Marine-inspired art and my mental health: I was 14 when they gave me a diagnosis. I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy, I was insecure, I felt stressed, but I never paused for a second to think that I was sick, and that there could be something wrong with me. I just thought that whatever I was going through, it was normal. Surely, every teenage girl on the planet felt this way. But a label was suddenly plastered on me, I googled the symptoms and cried as I read through them one by one. I started to realise something wasn’t right with me. People around me started to change the way they treated me. They too realised that something wasn’t right with me. And then, almost as if I had been granted permission NOT to be normal, my health — both physical and mental — started to decline very rapidly. And then, frighteningly soon, I hit rock bottom.... By guest blogger Jade Hoksbergen
I was abruptly pulled out of school and spent a few weeks in hospital to get myself fit enough to fly. I hopped on a plane, en route to a specialised facility where I spent time alone in a closed room, in solitary confinement. And like a criminal, I couldn’t help but feel a similar sense of guilt, and felt like I had let my whole world down.
Counselling… I struggled with. I think largely because I internalise, and I struggle to translate things to words.
I was a mess, and I had no idea where to start untangling it all; no idea on which string I was meant to pull for it all to start making sense… in order for me to get better.
But then I picked up a paintbrush. I painted something I thought was rubbish and was quick to dismiss it. But my dad, my dad saw something special in what I was creating. It’s crazy to think how, sometimes, somebody’s remark can play such an instrumental role in determining the direction your life takes. If it wasn’t for his encouragement, I doubt I would have explored myself through art any more than I did that day.
My affair with painting quickly blossomed. I became obsessed. It became as important to me as breathing, and in strange ways, it has given me back my life. Painting was a necessity rather than a past-time for me, and I painted so prolifically that it felt as though it defined my very existence. It has, and still, allows me to process emotions I very much struggle to articulate in words. I guess you could say that I write my autobiography best with a paintbrush.
When I “got better” and flew back to the Philippines where my parents and I called home, I was terrified. I was so terrified of going back to reality, so terrified of hitting that ‘play’ button and resuming my life. But I started to see life differently, I started to appreciate things I perhaps overlooked before… I started to really enjoy scuba diving, and for the first time, I was doing it because I wanted to, and not because my parents were taking me with them. I opened my eyes just the same as I did before, but I saw so much more. I was breathing just the same as I was before, but I felt so much more alive and in the moment.
In the same way that painting offered me a mental and emotional escape, diving offered me a physical one from my life. Through painting and diving, I found peace, I found quiet, I found freedom. I was able to escape from my life, temporary and safely through painting and diving. In the ocean, I learned that life was so much more than my own existence. In the ocean, I felt small, and my worries felt irrelevant.
I had always been painting self-portraits, emotional self-portraits as I like to call them. Around this point in time, in 2014, I noticed that my self-portraits were starting to look more and more like fish — perhaps reflecting the increased amount of time I was spending underwater. Looking back, this is when my OCEAN SERIES began. Because I paint my emotions on canvas, my art is very personal to me, and always will be. That explains why I have, for a long time, fought shy of showing my work to people outside my immediate circle. Mainly for the fear of being criticised and judged.
Most of my work include “symbols”, these are abstractions of certain objects and elements which I feel are important in the telling of my story. Some of these symbols include sharp teeth, drool drops, belching tongue, crosses, and the three ribs (sometimes masquerading as fish gills). I think because of the symbols I use, people say that my paintings look like deep-sea creatures… anglerfish. But I use these symbols because they each represent a scar in my life, a scar I bear today.
In many ways, the ‘portraitures’ I paint are very much extensions of myself, carrying the burden of my emotions so that I don’t have to. I believe that my paintings document not just my metamorphosis as a painter, but as a survivor — one that has found great solace in the ocean and art. Painting and diving saved my life once, and it continues to do so every single day forwards.
A few months ago, I embarked on a personal challenge. I challenged myself to share some of my artworks weekly through my website, instagram, and facebook channels. I also started to sell them for the first time in my life. It has been wonderful to feel like I can be open and share who I am with the world. And it does help that the reaction has been immensely positive and my works have now sold to 15 countries (I can’t believe it!) It has taken me time… but I think I am now finally able to say that I am happy. I am comfortable with who I am, and I think I may have just found in me exactly the person I am supposed to be.
Today, I live in Exeter in the UK with my husband, Henley Spiers, and our two young daughters. We try to lead a lifestyle filled with our passions, and we try to get as much time in the water as we can!