Artist Feature #1: Adam Foxford
As part of The 888 Creative Collective initiative we select one artist every month to feature on our social media platforms and blog. We work with artists working with or making work about mental health issues, giving them a space to share their work and openly discuss what it’s like to explore your mental health through creativity. On the blog we’re spotlighting individuals from a variety of backgrounds to portray a diverse range of stories and symptoms, with the view to educate and enlighten our readers to gain an accurate picture of what daily life with a mental illness looks like. This month we spoke to Adam Foxford, a quirky freelance illustrator born and raised in a small town in Kent.
WARNING: Adam's artwork is vivid and challenging and depicts mental health issues from his perspective. POTENTIAL TRIGGER IMAGES.
Adam, when did you first start making art and what inspired you?
I began creating art at a very young age. I was raised on late night anime on TV and video tapes thanks to my dad and older siblings. My eldest brother was an incredible artist able to recreate photographs with nothing but a pencil and much to his chagrin I persistently pestered him to teach me to draw. He would always say he just draws what he sees. That didn’t work for me. I eventually began to learn that it’s not about replicating life or characters, it was about creating them. Creating a believable story no matter how it's presented.
As time went on I also fell in love with movies, my dad and brothers introduced me to comics, and I started to realise the wealth of creativity out there was endless and achievable. These forms of entertainment weren’t created by unimaginable beings, they were made by people who worked hard. Without my family and my eldest brother’s inspiring artistic prowess I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I was inspired by anime and my oldest brother’s artwork at a very young age so I feel I had a strong catalyst to grow from.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal mental health struggles?
Growing up watching anime my head was always in the clouds, or beyond. It’s safe to say I was not prepared for the real world or the emotions that come with growing up. I was a child in a 16 year old’s body just observing what was deemed as normal and doing my best to force myself in; a puzzle piece that never quite fit. The only problem with that is no one can keep it up forever and eventually the facade breaks down. My relationship at the time fell apart in a really dark way and suddenly my act shattered. My childish ideologies couldn’t comprehend the threat of suicide, someone wanting to end their life. To me death was a thing that only happened in the movies, by gun, sword or old age. But someone my age telling me they would end their life if I wasn’t in It, how could I possibly get my head around that. I would later learn that the threat was a throw away comment but one that had an extremely severe effect on me.
It wouldn’t be until nearly 5 years later that I told my parents about what happened. I bottled everything up inside and it tore me apart every single day. I shut myself in and the real world just became way too much for me. Not knowing who I was, meant I didn’t know how to act around others. I didn’t have an identity of my own and had no idea who I could talk to.
It’s hard for me to comprehend really as I spent my hardest years not knowing what it was I was battling against, it was just this huge black hole in my life that seemed to suck all the life out of me. I eventually came to understand that this was severe social anxiety and a deep depression. The first years were the hardest with no control, helplessness and feelings of suicide at the forefront of my mind. I feel lucky that despite it all I’ve always had a rational and considerate mind. I understood that ending my life would only leave questions and cause my feelings to multiply and live on through others who I cared about. I saw it as a personal battle that no one else deserved to deal with.
I took great comfort in music, listening to songs and artists that seemed to match my feelings at the time. Something about the songs spoke to me and handed me a great deal of comfort. It wasn’t until I met my wife that it was pointed out to me just how poignant the music I listened to was, as if my subconscious knew everything that was going on inside me and did everything it could to show me I wasn’t alone.
I eventually was encouraged to go to counselling by a friend, it took a lot to go but I threw myself into it with a lot of hesitation. Unfortunately my experience with it was horrendous, I felt probed and alienated by my counsellor who seemed to see me as more of an experiment for awkward behaviour.
The take away from it was that I started talking to a girl who is now my wife. I started testing the waters at work by saying I was going to counselling, throwing humour in to alleviate the pain and fear. This girl at work who I had a distaste for started to talk to me about it, turns out she had been to counselling through the same place. We explored our emotions together and it felt good to learn and grow emotionally. I was never pushed or forced, she eased me into learning to open up and eventually it became easy to talk to her. These days are the best I’ve ever had and that’s all thanks to my wife. No matter how dark it gets for me I know now that there’ll always be a light by my side. I still have long spells of depression but it’s easier because I have my wife there to support me through it, to let me work through it safely and in my own time.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to create art that has purpose and not just being art for art’s sake.
My anxiety is a constant and I don’t think it will ever go away. I’m not okay with that but it’s a part of me and I have to accept that. I’ve grown acutely aware of my triggers and I try to moderate my exposure to them, trying not to get down when I relapse and fall apart. Learn from each set back. Don’t give up because it’s hard, every day is hard yet you’re still here trying and don’t you ever stop.
How does mental health affect you in the workplace?
Work was hard at first, I worked at McDonald’s and that is not a good environment for someone suffering like I was. No routine, no care for the staff, a manic environment and a lot of noise. In a workplace you have to work as a team and consider each others feelings, but when you’re feelings are so personal, deep and complicated how are you meant to convey that to your colleagues. You survive each day by flicking auto-pilot on and getting through. I wanted out as soon as I started there. 7 years later I finally got a new job providing support for victims of crime but the road was so hard. I feel like there’s still a long way to go when it comes to fighting the stigma behind mental health. Applying for jobs and going to interviews is not well suited to those struggling on their journeys and I truly feel more awareness needs to be made and help given to those trying to find work when suffering with mental health. That's what drew me to the 888 Collective, a team with an objective that ticks all the boxes for what I feel are the biggest practical hurdles for those with mental health struggles. How could I not offer my support to that. Be the change you want to see and I’m truly glad to have stumbled across this team. The 888 have a mission statement that lines up with all the issues I became aware of as I developed my knowledge of my own tribulations. We need people who have lived it to be the ambassadors for mental health awareness because no one else could possibly understand. The goals of the 888 are practical, it’s more than raising awareness with words, it’s giving opportunity to those with none, lending hope to those who lost their own.
Does mental health affect your art practice?
Definitely, it’s both a help and a hindrance. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to create art that has purpose and not just being art for art’s sake. I still have a long way to go, no one’s journey is truly over.
I don’t know what I’d be creating without the influence of my mental health. Through the pain and darkness I found purpose but that does come with it’s own issues. When I’m doing okay and coping well I don’t want to create, I have no inspiration. Although I’m no famous artist or creator by any stretch of the imagination, I have a niche following and when I’m doing well mentally and not creating I feel like I’ve abandoned that half of me. It can really get me down. I think it’s the pressure of social media that feeds your anxiety. You see people posting these incredible illustrations and stories online every day and think you’re not doing enough. I have to constantly remind myself that my art is not my job, I wish it was but it isn't. We can’t, as creators struggling with our very personal mental health journeys, exhaust ourselves trying to keep pace with everyone else. Go at your own pace, your happiness is truly paramount.
On that note, do you have any advice for other artists with mental health issues?
It’s okay if you never become a great success. The art industry is one of the toughest industries to thrive in. People forget that a lot of famous artists died having never experienced fame, and it was only after they died that they were considered great. Yet why did they keep creating? Because they were doing what they loved. Remember that. Do what you love whatever it is and don’t just get stuck thinking you’re an artist with a pencil or brush. The way I see it, if you just pursue happiness and create a better life for yourself doing what makes you happy, then you’re the best artist you can be. You’ve created something beautiful.
Support Adam and the Collective by purchasing an original piece or print, available now in our artist online store: https://www.the888collective.com/shop-artists
You can see more of Adam’s work on instagram at @adamhurfordart or email firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions, commissions, or queries.