Welcome to my first Shanahan studio session interview, and I couldn’t have asked for a better guest than Edward Quigley or Ed. Who is Ed? He is a visual artist and photographer, and works from his studio at Blue House yard in Wood Green, North London. In this interview we discuss topics such as art, the impact of covid-19 on retail, mental health, overcoming corporate burnout and finding your life's passion and purpose.
H: Hello, Ed, welcome to Shanahan Studio Session. Tell me about your background, how did you get into art? What age did you find that you were artistically gifted?
E: There might be some people who have questioned whether I’m artistically gifted, at 43 years of age, but I had an aptitude in school, for drawing and all the rest of it, and I was naturally drawn to creative stuff, music and all the rest of it. And, and that was all good and well. What I didn’t know when I was a child, is that I’ve got ADHD, and that was only diagnosed last year. So the reason why I’m telling you that is because what would happen quite a lot when I was young, so I would try my hand, the guitar or drawing, show some aptitude but then lose interest really quickly. And I kind of gained a reputation as someone who was flaky and what we didn’t know, my family and myself, we didn’t know that I had ADHD. And that was why I wasn’t able to carry on focusing. So the short answer, I suppose to your question is, it was always there. But I never, I never kind of expanded on it. When I left school at 16, I went straight into work. And I grew up in a family where paying the rent and getting food was important. And so there wasn’t much appetite for looking at lines of work that were very reliable, do you know what I mean?
H: Yes, I definitely can relate to that.
E: At 16, you’ve got to go out and get a job. And you know, sitting there and painting or drawing was not part of that. So I went off, and did you know, whatever, I did have started work at 16. And none of it was in the creative sector. And occasionally, I would dabble. But that was it. I think in 2012, I did an evening class in charcoal sketching. That was great fun. And then fast forward to recently, I did a charity auction in May 2019. And I did a few ink and graphite sketches of former Arsenal footballers. And because of friends of friends, I managed to get those footballers to sign the works.
And they sold it was really successful. And that in May 2019, that was the moment when that voice inside me said hold on a moment, you really like doing this, it appears that you’ve got a little bit of aptitude, maybe follow up. And so I didn’t really it wasn’t so much that I made an active decision. It was just, I really enjoyed it. And so I kept at it. And I kept sketching, I made a few gifts for friends. And then I became really ill with my day job. So I’m the chief executive of a social enterprise in Hackney, the stress and anxiety from the job made me very ill, I had to take some time out.
And that was the moment in 2020, early 2020, when I kind of had a really serious chat with myself. And as if there wasn’t enough going on in 2020, anyway, you know what I mean? But I kind of had a chat with myself and realized that I wasn’t happy. Yeah. Really, really, really unhappy, deeply unhappy. And it was making me ill. Yeah. So I finally, I kind of almost said the words to myself, you know, I kind of came to the decision. I don’t want to and I can’t do this job. It affects me too much. And I think because I left school at 16 and didn’t get any grades didn’t do well at school. We know now that it was because of ADHD. When I became a chief executive, the first time around, which was back in 2013. I was really proud of it, obviously.
And then and that that first round caused me stress and then the second CEO role. Again, very proud, but it caused me a lot of stress. And I kind of thought to myself, well, why? Who’s telling you have to be a CEO? Why’d you have to do that? And so it was a real seismic year last year. And the end result is that I was made redundant, but I kind of spoke to my boss and it was a kind of voluntary redundancy. I’ve got my studio here and Blue House yard in August 2019. And in 2020, I made a decision that artwork and creativity, that’s going to be my full time pursuit. And then I’m going to fill around that with little part time bits of work. And I don’t have the same disposable income. I’m completely uncertain about where the money is going to come from. But I’ll find a way.
H: I have so many questions to ask you from that period in your life. How old were you when you pinpointed the root of, your restlessness in school?
E: That’s a good question. I mean, look, it’s hard because what are we like when we’re kids, we’re hyper and we’re, you know, we’re not listening. And we struggle to focus, because doing maths is not as interesting as talking to mate Matty about the football last night. So I can understand why it was difficult for teachers or my family to spot it. But, but that said, I distinctly remember at about nine or 10 years of age, and for those listening, you know, I’m born in 1977 so we’re talking about the late 80s. And my parents spoke to our, our family GP about my hyperactivity. And, I mean, I was 10, less than 10. So I wasn’t privy to the conversations, but basically, somehow, between them, they thought, I’ll tell you what it is, is that cut is the orange coloring that is in smarties in Smarties and orange squash, which was in the news, big time is called tartrazine, eat one or two.
And they said, we’ll cut that out of his diet and that should sort it out which was nonsense. You know, they cut out my diet, but it didn’t address anything. And then, you know, secondary school was a nightmare. And then when I went into the world of work, well, that was a rude awakening. But I actually fared better in the work environment than I did in school, because I don’t learn by you standing at the front of the class telling me that two plus two is four or I need to get four blocks. I think I’m doing myself right. So it’s hard for you. I’m giving you long answers here. But the short answer to your question is there actually it didn’t, it didn’t dawn on me that I had ADHD until I was diagnosed in May last year, when I was diagnosed, and you hear people saying, you know, the kind of chorus of angels It was, like a massive light was shone on the entirety of my life.
H: You explained a lot of things that are really insightful and interesting, because mental health issues are completely thrown under the rug in Ireland and I think here in the UK it is similar. Only in the last few years, the light has shone on these issues and things are getting better.
