Beth Hopkins

Mental Health Awareness week 2016

To recognise Mental Health Awareness Week, Outside In has asked exhibiting Radical Craft artist Beth Hopkins a few questions about her art, and the impact this has on her life. 

When did you start creating art?

My earliest memories are of tracing pictures from a book about the National Gallery. I have cherished drawings I did of my grandfather's hands as a child. 

After my first episode of mania aged 19, I was referred to a art studio in Surrey called Art Matters. I'd done Art at A Level but neglected it since. Art Matters gave me a safe space to create where everyone had similar experiences of mental illness. Whilst I was there I began to experiment with woodcuts. Once my creativity woke up, I wanted to try everything. I worked with clay, textiles and puppetry. All methods of art excite me. When I lack inspiration I try something new and just play with processes. I hope whatever happens in my life, I will always create art.   

Could you tell us about how your art has helped your health and wellbeing? 

Art is key to my well-being. Creating artwork builds my self-esteem and gives my life purpose. When I'm very depressed if I can manage to draw one thing I feel the day has not been wasted. I see an art psychotherapist weekly who helps me use creativity to feel calm and secure. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I make small figures from clay. I always feel better afterwards. I would even say art is as important to managing my bipolar as medication.  

Tell us more about your piece in the Radical Craft exhibition, as you mention that it is created from things you found by the Thames in London.

My Thames Totem is part of a series of small sculptures made from fragments I find washed up by the Thames. They are lost things, which I remake into a new whole. Car break lights, bones, old glass bottles, rubber stoppers, circuit boards - it's amazing the things you find. They all have their own mystery, we'll never know where they came from or how they ended up in the river.  In my work I think a lot about totems, fetish figures and power figures. They are symbolic objects imbued with their own psychological power and meaning. 

I will be leading a workshop 25th June at Bethlem Gallery on how to make your own power figures. 

Has being exhibited in Radical Craft at Pallant House Gallery inspired any ways of working? Would you recommend this exhibition for others to see and why?

Being part of the Radical Craft exhibition has strengthened my confidence in my own voice and my own direction. Seeing the variety of work on display has showed me there is no need to fit with a particular style or way of working, you can make amazing work with very limited materials. I'd love to bring more colour and joy into my work, as that's my lasting impression of the exhibition. I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for something a bit different to your usual exhibition, original ways of making new work. 

It's mental health awareness week, is there anything in particular that you would like to raise awareness about?

We need to raise awareness of self-stigma. A lot is written about stigma from other people, which is very important to discuss. But you can also stigmatise yourself, for example, 'I have depression, I won’t amount to much', or 'Why can't I just get on with things like a normal person', etc. Self-stigma can lead to a reluctance to talk to a doctor and to take medication because you see it as shameful to seek help. Often we are harder on ourselves than others. Tackling self-stigma can be as simple as talking to someone about how we feel about ourselves, or simply trying to be kinder to ourselves. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to yourself. 

Are there any articles that you have read that have had a particular influence on the way you think about mental health?

A lot of Carl Jung's ideas on symbolism and psychosis chime with my own experiences. I often think of the Thames as the collective unconscious of London, collecting all the daily lost things of the city, losing them in the depths and resurfacing them later with the tides. I also rate Viktor Frankl's writing on surviving trauma and our need to make meaning in life.  

I'd recommend Rethink Mental Illness's fact sheets to anyone affected by mental illness. They have a fact sheet for every element of mental illness, from conditions and medication, to benefits and caring for someone. You can find them all online: here. Every time I come across something I'm unsure of, I look up the relevant fact sheet. Understanding your illness and how it works helps you manage and feel more in control.

Click here to see more of Beth Hopkins work