A Hill to Live On
Siris Hill is pretty much as far removed from the modern artist's typical journey to acceptance as one could be: spending his childhood struggling with Crohn's disease, learning to paint in an attempt to cope with the sudden onset of mental health issues that have dogged the Norfolk-born painter and driven him to numerous suicide attempts since the age of 19; being forced to leave his mother's home and live on the streets and in YMCA hostels because of those issues; gaining acceptance to university at 24 without the necessary (or indeed any) school qualifications.
It sounds borderline filmic, albeit more Ken Loach than Spielberg, but the resulting work is currently in the process of dropping numerous critical jaws as the world wakes up to Hill's talent. He sat down with Moniker to talk a little on what he's currently creating and why.
Could you talk to me a little about how you began painting?
"I started as a means of therapy. Prior to that, I'd been doodling and scribbling and sketching from time to time with a pencil, but this was the first time I'd tried working painting.
"It was quite a natural journey in terms of starting out just seeing what I could do, and then from there starting to learn the techniques of 17th century artists, emulating the way they thought and painted.
"After that, I started to 'put myself' into what I was working on, creating more traditional works but then destroying them as a way of expressing myself, as a way of putting how I was feeling about myself onto the canvas."
It seems to function as an incredibly powerful way of expressing yourself. Is it something you'd recommend in general to those struggling with mental health?
"I think the power of painting as therapy for me is something that can't be overstated. 12 months ago almost to the day [at the time of interview] I was homeless and had tried to commit suicide again. Now, I'm debuting my work in a New York Fair, which feels crazy to me."
The reception to your work has proven what's possible in that sense - what you've achieved in spite of the difficulties of your living and health conditions.
"Yes. I think part of the attraction of 17th century artists for me was how much of a voice they were for the people, and that's how it should be. Painting as someone a part of - not removed from - real people living real lives.
"The elitism of the art world today is something that I think has done damage to the popularity of galleries and fairs, but also it's something that manifests even on an educational level - while I was studying there were definitely moments where I'd feel distinctly like an outsider just because, to be honest, I didn't have money.
"So I want to draw attention to the fact that anyone can explore their artistic side, and that it can bring genuine help to those suffering from mental health issues. I want art to be accessible to everyone again, too: as well as being a member of the East Regional Committee for Rethink Mental Illness, I'm running classes as part of Norfolk Together to share the benefits of art making.
"Places like Norfolk need these opportunities to be made available to give people a chance to explore what they're capable of, explore their potential."
What will you be bringing along to Moniker?
"My current series is something new, in that an art fair is a space for me to put a physical product out into the world and as I paint digitally this has been a new challenge. The lightboxes I've created hopefully solve that problem and do justice to the works you'll see on the walls in May."