From sleeping rough in Norwich to exhibiting in New York - incredible story of artist's amazing journey
PUBLISHED: 10:00 28 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 28 January 2019
Siris Hill's paintings are starting conversations about mental health around the world.
The 29-year-old artist from Norwich regularly receives messages on Instagram from people telling him his ethereal paintings have articulated feelings they didn’t have the words to describe and that they have allowed them to open up to loved ones and start conversations.
Look through Mr Hill’s Instagram feed and you will see dozens of comments praising the figurative images which contain as many nods to the Dutch masters as they do Francis Bacon.
But with each post there is also a comment from Mr Hill explaining how his practice reflects his own struggle with mental health.
Now, after being selected for the Moniker Arts Fair Mr Hill is hoping to broaden his platform further by exhibiting in New York.
But Manhatten is a long way from where the artist, who started struggling with his mental health as a teenager, and subsequently found himself living on the streets started.
Mr Hill experienced his first panic attack aged 19, and remembers it vividly, he said: “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 from that moment everything began to change, he became a recluse, rarely left his room, lost friends and his relationship with his family broke down to the point where his mother, who he was living with at the time, asked him to move out.
He said: “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. I had no idea at all.”
At 19 he found himself sofa surfing and sleeping rough in Norwich: “I quickly learnt that you don’t sleep outside in Norwich you go [outside the city centre] where it’s quieter.
“I did a lot of sleeping rough, it was really ridiculous, if I was on my own I’d spend the whole time hyperventilating because I would be constantly in a panic attack, my whole life became a panic attack, I thought I had lost my mind,” he said.
Moving from the streets to the YMCA, then back to the streets and into a squat Mr Hill said he didn’t feel he had a safe space until he was granted a council flat.
At around the same time a friend encouraged him to seek support and he began CBT therapy, focussed on his wellbeing and started to paint.
He said: “I started getting CBT therapy and it helped me understand the root cause of what was going on and that I wasn’t crazy which was really nice.”
Talking about his early days of painting Mr Hill said: “It became very obsessive; it was such a challenge, it was like I was trying to find a purpose... And it really helped, I started to go out more and then I got somewhat proud of being able to look at something and being able to replicate it,” he said.
Not standing still for long, Mr Hill, who works digitally quickly began to develop his practice: “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.
Describing his process as cathartic Mr Hill added: “When I’m painting it starts off as my therapy, I don’t talk to anyone and that’s how I relax, then I get to destroy that so it’s like I’m destroying that therapy session and letting go of things that I’ve processed,” he said.
Enrolling at Norwich University of the Arts, Mr Hill’s work and health were prospering until he fell ill again, and things reached a head when he considered ending his life.
He said: “That was the first time ever that I’d given up on myself.”
Getting through two very low periods, where he struggled with suicidal thoughts Mr Hill said switching his focus away from himself to others helped him find a purpose.
“I thought if I can’t find my own happiness then maybe I can find purpose in helping other people,
“I’m trying to build my profile as an artist but I’m doing that so I can build a platform where I can help other people and build opportunities and mentor people.
“I want to challenge stigmas so other people don’t have to feel like I have, I don’t want people it feel like they’re on their own so even if they don’t know me personally at least there’s someone there fighting for them,” he said.
Talent spotted at his degree show by agent Oliver Squirrell, Mr Hill now has the opportunity to exhibit internationally at the Moniker Arts Fair in Manhatten later this year.
To help fund the trip and get his artwork to New York Mr Hill has set up a fundraising page.