E: Well, that’s no surprise. But yeah, what I think you know, and what your readers don’t know. But yeah, I’m, I’m not Irish. I’m not born in Ireland, but my family is Irish. And my culture is Irish. And, you know, mental health was never, no one talked about. And, you know, you probably know yourself, it was, you know, when times are tough, you get on with it. And it was, there was an assumption, wrongly, that that the recent trend in embracing mental health and trying to remove the stigma and labeling. You know, I think there’s some people with an old school mentality you think that that’s the wrong thing to do. Because once you give it a once you give it a label, then it’s a thing and you’re not getting on with life. But that’s, that’s all shit. We know from Ireland and, and cultures and generations gone by that an awful lot of people live very unhappy, abusive lives. Because you get on with it.
H: Back home, there is this mentality of what will the neighbour say if they heard you speak about your mental health issues? In primary school, we’re taught about first aid kits, how to physically fix us. They teach us everything with the physical aspect and how to swim etc. Basically physically how to survive, but mentally, they don’t teach us how to mend our mind or how to take care of it.
E: Or to recognise.
H: It’s amazing to see things are changing with the younger generation. But I think there’s still a lot more work to be done. Taraji P. Henson is one my favorite actresses, and she talks about mental health in the black community that there’s a huge stigma with mental health in it. I always listen to her speaking about mental health issues she has dealt with, and it is refreshing to hear her be so open and honest. And it’s not just the black , Asian or white community that have a negative stigma with speaking about mental health. I think it’s a general human thing.
E: Yeah, I think there is a global ignorance with cultural specifics. Yeah, almost absolutely, you know, and we know in Ireland, the church was the big, big thing. If you were in with the priest, you’re the talk of the town, all this nonsense and overcoming those cultural barriers. The weakness that is associated with admitting to struggling and it is, you know, it’s horseshit because mental health issues are clinical. They’re not wooly fabrication. ADHD is a learning disability where there is a, you know, the neuro processing is different. And, and also, and it’s worth saying, it’s not, it’s not all bad, you know, with ADHD.
The negatives, you know, you could list not being able to focus your mind going 100 miles a minute. But then the flip side of the positives, there’s something called hyper focus, and what people will add a lot of people with ADHD, when they are adequately stimulated by a task. They’re like a Tasmanian devil, they’ll smash into it. And I’m really like that myself. So when it comes to, I’m sure, we might talk about it a bit, you know, the art markets that I’ve organized here, because I was so into it stimulated and engaged, I smashed through it and, and they went really well. And a lot of that is down to fortune and other people, but a chunk of it is down to the energy I had to go into it, which is definitely part of that ADHD.
H: How did you seek help for ADHD?
E: For the last two years, I have been working with a therapist, who has been amazing. My own personal development from seeing a therapist for the past two years has been huge. And it’s been brilliant and even the ADHD aside, my own kind of personal development as a result of seeing my therapist the last two years has been huge, but it was you know, working with her name’s Dee working with her has helped immensely. I learned more on my behaviors and, and what has quickly become clear that I’m detached from a lot of negative feelings, I’ve kind of put them away somewhere and I never, I don’t sit with them. I can’t be with my loneliness, I can’t be with my sadness, it gets in the way, which is not healthy. So I am working with her and, and, and it wasn’t it didn’t come from her, but I just, you know, I was unhappy, really unhappy. And I thought something else here and I started looking into ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, you know, looked at those quickly ruled out the BPD, and more severe kind of learning difficulties or mental health things, and ADHD, the symptoms really, really shouted out to me the the inability to focus the difficulty, you know, interrupting people, because I feel I have to get out what I’m thinking of wise, it will disappear, because that’s how my brain works.
I went to the NHS, and it’s an 18 month Wait, right? So I have some savings. And I thought, I don’t want to wait 18 months, so I went private, was diagnosed, took my private diagnosis to the NHS to then try and get some treatment. And they went, yeah, you still need to get our assessment. So I had a bit of a back and forth with the NHS, but thankfully, I’ve got a session with them in December, which was a brief assessment, they confirmed the diagnosis. And now I’m talking to the GP about starting treatment. And, you know, for readers treatment is, is basically Ritalin, yes, it is, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s a form of medicated, amphetamine that helps you to focus almost blinkers you so that the task at hand that’s in front of you, that occupies your mind and not the phone, out of the peripheral of your vision, shouting, look at Twitter, look at Instagram, you know, that gets, that gets blanked out. And I’m really lucky that I had a friend, I have a friend who as an adult, although younger than me, as an adult, was diagnosed with ADHD.
So I’ve, I’ve picked her brains a lot, which has been really useful. But what I would say to readers is, if you have a concern, you have read up on it, go to the NHS website, go to the British association of counselors and psychologists, you know, accredited websites, read a little bit of the symptoms resonate, speak to your GP, because whilst a full assessment can take 12 to 18 months on the NHS, you can get a brief assessment very quickly, it doesn’t tell you that you’ve definitely got it, but it rules you out if you haven’t. And it’s really useful, you know, and, and when I had my assessment, what the physiatrist said to me at the end was, you know, I’ve, because I’ve had to develop my workarounds for some of the negative symptoms of ADHD.
