triggered attacks of anxiety. So now he works on a computer screen, replicating the colours and textures of oils and acrylics - and then over-painting them, sometimes with more finely-wrought detail, sometimes with violent scribbles and daubs of black or white, as if the original paintings had been vandalised. Several are, literally, defaced, with a solid block of dark or light where the face should be.
Siris was 19 when he had his first panic attack. "I thought it was an asthma attack at first so I was taking my inhaler but that wasn't working...I couldn't breath...I was convinced I was dying," he said.
He began to fear going out and, confined to his room, wondered whether he was going mad. "I didn't tell anyone what was going on in my head because I thought if I told anyone then they would think I was crazy and I would end up locked in an asylum," he said.
Relationships with friends and family fell apart and he began sofa surfing and sleeping rough in Norwich.
He spent time in a hostel, then back on the streets and then in a squat, before being allocated a council flat. At around the same time he began to paint - and then destroy parts of his pictures.
"I started destroying the work and started removing the identity from these people and my subjects and that became like how it feels to live with a mental illness, describing how it feels inside," he said. "On the surface my work is an insight into my reality of living with multiple mental illnesses and trauma. It creates a window between the world most know and the ones many of us keep hidden."
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"For a long time my anxiety made all of my decisions, It took everything from me until I was just numb and running on autopilot. Eventually my life shrunk to a tiny existence, too afraid to go outside or achieve anything I'd hoped for due to a crippling fear of having another panic attack.
"Art has quite literally saved my life, giving me an outlet, a voice and something to believe in when every mental health service I tried failed me. Art became my therapy."
His pictures have also given him a purpose, helping other people going through mental health problems. "I decided I would make a difference and that starts by opening up about my own experience," he said.
He won a place at Norwich University of the Arts. Although he fell ill again last year the pictures he entered for the final degree show led to an invitation to show his work at an arts fair in New York.
And now he has a solo show at the Fairhurst Gallery in his home city.
Gallery director Dulcie Humphrey said: "Siris' work has something incredibly seductive about it. On a technical level it opens up an interesting conversation about painting as a digital medium."
Siris said that his first jobs involved music production and DJing. "It wasn't until I fell on harder times with my mental health that I started drawing as a coping mechanism," he said. "From then I taught myself how to paint by studying art history and techniques of the masters of the 17th century and adapting their methods to my digital workflow. At my worst time I would spend 15-plus hours a day painting or studying the fundamentals it was the only thing that gave me peace."
The exhibition will include three of Siris's light boxes, prints and works on aluminium, with prices ranging from prints for £150 to original pieces for £3,500.
The Weight of Silence, an exhibition of digital painting by Siris Hill, runs from November 15 to January 25 at the Fairhurst Gallery Bedford Street. www.fairhurstgallery.co.uk