Paul Whittaker’s work will be featured in three places during the Welsh mental health arts festival! A shared reading of his stage play ‘Gods and Kings’ will be shown at the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre on November 22nd . Before that, Paul’s installation piece ‘Institutional Blue’ will be on display at the Hearth Gallery, Llandough Hospital. Finally, his short film ‘Paltry’ will be available on the festival website and social media feeds.
We recently caught up with Paul, to talk to him about his work and involvement in the festival…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your work and how you got into art?
I am a Bi Polar, Cardiff based Artist and Filmmaker who works across the Arts and Public Sector to create work with the aim of increasing understanding in the wider community of social issues. I received my diagnosis as a film student at Newport Film School and on graduating dedicated ten years of my life to the creation of a life that allows me to live without medication.
As a confused child, the written word was my first emotional outlet and in 2014 I enrolled on the Creative Writing MA at Swansea University from which I graduated with Distinction. My current stage play Gods & Kings was originally an essay written as part of my Writing the Self module.
You work as a disabled artist and one who does so with a social conscience. What does that mean to you in real terms?
I discovered early on in my career that the world of commercial television, despite the financial reward, was not something that sat well with me. I found that I could not emotionally detach myself from the subject and slant my portrayal of them towards caricature. I have known what it is to be misrepresented or reduced to a stereotype so now I use my creativity to act as an advocate for vulnerable groups who are unable to represent themselves.
Can you tell us about your work that will feature in this year's Welsh mental health arts festival?
With this installation I explore the voyeur in all of us and how, if we only glimpse a snapshot of someone’s life, we can only imagine the story of their world. The piece is painted ‘institutional blue’ as it is common to the myriad of services I have accessed throughout my career as an mental health outpatient. Without realising the relevance, it is also the colour I chose to paint my house; which means I have institutionalised myself.
PaltryGrowing up, I often found myself at odds with the definition of masculinity and on my eighteenth birthday, after my first attempt at suicide, I knew that I had to leave my village if I was ever going to find a version of myself that I could live with. Paltry is a short film I made in response to the Samaritans’ MEN, SUICIDE AND SOCIETY report in which it states that:
Masculinity – the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them – contributes to suicide in men. Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility. When men believe they are not meeting this standard, they feel a sense of shame and defeat. Having a job and being able to provide for your family is central to ‘being a man’, particularly for working class men. Masculinity is associated with control, but when men are depressed or in crisis, they can feel out of control.
My 'work in progress' stage play is focussed on the moment I received my diagnosis of Bi Polar Manic Depression as a twenty-three year old Film Student in Newport, Gwent. I entered the room a troubled member of society and after a twenty minute consultation was told I had to take lithium (a side effect of which is coma) or I'd be dead by the time I was 30. To my surprise, the choice was not as straightforward as it seemed.
The piece is unapologetically honest, humorous and challenges the perceptions of what it is to live with mental illness. It is a piece that appeals to a wider audience, not just the mental health sector, and explores how people react to a mental health diagnosis and how an individual can be redefined by it in the eyes of the world.
Why do you think it matters that Wales has an arts festival that is dedicated to the theme of mental health?
When I received my diagnosis in 1996 people didn’t talk about mental illness and it wasn’t even recognised by the benefits system as a disability so to have a National arts festival focussed on the issue shows us just how far we have come; if only to highlight just how far we have yet to go.