And that, you know, such as writing lists, because my brain and my memory I’ve got, honestly, if any of my ex girlfriends read this, there’ll be like that, that explains it, because he doesn’t remember anything. I can’t remember anything about my life. But I’ve got a weird memory when it comes to numbers and certain details I can read off to you my first phone number when I was seven years of age. Yeah. So, you know, you, I guess the body, the mind builds its own work arounds where it can and then where it can’t? Well, you know, that’s where you have issues and all the rest of it.
But it was Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s hard to, you can’t I can’t give advice to anyone that says if you’re feeling this or experiencing that, then you’ve got ADHD because all of the things that people with ADHD have, people without ADHD also have that you will, you know, you’ll come in to your studio, tomorrow morning, you’ll be faced with a task that you don’t fancy doing, you’ll put it on the long finger and then when you need to do it, you’ll do it. The difference with ADHD sufferers, is even sometimes when you have to do it, there can be a mental block and it doesn’t get done. So when I spoke to the psychiatrist, he asked me Have you ever been fired from any jobs? And I said no. He said that’s really unusual because the later you are in life, the your diagnosis of ADHD, the greater the chance that at some point, you’ve lost the job because your symptoms have meant the and done something you forgot to do something and you know, you face the consequences.
H: Yeah, absolutely. And so you were in school in a period of the early 80’s. In Ireland during these times the church was still a big part of the society. Condoms were illegal in Ireland until 1985. Were things similar growing up in London in the 80’s or did you have a more liberal society? Were there available classes for art in your school? Did you realise that you had a gift at that age?
E: No. Well, it’s interesting. That’s really interesting. We say that because I do you agree to a certain extent, I think I disagree slightly, I’ll tell you what, I think because I think that there’s no anyone that has any understanding of the Irish cannot talk about the Irish culture, and not include the creative culture that exists within the Irish singing, dancing, writing, you know, for such a small island population, we’ve produced some global names in terms of writing music, but it it’s kind of it’s how it’s how that creativity is recognised by society. And it’s kind of like how I remember getting wheeled out to sing back in Spancil Hill when I was young, you know, most of our family dues, and that’s all going well, but then if you turn around and say, Well, I’d like to sing for me money, and or paint or draw, then no, no, no, no, hold on. That’s all fine in the family and in social work, but now you need to go work and have a proper job, you know, in quote, marks.
And I, you know, my family were nurturing my creative skills, but they always in a capacity that I think they saw it as a hobby. In the same way as I get a football, I get a bite, yeah, he wants a keyboard to play music on he wants to draw, let him do that. It’s a good use of his time, but it was never, it was never seen as something that could develop beyond being a hobby for a child. And, you know, I’m not too down on my parents because they were part of that generation, and the mindset that existed, but but now with hindsight, and you and you look at some of the measures that are taken today to try and introduce to young people, opportunities for creativity, it’s a shame it is a shame that it wasn’t recognised, perhaps recognised or or given a bit more credence and a bit more value you know, in this this this might not be something he does for half an hour of an evening to distract himself. It might be that this is something far bigger than that. That was never looked at.
H: Did you have any creative people in your family?
E: My dad was in a brass band in school. My mum was quite a good drawer herself but again she you know, it’s cyclical she went through what I went through, you know, that’s all good and well, but you need to go to work and work. You know, there are many accessible jobs for people without grades that require you to sit at home and draw all day and get the money that you need to put rent in, you know, put food on the table and pay rent. So they went through the same thing. And I think that, that’s why I think that’s what families are, isn’t it? Yeah, you kind of repeat what’s gone on before?
E: Yeah, for better or worse.
H: I have a similar background to you, with my family, there’s not one creative, my dad’s a farmer, my mom’s a healthcare worker. I grew up with no creative person around me. I used to always love fashion magazines from a young age, like ten years old. My whole room was like a canvas of a magazine. I didn’t know that this is something I could do full time as a job and make a living from, until I left school, went to college and was on my own. I started reading books about finding your purpose and finding your life’s passion. And I came across this book called Ikigai, it means “a reason for being” and there are four components: passion, vocation, profession and mission. This concept came from the Japanese, they are the healthiest human beings in the world, and they live up to 120 years old. Their mantra in life, their main purpose, once they are born, is to find their passion. And they live simply, like, you know, they don’t have much access to electricity, they grow all their own crops. They’re so happy.
And you know, especially when I was in school, we were not talking about passion or purpose. When we are born, we are not given instructions, or a manual, telling you, this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. You have to find out yourself, find your way, find your passion, like no one’s going to tell you what it is, you have to find it yourself. And I feel like some people are scared to search for it, like, you know, if they find it, they think to themselves this is too good to be true. Because they feel like life needs to be complicated or needs to be hard or work needs to be blood, sweat and tears and have a mental heaviness to it.
And once you find your passion you kind of get scared because I was the same as you, I was in corporate. My director was like my mentor. And he said to me, I know you’re not happy. You need to leave this industry, take some time out, and you need to find your passion. He said to me you are good at what you do, but you force yourself to be here. And he’s like, you need to take a year out, you need to find out who you are. In the back of my mind, like subconsciously, I knew it was fashion, but I was so afraid of going for it and ended up going to New York by myself in pursuit of my passion. Because I was like, life is not meant to be this easy when I was working in fashion. Does this make sense?
