Artists hope Stevenage exhibition will paint positive picture about overcoming mental illness

One of Hollis's abstract paintings

One of Hollis's abstract paintings - Credit: Archant

A trio of artists who have each experienced mental health problems are set to launch a unique multimedia exhibition which they hope will highlight the issue.

A painting by Hollis based on landscapes

A painting by Hollis based on landscapes - Credit: Archant

Hitchin artist Hollis Dixon and his friends Louise Knight and Robyn Penfold are behind the exhibition which will go on show at the gallery at Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre on Monday.

Hollis’ contribution is a series of large-scale paintings depicting abstract themes, images from his imagination, and landscapes that he loves – many of which reflect the challenges of beating mental illness.

Hollis lived away from Hitchin for many years before returning to the town in 2009.

After having two long-term relationships, three children and various jobs, he began to experience isolated mental health ‘episodes’ – but they went undiagnosed for many years.

Robyn Penfold

Robyn Penfold - Credit: Archant


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In 2009, he finally experienced a major psychotic episode and was sectioned.

While in hospital, he discovered art as a therapeutic hobby – and once he was discharged it began to grow into “something more than a hobby” alongside jobs volunteering for a range of organisations including the NHS and the University of Hertfordshire.

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Now Hollis hopes the exhibition will help send out the message that it is possible to overcome mental illness.

He told the Comet: “Lots of very talented people out there suffer from many different problems but people don’t always realise.

Louise Knight contributes poetry and prose

Louise Knight contributes poetry and prose - Credit: Archant

“When I came back to Hitchin, things weren’t quite right for me and I suffered a mental health episode.

“I made myself homeless for three-and-a-half months because things weren’t right at home, and then I was sectioned for four months.

“I found art to be very therapeutic and it helped me to explore what was happening to me.

“A lot of my first paintings were about the things I experienced, and some of these are in the current exhibition.

Hollis Dixon

Hollis Dixon - Credit: Archant

“Art has really helped me express myself and put my message across.

“A lot of people out there have heightened emotions and they don’t always realise that they might be suffering from depression.

“People go through things but don’t get a diagnosis. People often don’t want to talk about it because they feel there is a stigma attached to it.”

Hollis, now 47, says he has got his own place to live, and sees his children and supports them the best he can.

One of Hollis's paintings based on ancient Egypt

One of Hollis's paintings based on ancient Egypt - Credit: Archant

He has written three self-published books documenting his struggles with mental health, and has been involved in a series of exhibitions.

Robyn Penfold contributes poetry and prose, much of which she wrote while recovering from a psychotic episode. Louise Knight has been stitching since she was five years old, with her work helping her battle periods of agoraphobia.

You can see the exhibition, called ‘Life within my Life’, at the Gordon Craig Theatre throughout July.

On Saturday, July 15, there will be a chance to buy Hollis’ e-book, chat with him and get a free signed postcard.

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