Interview with Recoverist Artist: Anastasia Hesketh


Substance use and addiction are often deeply personal struggles. How has your experience influenced your artwork?  

Okay, I was using until 20 years ago, I had five years of heroin and crack addiction, and I recently celebrated my 20 years in recovery. And obviously that was a massive part of my life, and I did art journaling, so it came through my art journal, which was very personal for me, and then in 2020 a place called Home in Manchester opened an open exhibition called Everyone's an Artist.  

And for the first time, I thought, I'm going to share my journey of addiction and recovery with the world, if you like, or with whoever went to the exhibition. Unfortunately, my piece wasn't accepted on that occasion, but it was a mannequin on a stand, and I attached white feather angel wings to it, and the front of it was about my recovery, and the back was about the addiction. 

So, the back was very dark, and the front was very bright, and I had quotations on there, poetry that I'd written, collage, photographs. So, I was quite gutted when it wasn't accepted but that was the first time that I've expressed that part of my life journey in my art for people to see, and I've since shared it with lots of people, and now the intent behind the art I create is to connect the heart with the viewer of it.  

So, I can't get specifically into how my addiction journey and recovery journey are evident in that, only to say that it's deeply personal work. I don't do pictures of bowls of fruit or flowers. It comes from my heart, and included in that is my recovery journey and my mental health journey.   

How has creating art helped you in your process of recovery?  

It's been massive, because as well as creating visual art, I write poetry. And a lot of that has come from daily journaling. Even when I was in the grip of addiction, I wrote a journal every day. 

And looking back, I don't have them now, but I kept them for a long time. It was illegible sometimes, you know. But it was vital to me for my healing to somehow express it, whether it be in words or in, um, in visual form. 

So, with my mental health, which is very much related to the addiction, and my recovery subsequently, daily I must be creating art of some form or another for my sanity. Why that is I can't explain, but somehow to try and attempt to explain it, rather than have the guilt and shame of youth swimming around my head, I had to find a way to get it out of my head, so it didn't destroy me, and get it onto paper.  

My mental health worker, when I was in, the grip of a mental breakdown in 2020, said, ‘creativity is vital to your well-being'. The best way I can describe it is to say that being creative is so much in me, that is as natural as breathing, and you can't go through a day not breathing, you'd be dead. 

And for me, a day without doing some kind of creativity, whether it be painting, embroidery, some kind of textile work, or writing, I'd become unwell.  So, it's vital to my well-being.   

by Anastasia Hesketh

Your artwork often focuses on themes of recovering resilience. What messages or emotions do you hope to convey through your pieces? 

 An image comes to my work a lot, and that is of the phoenix rising from the ashes, or a bluebird.  And it can be a very dark piece, but there'll be a bluebird in it somewhere quite often, to signify rising from that dark time, you know, you mentioned resilience, to keep rising despite the addiction, which is a progressive illness, I would still class myself as an addict, but one in recovery. 

And with my mental health, that's a daily struggle. So, it comes through my work in that way. And as I mentioned, I usually, if I'm exhibited right, which I have been, fortunately, in the past 12 months. Write something that goes alongside it that explains this is about transformation or, um, transformation was in my mind when I created this piece. 

That constant transformation that, that I find in recovery from day to day, that yeah, that's what I was. This is who I am now, and I'm drawing on inner strength and that of my higher power because I work a 12-step program. Um, and that's how it comes across in my art. I hope that answers you. Yeah, that's a great answer. 

Many artists find solace and healing in expressing their inner struggles through their work. How do you navigate the balance between vulnerability and creativity in your work?    

It's really scary to be vulnerable, but I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Brene Brown, but she says, vulnerability is a brave action. It takes courage.  And I think for any artist, it takes courage to put your work out there.   I often wonder, is it art until somebody else has seen it? But it takes courage and that's not to say, oh, aren't I brave or anything? 

But to embrace that vulnerability and trust that if I want to be true to myself in my work, I must express that.  I don't think you can create art without being vulnerable, at least not anything of substance or connection, you know.  

What advice would you give to other individuals who may be struggling with substance use and are looking for an outlet or support system?  

Okay.  So, Portraits of Recovery, I would say, and I'm not just saying this because you're part of the organization, if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with them do it,  Because it can open up your world and it can give you an outlet, as I mentioned, for feelings like shame and guilt that we often associate with yourselves as addicts, especially when we go into recovery. 

And if it's a 12-step program, there's a lot of reflection on it.  character defects and ways that you've harmed people and that can bring up a lot of shame and guilt. So, it's good to get that out in some way. It's also good to work with other people and share your work. That can give you confidence. 

Often, speaking from my own experience, our confidence is absolutely rock bottom.  We talk about rock bottom in terms of coming into recovery and working with Portraits of Recovery gave me such confidence. Such confidence and self-belief and all the people were encouraging and even if your intention is not to make a life out of art, that doesn't matter. 

It's not for everybody. It was for me and is for me. But it just is a beautiful way to spend your time and I believe the arts are very healing. I intend to become a well-being artist when I get my degree and work with people struggling with addiction and teaching or facilitating rather than teaching art workshops because my belief in the healing power of art is so strong.  

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you're coming up with that you're excited about? 

Yes! I have a permanent exhibition open! So, people can go see it now, please. I have three paintings at the Victoria Baths on Hathersidge Road in Manchester. And it's open every Wednesday from 11 till 3. Free to enter. My work's labelled with my name, so you can't miss it. 

And it's in the pineapple room, which I think is cute that it's in the pineapple room. And, a solicitors firm in Manchester have requested four pieces of my work for their offices. So, um, I'm looking forward to that. So, I'll be kind of exhibited in there. Only people using the office space will see it, and visitors to that space. 

But the world is opening to me. My dad used to say, he used to twist the saying, the world is your oyster. And he used to say, the world is your lobster.  And I feel like the world is my lobster now, and I am so grateful for that. 

Thank you so much for this insightful interview, Anastasia. You can see Anastasia work at Victoria Baths on Hathersidge Road, Manchester, 11 am - 3 pm.