E: Yeah, it makes sense. And I’m sure it makes sense to the people reading this because modern Western society does not in my opinion, does not make it easy for us to be happy. You know, what an odd way that we live, that actually, we willingly make it really hard for ourselves to be happy. And what I often say to people is the first hurdle that I think a lot of people don’t overcome in terms of pursuing their passions is in their own head. You know, it’s that it’s that voice inside of us that says, you’re not good enough. You can’t do that. And that voice is fueled by what we experienced by what the world gives us. You know, I don’t think you know, of course, you get different personalities, and there’d be some children that are extroverts and others are more quieter, but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’m talking about having the hunger and the confidence to pursue something and it kind of gets beaten out of you.
H: Most definitely.
E: And without, you know, coming across like a technophobe. Yeah. But social media is, is, in my opinion, really, really part of the problem. And it can be a wonderful part of the solution. But trolling the criticism, that can be meted out very easily on social media can condense so many people’s confidence so quickly. The good thing about me, and it must, I don’t know if it’s the ADHD or if I’ve got some other mental issues, but the voice inside me says, You can’t do that isn’t very loud. And so when I have an idea, I think, Well, why can’t I do it? You know, and then if I do it, and it doesn’t work, what, you know, who’s died, and, you know, so I’m lucky, I think I’m lucky and you know, resourceful. And so when I’ve thought about trying my hand at something, I’ve gone and done it. So, you know, previously, I’ve done stand up comedy. I have sung in a band, because I wanted to do it. And, and I’m really pleased about that. And I wouldn’t be sitting here today with you in my studio If I didn’t have that about me. And I haven’t really gotten to the bottom of why, in my head. That voice isn’t so domineering. And I do think as much as I might criticize my family in certain areas, I think an awful lot of it is down to them, because one of the things they were very good at was instilling confidence in me because I’ve got a lazy eye. And when I was young, before I had an operation, I was 10. I was on a bus and got picked on remorselessly at school.
But my parents were really good at building a defense in me. And they kind of, I think the message was if you don’t love yourself, no one else will. And you will you and that’s the end of it. Right? And they’re almost very Matter of fact, you know, I don’t mean these exact words we use, but it was kind of like, well, you haven’t got 10 grand to have some kind of plastic surgery. So you’re going to have to accept what you are, or you’re going to be very unhappy for the rest of your life. And that’s not a good option. So there were some definite good points from my upbringing about the confidence that they instilled in me, but obviously some elements around the creativity that might have been a bit neglected.
H: An overall overview of this part of the conversation is, life is so simple, but us humans complicate it. I will never forget the day my director simply asked me what do you want to do? I said I wanted to work in the fashion industry. He said; why don’t you do it? Like, it’s so simple? Why don’t you do it, like just literally so simple. I told him I can’t, I said this is what I am meant to do for the rest of my life. I had such a bad mentality at the time, my world was a little bleak. I was only 21 years old at the time, still figuring things out like most of us at that age. And in our minds, our mind literally becomes such a jungle of thousands of thoughts per second.
E: Pulling and pushing and pushing and pulling and pushing.
H: It just complicates life so much, but when you calm your mind the answers come flooding in. I don’t have any news apps, I don’t watch the news. I just like to be silent sometimes. I just like silence.
E: You know, there’s a thing called COVID. Right? (Laughs)
H: I know it’s been a crazy year and I also am an introvert. But I think by silencing your mind, things start to unravel. We just make life so complicated sometimes. Another question I have for you is, I think 99% of the readers have experienced bullying in their life and you said that you as a kid and being a teenager was tough dealing with bullies. I have similar experiences with that as a teenager, probably the worst period in my life so far and my mental health was at its lowest, because from 13 to 17, you’re trying to figure yourself out, you have growing pains which I suffered a lot in silence. It impacted my football capabilities because when I was playing I was constantly in pain.
I went to see so many doctors about it and I finally found out it was simply growing pains. My muscles were growing too fast for my bones and had to wear a brace on my leg for 3 years, and now I stand at 6ft tall. When I was 14 years old I grew 3 inches in one summer, my eyesight went from being -1.75 to -5 (I could not wear contacts for the life of me so I was half way being blind) in the space of two years, hormonal changes, severe acne, glasses, depression, anxiety, braces, bad hair cuts, everything you’re going through probably the toughest most awkward stage of your life and to top things off you are trying to stay sane while dealing with a bully or in some cases bullies. You're transitioning into a young adult and I was just a kid. I had one leg in the door of being a kid and the other of an adult. And anyone going through a tough time in their life because of these issues or dealing with bullies, how can you navigate them? How did you deal with the difficult days dealing with your bullies?
E: Wow. Yeah, well, what a great question. By being deeply unhappy for a very long time. I didn’t know it. So even, in talking to my counsellor you know, I would recall that as a kid at some point between 12 and 15 you know, there would be many instances at night where I’d be in bed, and I’d be punching the wall, because I’d have anger and unhappiness in me, and what it was at school. I was so placid. I just would not fight back until one day Fwhere the Celtic temper along with a lack of tolerance I really lost it.
H: At the end of the day we are human we all reach our limits.
E: So I reached my limit and went over it and reacted really badly to someone who’d been bullying me for two or three years, so deserved exactly what he got. And then and then after that, I fought everyone. And someone would say boo. And I’d be ready to have a fight.
H: Was this during your teenage years?
E: Yeah, that was when I was 14. And so the last couple of years at secondary or high school I wasn’t putting up with it anymore. Which in a way is a good thing. But I’ve swung the other way. And I was, I was too ready to be confrontational, too aggressive, which I think was a you know, a kind of build up.
