Christopher Webb, 43, Portsmouth, UK. is already an ASLI artist after joining our team by being part of our pop up exhibition representing local artists who are affected by mental health, in Portsmouth where ASLI is based. So we asked all the participating artists to submit for our call for artists to be featured in this issue “mental illness, health and recovery”. We love Chris’s work and he is a well known artist in the city, using his unique style to express himself and his inner world as well as amazing pieces which highlight our city’s beautiful landmarks.
Born in Bath, Somerset but moving with his family to the picturesque New Forest in Hampshire, Chris eventually in 2005 settled in Portsmouth. Spending his days creating new art works with the challenge of a recent eye surgery which has caused permanent visual impairment in both of his eyes, challenging his abilities to create, but Chris states this is merely a need to adapt rather than be defeated and sees his disability as a positive due to this. Being a self taught artist has been a journey and started in December 2012 after Chris had taken a 24 year gap from art since school. This is hard to believe when you see Chris’s work, it would seem he was born sketching and did not stop for one day of his life, a truly unique style and we can’t wait to follow his career as we know this is only the beginning.
Here is our interview with Chris Webb:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I’ve always been a fan of plein air sketching. Often sitting down by the harbour entrance in my City of Portsmouth, capturing the ever changing sailing vessels within the harbour. Our city has a naval base so much of the activity is based around these huge ships. I found that by going outside to capture these subjects through plein air ink & watercolour sketches it gave me a sense of belonging to the City and a purpose. Both of which I lacked through mental illness.
What is your process when creating?
I sit and observe, then sketch away directly in inks first and then add a loose style of watercolours. These days I am starting to transform these sketches into oil paintings in an impressionist style. Moulding the thick oils with my knife and trowels onto the canvas is immensely satisfying.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
Who inspires you in general?
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
I am passionate about sustainability, low-impact living and mental health.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
Personally art has saved my life and raises me out of depressive episodes more frequently than not. I started art to help me relax whilst pacing my home with worry about things. It gave me time to sit still and also concentrate on a positive creative subject. It has certainly created ‘change’ in myself and i am forever supporting others to take up something creative.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
As mentioned above my time spent creating art is paramount to my own well being, it’s a healthy addiction that helps me release all my anxieties and stay in the moment. As a self taught artist my message would be draw or create everyday, capture the world one day one drawing at a time. See the beauty around us and lift yourself from the sometimes dark reality within which we all live.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
I go through many changes in my art journey goals, usually centred around my mental health. At times i just want to hide away and create my art in private, in doing so it then becomes all about me. With no external forces influencing my work or decisions. This has led to less pressure to sell my work or attend markets and exhibitions. Patience is also the key to my journey. Turning down opportunities that aren’t right at the time, is no big mistake. Going with the flow and enjoying the journey is most important. My present goal is simply to exist amongst everything i have done to share my work with others, no pressure at all. My future goals would be to travel more with my art, capturing the world through my sketches and paintings. Above all i wish to share my enthusiasm of art and help others take a step back from their hectic lives.
The following question are about mental health:
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
It helps me enormously, a 2 hour session of art can change my mood and outlook incredibly. Simply by staying in the moment and creating something beautiful.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
I received Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and first time it was funded by the accident insurers, second time by the state. I felt it was useful, but certainly not the best for me. I consider my art as my therapy now.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
I do think there is better understanding generally about mental health, but if you need an excuse to be prejudice towards someone, then mental health is often used against people still to this day. Many people still view mental illness as losing credibility to make sound decisions at work and home.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
The change is happening in the UK to destigmatize mental health, but like all things change takes time and patience is needed.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
Yes definitely, i am proof of that.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Absolutely and something i know is central to ‘art saves lives international’
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
sharing my experiences, losing the stigma, being brave and encouraging others to use art as a therapy and form of expression. sharing my enthusiasm above all.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
Treating people as a disease, condition or part of their body is still done to this day. The amount of times as a health professional i’d hear staff referring to patients as the ‘enlarged liver’ or ‘broken ankle’ within ear shot of the patient. Again we can only but initiate the change we want to see.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
I think this makes ASLI groundbreaking and for as long as we remain professional, there is no reason why others would think otherwise.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
I was diagnosed with Chronic Central Serous Retinopathy in December 2012, which incidentally coincides with the start of my art. The condition has resulted in a slow decline in my eyesight, leading to blurred vision and distortion together with dulling of colours.
Thankfully, as I was creating my artworks daily, I had plenty of time to master my skills in drawing and painting before it became a problem. Today, I am aware that my palette choices are often very vibrant and colourful — something I shall never be able to see as others do.
I regard this as a positive influence, as people often remark on my colour choices as unusual and beautiful. I think it was fortunate I adopted a loose quirky style early on, as this is more in tune with my eyesight. I see my subject matter in a different way to others, with all straight lines now a little distorted. This has not affected my artworks in a negative way at all.
If you would like to follow Chris Webb and his art please follow these links: