Russ trained as a bricklayer and served a full apprenticeship as a monumental mason and letter cutter. After ten years in the world of graft and craft, he started a Foundation course in Art and Design. It was only then that he feels that he began to “wake up'“. In the world of art, he thought that he could hide his alcoholism in plain view, not least behind, in his words, “a facade consisting of two parts drunken genius, three parts tortured soul with a large pinch of rebellious maverick.” Art would be his jungle and “artist” his camouflage.
Somewhere in the process of an arts education, he realised that if he was to take himself seriously as an artist he had to address his drinking. Russ believes that art processes the artist as much as the artist produces art. For him inspiration comes through clear eyes and a quite mind. Sobriety has allowed him to see reality even if art and philosophy challenge the nature of that reality. Through meditation on the origins of the materials that surround us and observing the culture he participates in he celebrate the people, places and things that bring us to where we are today. Art has been his church and recovery his religion.
Chris has been in recovery from alcohol and drug dependency for over a year. He won the first UHTS Rosenberry Literary Award for Haiku. His writing, short poems, haiku and related forms have been published in several journals. When he is not writing, he’s either taking photographs, wood working, cutting trees (he works as a tree surgeon and groundsman) or subject to his young daughter’s demands.
“12 x 12” is a group project involving twelve people in recovery. Each photographic image represents a personal insight into the subject’s journey in recovery. One image represents how life was during active addiction and how it felt to them individually. The contrasting image represents how life is now that they are in abstinent recovery. Common themes incude simplicity, wellbeing, balance and living life without a dependency.
Photograph’s were taken of each person’s hands before their chosen images were digitally super imposed.
A Foundation course at Bath Lane College of Art in Newcastle in 1985 led to three years at Middlesex University to study graphic design. The inevitable but brief spell of unemployment and freelance before Kirk went on to become Art Director of London listings magazine ‘Time Out’ during it’s most successful sales period before going on to work as Creative Director of Vision On Publishing with Gallery owner Alex Proud and Photographer/publisher Rankin Waddell.
Work at the Independent on Saturday Magazine and The Sunday Telegraph came to an abrupt end in February 2005 when alcoholism got the better of him and he spent seven months in Barley Wood rehabilitation Unit. Another soul destroying two year relapse ensued before a chance meeting in hospital and an invite to a 12 step meeting.
In time, a willingness to change, regular meetings, sponsorship and service followed and an honest attempt at recovery began. Having been promised a life beyond his wildest dreams he would tell you that his dreams were never this wild and this life is a fascinating place to be.
In 2014 aided and abetted by Lionel Joyce CBE, OBE they set up design company– ‘enough’ where they aim to apply the principals learned in recovery to all that they do – keep it simple and edit out the unnecessary.
Amongst others Kirk is currently working on a project helping design the best football in the world.
Artists in Recovery
Relish Coffee - Coffee packaging
Shine - Community Theatre
This England - Photographs by Gavin Watson
JOHN O'ROURKE PhD
A life-long interest in esoteric philosophy became the subject area of John’s Fine Art practice-led Doctorate. That preoccupation is reflected in work he’s made since the beginning of his sobriety in October 1986, through Alcoholics Anonymous. For John, reliance on a Higher Power is central to this.
John loves Hindu and Christian mysticism. For him they teach the same truth: God is an eternal, omnipresent Reality, indwelling and directly accessible within our own being; a higher Self.
The paintings and sculptures he creates allude to this Path, communicated through the work’s structure and symbolism. Although his work as a sculptor dates from 1979, for nearly 32 years he’s been making sculptures with an awareness of their direct spiritual link to his recovery from alcoholism. Since the early nineties he’s been creating works where the human head is fused with architectural structures below. There’s a direct correlation between buildings and the human condition - the interior/exterior interrelationship. People are the same; anatomically, psychologically and metaphysically; eternal Spirits possessing a transient body.
His sculptures have interconnected interior chambers. Small entrances at the bases of each work lead to inner rooms, adjoining passages, stairways or ladders, connecting the ascending levels. They culminate with the interiors of buildings that he installs within the cranium area of the head in each sculpture. There’s always a sealed room where John conceals something. The secrecy is real, symbolizing Divinity within, so often hidden by lifestyles and values which are out of balance.
Si is currently working on portraits which are quite abstract in appearance. He often produces images on an iPad in black and white as he loves the speed and simplicity of the process.
His technique has developed significantly recently after committing to draw every day in an effort to realise a career as an artist. Having suffered snow blindness for a few days last year after hillwalking, but determined to continue his daily drawings, he began to draw with his eyes closed. Only able to open his eyes briefly, he was amazed at what he had drawn and enjoyed the process and results so much that he continued to draw with his eyes closed.
He now uses these drawings as a basis for his work, adding the finer details with his eyes open to create really striking and unusual images.
Si is starting to work with people who suffer from addiction and mental illnesses. As someone who has suffered from addiction himself, he hopes to find a way to help others and draw attention to the subject by sharing their stories through images.
Mandy studied BA (hons) Fine Art at Northumbria University 11 years ago, where she became interested in exploring alternative ways to represent ‘the female’ and her ‘personal’, using art as a visceral medium to explore addiction, gendered socio-political issues, traumas and struggles as a woman and lone parent.
The main body of work was produced whilst in addiction, encapsulating the torturous isolation, self- doubt and the internal self- destructive dialogue that goes hand in hand with the ‘a iction of addiction’.
Mandy is now producing work depicting the freedom of recovery and continues to explore addiction, oppression and female energy through her practice with the juxtaposition of personal and creative examined through her art in a painful yet aesthetically beautiful overview of her life and journey of self-discovery.
All works are hand drawn in pen or painted, with no digital manipulation.
Lucy is an artist who enjoys experimenting with underpainting techniques to produce atmospheric landscapes and street scenes. She has a particular interest in using light to convey a mood.
Inspired by JMW Turner and Monet, Lucy returned to painting more seriously during her recovery. ‘I’ve used my creativity as a focus, a way to express my feelings and to challenge myself in new ways’.
‘T’ I know a boy who’s amazing and starring in a new show It’s very ad lib as the writer, makes up the script on the go. He can’t rehearse in advance at all As the scenes depend on those things That you can’t foresee or expect ahead It’s chance writes the songs that he sings. He has to accept that his part in this play Requires that he acts on a set With a host of unfathomable stimuli A lot he won’t comprehend yet. Of course, it isn’t a solo, and It’s a performance that’s never the same And the cast is a cast of too many So confusion and wonderment reign. But the closest to him are the players Who are there every morning and night, The ones who love him exactly because he is who he is and just right. Now the play has been given a new name that explains everything hitherto And the scenes won’t be played in the dark anymore As the light has begun to shine through. Gail Squires
John Kay’s artwork is influenced by and in the spirit of some of the Dadaist movement’s key protagonists - Picabia, Max Ernst, Man Ray. Their invented language of expression and the utilisation of industrial components such as photo montage and the assemblage of found and manufactured elements is evident in much of John’s work. Guerrilla expression, through manipulated imagery, collage and free form.
John has worked on and offshore in heavy industry in East Africa and elsewhere, something reflected in the dystopian landscapes of the familiar and the obscure that he creates.
John is a consummate observer, his photographic imagery transcends the snapshot into a smashed-up diamond, crystalline shards of knowingness embedded into obscure mystery of the everyday as if revelation comes in that fleeting nanosecond of a cosmic rail journey.
PFW Wolf was born and raised in Essex before moving to the North East to read Psychology at Newcastle and be drawn into a community which educated, supported and allowed her to blossom out of addiction. Art being one of the few activities which could soothe both whilst in and emerging from addiction, it struck a psychological chord and she became fascinated with how art, the mind and the brain interact.
This led to discovering she had tetra chromatic colour vision, an extra dimension of colour perception which allows a particular interpretation of flesh tones and appears to explain a long-held fascination with life drawing.
Recent works have been hugely therapeutic, giving PFW Wolf the chance to learn through play rather than more rigorous structures applied in the past. She enjoys the end products but their purpose at this point is to enjoy their creation more.
Composition is influenced by urban landscapes, a sense of saturation of advertising imagery in the city environment, and the figures are a response to the proliferation of nude distorted women surrounding her. These are frequently chaotic, featuring several textures, makeup and finishes. Other drawn pieces are more meditative, solving puzzles and ordering her mind.
PAUL S L RICHARDSON - CHUTE
Paul S L Richardson - Chute was born in Wallsend. He lives and makes his art in the North East of England. Paul is a sculptor, a painter, a musician and poet. He creates abstract as well as representational works, with his abstract preference tending towards process rather than of choice. Paul is a surrealist.
He began his art education in 2002 at North Tyneside College, now TyneMet, where he gained a Foundation Degree in Fine Art. This led to a BA in Fine Art from Northumbria University in 2006 and an MA in Fine Art in 2007 at Sunderland University.
Paul says of his art and recovery, “I got into recovery through art and I got into art by being in recovery. They go hand in hand, I don’t think I could be doing one without the other.” Paul claims to have no particular subject or theme to his visual art practise but reflects that time and again, often after the work is in progress or is finished, how personal to himself the works are.
Paul has exhibited nationally and internationally, most notably as part of a group exhibition within the European Parliament Building in Brussels in 2010.
He is a volunteer for Changing Lives where he facilitates weekly art recovery groups at the Recovery Centre on Newcastle Quayside, Gateshead and Blyth Oaktrees and at Northumberland Recovery Partnership at Blyth.
Paul currently has a studio within Cullercoats Art Studios, situated in the Co-Op building on John Street, Cullercoats.
Mathew was introduced to art while receiving treatment in a psychiatric ward. He says that he now paints for “the therapeutic and meditative affects and joyous values of losing yourself in the painting.”
Mathew grew up thinking that art was something you had to train in and that you had to be able to draw accurately. He takes a different view now, believing that his art “is like finding and refining my soul in a very conscious way”. Mathew attempts to capture the creative dreamers mind in his work. He encourages the painting to show him the direction it wants to go in and finds the whole process magical.
Mathew is keen to encourage people who previously thought they couldn’t paint or draw to give it a go and unlock the magic within them. He believes that art has made him more complete as a human being and finds peace both physically and mentally in the process. Art is ‘doing for him what he couldn’t do for himself’, to paraphrase an often-quoted line from recovery literature.
KIRSTEN MURRAY BORBJERG
Kirsten is an artist living and working in the North East of England. As her name suggests, she is not of English heritage. She has a Scottish mother and a Danish father and grew up on a diet of Hans Christian Anderson stories and Scottish folklore.
Growing up within two cultures, speaking two languages and being part of a family that really valued storytelling sparked an early curiosity in identity, community and creativity. That curiosity has grown into a love of art, photography, poetry and social justice.
In 2008 Kirsten began exploring themes connected with recovery within her work. Kirsten has always found creativity to be a helpful way of working through and processing complex issues.
Her drinking (Kirsten is a recovering alcoholic) had dried up the creative well towards it’s end. Getting into recovery and re-engaging with a creative life felt to her like she was coming back to life again, and in a really vivid way.
Her creative rebirth, so to speak, really pushed her artwork towards themes of spirituality and faith. Identity and community are still very present themes in her work, enriching her new creative interests.
Despite a long term interest in art, photography and fashion, Erica only began drawing and painting very recently. Nine years into recovery, Erica found herself in a great deal of emotional pain around changes in her working environment.
Erica wanted to try something that did not require the intellectual striving that was causing her so much distress, and found relief in taking up watercolours. She found a new avenue of focus and expression in painting and drawing which helped her to make the life changing decision to retire from her much loved career in Clinical Psychology. She continues to draw and paint for pleasure.
Erica’s portraits are of people in her community. She takes great pleasure in watching the picture on the page become the person she knows. As her skills and confidence grow, so does her desire to go further.
Derek was 23 years old when he stopped drinking. He had spent a number of years in treatment at mental hospitals. Derek spent his early years in recovery working for Newcastle City Council social services as a care worker. After ten years of service he suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with bi-polar affective disorder. Always interested in art, Derek took a short foundation course at Tyne Metropolitan College while recovering from the breakdown.
He applied for and was accepted into Sunderland University to study for a BA in Fine Art, graduating with second class honours in 2000. He often visited St Nicholas Cathedral during his active years of addiction to admire the stained-glass windows, never suspecting that one day he would exhibit his work alongside them.
FRANK LEE SMITH
Frank Lee Smith studied three-dimensional design, specialising in furniture design at De Montfort University Leicester in 1999. Lee worked for several years as a painter in a studio within a mental health project before studying for a Masters in Fine Art at Sunderland University, where he was awarded a First Class degree.
Mindfulness meditation and psychology influence his creative process. Lee’s interests and influences include metamorphosis, anthropomorphism, nature, photography, fashion, design, architecture, interior design, lighting, sculpture, painting and collage.
The Betty Capri collection (2018), was made at ReCoCo, a peer led mental health recovery college. The work is inspired by the work and life of fashion designer Alexander McQueen and Lee’s reaction to the Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui directed documentary about his life and untimely death.
Kala O'Neill is a neurodivergent fine and performance artist who works in multimedia. Mainly their work focuses on portraits but they also create abstract, conceptual pieces sometimes with a shock art theme and installations. Kala has recently been involved as a contributing artist to two separate projects which each won Arts Council England Best Newcomer Award 2 years consecutively, at the Journal Culture Awards, North East. Themes represented in Kala’s practice include neurobiology, political science, machines, anthropology, religious or spiritual entheogenic mysticism, pharmacology, emergence and transmutation, entropy and atrophy, and revolution or cycles. An unconventional journey to their practice, Kala only has 1 GCSE and that’s in Art. Kala is also a qualified aircraft mechanic and dialectical behavioral therapist.
CiCi Reagan is a poet, recovering addict, and domestic abuse survivor. Her writing is an effort to end stigmas and empower those who suffer when love is used as a weapon. Having moved to the UK from North Carolina in 2017, she offers a unique perspective on cultural approaches to drinking, abuse, and wellness in general. She also explores the ideas of atheism and feminism in recovery which typically has religious leanings and was originally created by and oriented toward men. CiCi has shared her story for years on reaganeyes.com and is passionate about helping others find healing.