H: It was a defense mechanism for you.
E: Yeah. So it was, it was awful, and really unpleasant. And what did I do with all that unpleasantness? Well, I just kind of bottled it down somewhere, it didn’t really go anywhere. And you know, my family were brilliant, really, they wanted to help, but when you’re a kid at school, you’d be able to, you don’t want to tell him when you’re scared of telling anyone and all of that. So it was really difficult. And I found that getting out of school was absolutely wonderful. Getting out of the school environment, academic environment was brilliant. And when I was in work, I had more value, I was valued higher, I had my own kind of, I was a person in my own right and there was nowhere near absolutely nowhere near the number of people that for no apparent reason wanted to take a swipe. Now, the school I went to was rough when I went there. But my problem is that I feel my heart for kids. But then I speak to young kids now and that I was so naive as a kid, I was so naive. So I think I was just I don’t know, I think a unique combination of the wrong school at the wrong time. with ADHD that was not diagnosed and a personality that was probably a little bit sensitive. Also a bit of a smart ass. I mean, I was my own worst enemy, because I wouldn’t back down. So a big kid would come up to me and say something, and I didn’t give it right back. Yeah, so I didn’t exactly help myself.
H: Looking back, what would you tell your younger self? How would you deal with things differently? Do you ever reminisce back to those times and wish I did this differently?
E: You know, that’s a really good question, because I’ll tell you why. I think a lot of it came from now, I think the lobby came from ADHD and not not feeling happy in school and comfortable in school. Yeah, so during classes, I would play up. And I think quite rightly, that would sometimes piss off other students. And you know, so I wasn’t again, I wasn’t helping myself. So I think, you know, what did I do? In terms of advice to give myself, one piece of advice would have been tailored to that.
Not try and be a smartass and be right all the time. But then another very important bit of advice would have been going and speaking to someone about ADHD and trying to get diagnosed early. Because I think if I did get that diagnosis early, and then there were provisions, it could have made an enormous difference. Huge. Then again, if I, you know, I’ve got no regrets. The difficulties in secondary school set me up for life thereafter. Would I change it? I suppose I would, I wouldn’t want to go through it. Yeah. But equally, I’m quite happy at where I am now. Yeah. Which is a product of all of those things.
H: Exactly. That’s it. That’s exactly how I feel it’s like, going through those tough days at school make you the person you are today. Obviously going through them difficult days alone is tough but it makes you stronger and definitely wiser.
And my next topic, I’m going to speak about is corporate life. So we both worked in corporate, and drifted out of it, did you feel like your work life balance while you were in corporate was an absolute mess? Did you feel bogged down by corporate life? And you know, there was so much pressure on you, as you said, to be the CEO and to be the big guy? Or how did that affect you?
E: Yeah, I mean, my career before my artwork, you could, we could probably break it down into two different kinds of periods. The initial period was where I was the corporate time where I worked in property and commercial property. And that first job that I had, I was in that job for six and a half years, I started as the office Junior and ended up as a manager of the department, you know, really proud of that kind of progression and stuff. And I left because I actually enjoyed the job. And I was good at it, and it involved mostly talking and anyone who’s reading this realizes, I don’t mind talking, but the thing that drove me away from it was boredom, I got bored. I taught myself website design and I went off and did that for a while and then I started questioning, without turning us into too deep a conversation, but started questioning whether or not going to work to earn money was enough.
And it didn’t feel like it was and then I kind of started to move towards kind of economic development and regeneration, where the end of not not necessarily a day’s work, but at the end of a project, you can look at something that benefits others. And a lot of what I did then was benefit, benefiting, you know, local businesses and business communities. But still, it was, you know, that recognition of work that helps others was really satisfying, there wasn’t quite enough. So then I moved further towards charity and third sector. And so I ended up working within charities, and social enterprises in community development, and working with communities, communities, within communities about empowerment, or tackling whatever the issues were. And that’s where I found myself most happy.
I suppose that with hindsight, in a way, I would have been better off staying at a certain level, where I was working with people and, and enjoying it, and, you know, earning a certain amount. But, but we’re all taught you know, you have to progress, you have to learn more about the world. So I ended up, you know, progressing and I was proud and became CEO, but then what I realized is I, you know, I took things too much to heart. And I was unable to talk about work life balance, I was completely unable to strike a healthy work life balance, because I wanted to throw my all into what I was doing. And when I did that, often, it will be successful. And it was good. But what I wasn’t realising was that the payoff was the My Health and my life away from work, which was not as rounded and complete as I would want it to be. And what I think might have accelerated over this is the fact that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2016.
And not to go into unnecessary detail, but for anyone who’s listening or reading, basically Crohn’s disease can be really really affected by stress. I mean, we you know, your digestive systems. I think a lot of us know that stress, one of the first telltale signs is your stomach.
Prime’s digestive system and all the rest of it. And so when you’ve got Crohn’s disease, and you throw into the mix of really stressful jobs, you can very quickly get quite ill. So that kind of exacerbated things, I think.
H: What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
E: That’s really, like ADHD is a hard one to answer. So obviously, ADHD affects the brain as a specific part of the brain. Crohn’s disease affects your digestive system, but it can affect you anywhere from your mouth, to your but.
H: Is that constipation or the opposite?
E: Well, it can be it can be it can be both. It can be constipation, diarrhea, it can be stomach cramps, you might find some people with Crohn’s disease are, are really, really, really, really skinny because the Crohn’s disease affects the part of their digestive system, where it stops them from taking on board the nutrients that they need. Now, I don’t have that problem. I can put on weight quite easily. For me, it’s all around the abdomen.
H: How did you get medically diagnosed by the doctors?
E: Yeah, it took a long while because I got fogged off would be the wrong word. Because that’s not, that’s not fair on the doctors. I was wrongly diagnosed. Well, not wrongly, but it was diagnosed as being stress related, right, which is, you know, in one way very right. But there was a time a couple of years ago before my last job, where I was in some real pain and discomfort. And I sent him a GP. This is not stress related. You know, I’m not working. I’m lucky touchwood I’ve got some savings. I’m not stressed. So we need to look into this. So I went and had tap checks. And that’s when it was kind of highlighted.
And I was unable to talk about work life balance, I was completely unable to strike a healthy work life balance because I wanted to throw my all into what I was doing. And when I do that, often, it will be successful. And it was good. But what I wasn’t realizing was that the payoff was My Health and, and, and my life away from work, which was not as rounded and complete as I would want it to be. And what I think might have accelerated all of this is the fact that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2016.
H: Okay, so my next question for you is when you were in the corporate world, did you feel like you were hitting a wall? And when you went into the art last year did you have more flow?
E: That’s a good question. And I can understand why you would put it that way. But it was the opposite.
E: Yeah. Because in previous jobs in either in the corporate or charity sector, I said to you a few months ago about that hyperfocus Yeah, I was really successful when, when something really got me and I was into it, right? If I wasn’t into it, then I wouldn’t do it. So I mean, I’ve left jobs without anywhere to go, because I’ve just been unhappy. And I just thought, I’m waking up deeply, I’m happy, I’m not doing this anymore. And so I just left. But when I was happy in a job, I would smash it and it would be great. And what I struggled with, with the art is a lot of mine, a lot of my early artwork, I’ll say early, I’ve only been working as an artist for about a year, but a lot of it was very detailed, very clean, very detailed ink sketches of either portraits or buildings. And that style is kind of that reflects the person that I told myself, I needed to be from 16 onwards, you know, be on time within the light coloring within the lines, precise and correct.
All of this clean, tidy etc. And then what happened is I started playing around with abstract and initially I wasn’t comfortable, it didn’t feel right. I’d sit down on a canvas and I can’t do anything. You know, I don’t work like this. I need someone to say to draw a house. But gradually, I found a way to start expressing what was in me, and that’s been the now that flows brilliantly and beautifully and actually, what I found is I enjoy doing the data and the portraits and the detail work, there is an enjoyment from that, particularly when they’re completed. But I really enjoy abstract.
I love the chaos. I love the anarchy, because that’s something I’ve never embraced, right? I’ve always been a control freak. Again, ex girlfriends will be reading and so yet they’ll fucking know that, right? I’ve always been a control freak. And now I’m not. I mean, I am a control freak when it comes to things that I need to control. But when it comes to art, you know, it’s quite comforting to let go and not be scared of that. But it took a while. And I’m still learning, I’m still doing that, you know, and a friend of mine, a tenant, a neighbor of ours here, Venetia. She asked her Instagram recently, you know, what are the best bits of advice that you’ve heard about art, and I can’t remember it again, I can’t remember who said it. But the quote stayed with me and the quote was along the lines of, if you’re not challenging yourself, not scaring yourself and what you’re doing, then you affect you, you’ve landed in a bit of a rut, and you need to snap out of that.
And so that’s why with my artwork, and if anyone looks at my Instagram, they’ll see one minute it’s a, it’s photography, one minute, I’m working with wood, the next day, I’m working with oils, I’m just experimenting all over the place. Part of that is to it, I think part of that is to flush my system a little bit because I’m a self taught artist. And I’ve spent, you know, my adult life. not not not benefiting from art education. You know, there’s a lot of stuff up here in the head that needs to come out. Some of it’s good, I think, and, and a lot of it is shite, but that’s fine. Because this is the learning process. And it’s just about getting out and then finding my voice.
H: With myself, I started collecting fashion magazines and got into it when I was about 10 years old. And I was always collecting magazines, I just started reading from the back to the front a couple of times before I tore apart the whole thing and covered my room in fashion ads. And these were the signs that the universe has given me, that fashion was my passion and purpose in life, and I just ignored them. In your childhood to your adult life, were their signs given to you to by the universe every day or every week or every month pushing you in the right direction of the art world.
E: Yeah, I suppose that would be right.
H: Did you collect art? Were you going to art museums in your free time?
E: I grew up in Holloway in North London, which was a rough area. Art was not for me. You know, and I really, I think that's something that I want to be a focus of what I do, because I grew up, I still live on a council estate. I didn’t go to a gallery. My family didn’t take me to the gallery, they didn’t feel they didn’t feel art was for them either. So there is elitism, within the art sector. There’s probably elitism within all sectors to a varying degree. But within the art world, it’s really powerful. Because you know, if you were you know, if you are someone who is in London or wherever, wherever the main, where’s the main place for galleries? Well, it’s Mayfair. It’s, you know, Hanover square where I met, who from Holloway is going into Mayfair that is not happening, right? So you know, art does not feature in communities, where there is any kind of form of deprivation or that’s wrong, sorry.
Visual Art and the recognized mainstream art doesn’t really play a role. But there’s a lot of art within communities. It’s just, it’s not recognized as art or not recognized as something that is anything more than a hobby going back to what we were talking about earlier.
So, you know, I was good at drawing, and I was good at painting when I was young, but it was a hobby. I wasn’t a bad singer. I wasn’t bad on the keyboard playing a tune. It was another hobby. And because of my ADHD, which I didn’t know at the time, I would flip from one thing to another so quickly, so quickly. So I think I mean, got my parents and teachers probably thought I don’t know what to do with this kid because yesterday he's talking about getting a Stradivarius violin today. He wants to be a drummer. Next week, he loves coloring in so to be an artist, so I think I think it was hard for adults around me as much as I might bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t diagnosed, I think it was hard for people because I would flip so much. But those things as a child that I showed either an interest or aptitude for. I have done it as an adult.
I was a joker at school. I was always making people laugh. That was my way of getting over getting out of trouble, which I’ve heard from loads of people. And so as an adult, I guess they’re not comedy. The governor did 80 or so gigs, I love singing at school, I sang in a band and I was in a, I was in a West End musical as well, and the artwork that’s come to fruition, so I can’t really held on hearts say that there have been anything, any passions or activities as a child that I really loved, that I haven’t tried as an adult? Because I have, and I’m very lucky, I’m lucky that I’ve been able to for, you know, the circumstances I live in. I’m lucky that I’ve not had that voice stopping me.
H: Subconsciously, did you ever find yourself, wanting to, read about other artists or like, or do some research? What was that lightning bulb moment where you just literally said, art is what I want to do for the rest of my life. When was that moment for you?
E: That was last year. So it was an almost exact moment. It was. It was March 2020. This COVID bastard had really started; we hadn’t been long in lockdown. I was off work by then five months with stress. But I was returning in June, I was planning to return in June. And I’d had many difficult conversations myself, because I didn’t want to go back to work because of the stress and stuff. But I had a big project that I’ve worked on, or led with colleagues. And I wanted to finish it, you know, I wanted to complete it. But there was a voice inside of me that was saying this, this is not right. This is not right. And then I kind of, It was almost one day where I kind of asked myself. What if you don’t? What if you don’t go back to the what if you What if you just stay in the studio?
And I didn’t have an answer to that question. And previously, I think there would have been an answer like don’t be stupid how are you gonna pay the mortgage, what are you going to do? But there wasn’t an answer. There wasn’t a bit of me that was saying no. And I thought, Okay, this sounds quite nice. And then it was really interesting, because as the year went on, I mean, we got the backdrop of Coronavirus, obviously, and we still have it in 2021. But I get moments where I’m a bit scared. I get moments where I think, Wow, hold on a minute. I mean, as we sit here today, I don’t know where I’m going to get the money from in April to pay my mortgage.
But I’m pretty sure I will, because I’ve got a few things. And I’ll find a way. And it’s a bit nerve racking. And there might be I’m sure there will be some listening or reading this and just absolutely kind of shrieking I actually live that way. But I’ve always found it funny because I was talking to my counselor and I always used to say, well, I’ve been very lucky in life. And yes, luck has definitely been a part of it. But what I’ve realized now with ADHD is that actually, it’s not so much for being like I’m very resourceful. I've been good at turning my hands quickly to something reinventing myself and getting by and, and so I kind of had that conversation myself last March where I say, look, no one here is telling you, you have to be a CEO. Certainly no one wants you to be ill. You don’t want to do it. So, you know, don’t try something else. And then if that doesn’t work, okay, who am I living this life for? It’s not to make you happy, or my mom or dad, it’s for me. So I thought, right? That’s it, I’m gonna give it a go. Art’s gonna be my focus. And, you know, let’s see if I can put my resourcefulness to some use in picking up other bits of work that allow me to be in the studio as much as I can be, you know, coloring in.
H: Yeah, that’s it. Obviously, the past year has been extremely difficult for a lot of people. How did you cope with the last year of uncertainty because, you know, obviously, again, coming back to mental health, anxiety, depression, people have lost their jobs, loved ones and livelihood. How have you coped with that kind of aspect, as you just said, uncertainty of can you pay your mortgage and that kind of uncertainty? I think a lot of people now are experiencing that. I think it will be a different world, a new one, especially in the art industry, in fashion specifically in retail. Everything’s going ecommerce. Like, if you don’t have a website, if you’re not online, or you don’t have a social media, a strong platform, how do you see things going after COVID? And also, as you said to me, before this interview, you were speaking about doing a website, and how do you see your online presence? How do you navigate this?
E: I had to, as an awful lot of visual artists and, and people in the creative sector, I had to adapt last year. Because I had no gallery I had no exhibitions, sorry, there were no markets and no fairs. So you know, how are you? How are you showing your work and selling it? So I developed my website and rebuilt my website and incorporated it into a shop. So that was part of that adaptation. But, it's touching on a couple of things that you’ve said, you know, ecommerce has been around for a few years, I used to be in web design, and I’ve been in property. So personally, the high street is not that the high streets got a very healthy future, right, traditional retail is probably dead.
Because the fast retail, that you know, where Customer service is not expected, nor given in high standards, where you literally get in a find what you want, you put it on the counter, you pay, you know, that type of retail may not have a future, because what difference is there between doing that and going on the website and buying something where I think there is a future is where you can’t get from the internet, the joy of speaking to someone who’s passionate about what they’re selling, even if that person works in boots, or TK Maxx or has their own little boutique that where they make things, you know, there’s there’s, there’s no substitute for the interaction with a human. And whilst in during this COVID period, we’ve lost major High Street retailers.
