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Suicide Stories

John Butterworth: Art as emotional expression

John has been a great supporter of Revival since we began more than four years ago.  His passion for art and community is evident to all that meet him and his own mental health and wellbeing journey is reflected in his strong belief in the importance of finding ways to express and support emotional turmoil.  We are grateful to John for sharing his very personal story of living with the fallout of suicide and the transformative effect this had on his life and his art.

High Flyer – John Butterworth

The Origins of this Image are pretty challenging. I started a Sequence of Falling Figures, or Flying Figures if you will. These were as a direct response to a desperately sad and highly personal tragedy. It was a dark time when I lost my only brother to suicide (not a fashionable word, but truthful!)

My brother had suffered from depression most of his adult life but had intermittently found solace or purpose enough to ward off the Darkness and self-destructive impulses that he seemed to carry within him.  Very sadly these ‘overbearing impulses’ led ultimately to him taking his own life.

As you can imagine this was a deep shock to myself and my only parent, our mother.

For me it took about a year of self-reflection and my own self-doubts and depressive states before I finally found the energy to start being creative again. This was an intensely personal and creative period too. I was really confronting my own sadness and feelings around my brother’s death.

The first Images I painted were portraits of my brother, myself and my mother and eventually I embraced the visual Imagery of how my brother chose to take his life.

This is hard for me to say and I know it is shocking for others to hear this story but perhaps it might also help in some way to be truthful about it. Albeit that it may lead to sadness for others. It hopefully, like it did for me, also lead me to a place where I could see a way forward again.

Painting an image of a falling man was my first step on this path. I studied a series of Falling or flying Figures from Art History and Greek Mythology in particular.  One of these Images was of a sculpture of ‘The Winged Messenger’ in Piccadilly Circus (Eros). Another was of Icarus being helped to fly by his father Daedalus.  One of the first I painted, was from a Titian painting ‘Perseus coming to save Andromeda from the serpent’.  The Perseus Image was the one I felt described the sensation best of the Falling Figure.

After this painting, I started to find more optimism about the sense of the ‘Flying Man’ and thus went on to find more optimistic images of diving figures and people enjoying their own sense of flight.

High Flyer is an Image based on a picture of a man leaping from a diving board across the sky and presumably into the sea.

The response to my painting(s)of this figure has been tangibly positive and I have actually painted four versions of this image to date, as well as making a Small Silk Screen Print Edition.

The Image Displayed is no 3 of 4 of this series and I am considering making another series too, based on its popularity and ‘Feel Good Factor’!

This has been a tough journey in a personal way but also a very helpful one in spiritual terms. I hope that it lends hope to others who may have been in despair or who may also currently be experiencing despair in their lives.

I would conclude by saying that you might remember that you are not alone in your suffering and that there is hope and that you can find help in being with others and hopefully seeing a chink of light and optimism, even in your darkest moments.

If there is one thing that the Creative spirit and life force can give you, then it must be hope. Hope that every dark feeling and experience has equally a light and positive side too.

This is my hope and my Vision.

With Love

John Butterworth

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