Don’t forget that people were queuing around the block to go into shops when we reopened, my streets are not dead at all. It’s just the retail sector that has to appreciate that we expect more. We expect experiences and we want to. We want to be happy, we want to be, we want to feel valued. We want to learn maybe so I think there’s a bright future for retail. But if you think you can just turn up sit me on the counter, and people will come in and spend four or five quid and you’re not doing very much that’s probably not going to happen. So I think there’s a future for retail and it's just very different. And you know, I think what a lot of people have said and what will be interesting.
What have we learned about ourselves and society during COVID we’ve had things taken away from us. We’ve had our social lives taken away, we've had our work environments taken away. What does that allow us what you know, there’s been a period of self reflection I’ve, it’s really awkward for me, because it’s been the most horrendous time globally, nationally, and taking it down to more local levels. I’ve lost a relative to COVID loss more than ours in December. But on a very personal level, the last year or so has been massive for me in a positive way. It’s very weird to feel that because it's a juxtaposition. On the one hand, I’m feeling great, you know, I’ve thrown off the shackles of a life and career that really wasn’t me. And I feel like I’m becoming me and becoming me and complete. And on the other end, and the 1,800 people were dying a day not that long ago. So it’s difficult to rationalize that personal development against the backdrop of society, really struggling.
But I’m really interested, I think they’re gonna I think there’s going to be a lot of fallout from COVID, I think there’s going to be a lot of PTSD for some people, I think that there’s going to be an awful lot of people who are really not going really, really not going to want to go back to normal as it was. I was speaking to a friend of mine last night. She said, that’s it. Now, I’m not. I'm not spending a week in the office, no way. I’m more productive from home, I’m happier, it’s a better way of working. Well, great. But what if her employer says no, you’re not doing that you’re coming in, you know that there’s going to be a lot of change.
So I think, you know, the story isn’t told with everyone getting vaccinated by the end of the summer, and hopefully, I was getting on top of it. Because there’s going to be different expectations. We’ve been living a different life for a year now. Or it will be a year and a half. You know, we’re not just going to fall back into the old routines, and neither should we, because some things do need to change. And as far as I’m concerned, I guess without sounding blasé, say, I’ll adapt and ride with the punches and see where I go.
H: What has been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your life or it could be from yourself.
E: Oh, actually, no, it’s not for me. It’s from someone Far, far more knowledgeable are the answers I would give for that is a poem. And it’s a poem called this be the verse. Do you know it?
H: I don’t think I have.
E: It’s written by a poet called Philip Larkin. And you have to know it and the readers. You know, I’m not learned when it comes to literature. I can’t finish a book because of my ADHD. But this poem stuck in my mind, and I’ll tell you now it’s not long. They fuck you up your mom and dad, they may not mean to you but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn by soppy folk in hats and coats. Who half the time was soppy stern and the other half at each other’s throats. Man passes misery onto man. it deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out now while you can. And for God’s sake, don’t have kids yourself.
I say that’s the best bit of advice. I would like to have kids at some point, or I’ve always wanted to have kids. But you know, wherever it happens a lot is another thing. There’s just lots of things in that little poem that I think ring true. And maybe not in quite the tone that the poem is written in, because it’s a little bit, you know, tongue in cheek, maybe it’ll be humorous. I don’t know. Actually, I don’t know enough about Philip Larkin. But yeah, that resonates with me.
H: What art are you working on now?
E: At the moment I’ve got a few commissions that I need to do, which are part of support that I’ve given to my local pub that's been struggling to survive. I’m also getting ready for my first Art Fair as well actually, it’s my first Art Fair ever. It’s Roy’s Art Fair in May, that’s down at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, but I’ve also got a few art markets that I’m organizing here at Blue Yard House, but also down in Pimlico. And then beyond that, I’ve got a few series of works that I’m toying with.
So there’s a series called discovery some people can’t see because they are reading, that painting up there as part of that, which is a very abstract, color driven coloring palette driven series of works. So that will continue and then there’s another series I’m working on which is very much based on geometry. Free and bold shapes. So that’s currently where I’m at. But it’s, I’m really excited about the future because I’ve got so much to learn and experiment and play with, you know.
H: Nice, who is your favorite artist?
E: My favorite visual artist is probably Salvador Dali.
H: Really, no way? He is mine too, I love his work!
E: His technique is incredible. I mean, just you know, just if we ignore for a moment the content and the subject is just this technique and then you look at the subject matter and what he creates and it really just feels to me that he’s got an imagination that is on another level entirely. And a thought process and a way of taking what’s in his mind and putting it onto a canvas in just such a remarkable way so
H: My favourite piece is The Temptation of St Anthony.
E: Is that the metamorphosis of Narcissus? I don’t think it is. Have you seen his painting of Jesus Christ on the cross? It's almost like he’s suspended in space looking down on earth. Are you looking at because that one resonated with me because of my Irish background. You know, it’s not an Irish home unless there’s about 52 crucifixes. Right. So Jesus on the cross was just probably one of the most common sites of my childhood because if I wasn’t seeing it at my Catholic schools or seen it when I came over, then you were seeing it every Sunday at Mass, but this painting of his is really amazing. It’s really captivating as Jesus Christ in the same way that you would recognize him on the cross