Paranoia in a painter: Can artistic expression change your state of mind?

sophie
6 min readApr 22, 2024

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Andrew Alan Matthews with painting ‘I am not a number?’

“Paranoid Schizophrenia”. Two words which generate nothing but negative connotations. Two words which, in an instant, can change your life forever. But for one artist, that diagnosis saved his life.

Andrew Alan Matthews is a well known artist within Greater Manchester. His creative journey began at just five years of age.

“I was always interested in art after seeing Charles Dollman’s ‘Famine’ at Salford Art Gallery, which inspired me to become an artist”, he said.

Last year, his work, ‘Salford and Manchester By Night’, hung in that same museum for a five month period.

Andrew is a huge advocate for mental health, and has collections are dedicated to representing his own struggles.

“I think mental health is a big issue that isn’t highlighted enough. You have different people with different types of mental illnesses… It has taken me decades to overcome the stress and stigmatisation of the mental illness that I have.”

He was diagnosed with minor paranoid schizophrenia at just 28 years old. Approximately 85 in every 10,000 individuals will suffer with the condition at some point in their lifetime.

“From that point in 1996, I went through acute stress, that I didn’t realise was stress at the time. I believed that someone at work had laced a cake with laxatives. Because I was going through this stress, it was against my nature but I returned the favour, and that’s my biggest and worst ever thing I’ve done in my life. Small things can snowball into bigger problems and that is what happened to me.”

This ‘snowball’ resulted in years of stress, and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia by a psychiatrist.

It is a common misconception that patients with mood disorders, especially schizophrenia, display violent tendencies. In reality, those with the illness attribute to less than 10% of all violent crimes.

“Luckily, I’m on the lowest side of the scale, the tip of the iceberg…

Every time you think of paranoid schizophrenia you think of a mass murdering wielding psychopath who is going to come kill you. But that is nothing like me.

…I think you have to go through it to understand it, people think ‘what’s the matter with you, just get yourself up out of bed’ or ‘just snap out of it’ but sometimes you can’t do that.”

His connection with art had always been a strong one, and his life continuously resolved around it, but it was around this time when it became a lifeline for him.

Artist and colour energy therapist, Furrah Syed states that this form of creativity “positively impacts our mental, physical and emotional health.”

Furrah has struggled with anxiety herself due to excessive stress, and is a strong believer in the power of art, “art therapy should be accessible to people dealing with mental health. I have seen people come off medications taken for depression when they fully engage with art and colour therapy — long term. Simple things like having a piece of art in their home gives people comfort and empowerment.”

The ‘Work Stress’ series were influenced by the stress of working in a call centre for 22 years — which “proves that I can be a productive member of society and I think that’s important to say, really.”

The number ‘13’ is prominent in most paintings as a representation of Andrew himself “unlucky number for some, but lucky for me!”

‘Work Stress’ collection. Image credit: Andrew Alan Matthews

The reason for Andrew’s ‘Work and Stress’ and ‘Stress and Anxiety’ collections, are to help others not feel alone, as well as to help him battle his own demons.

“My work stress collection and stress and anxiety collections have been produced by me to help people overcome stress in their personal lives and work lives, and it is all about turning those negatives to positives”, he said.

Andrew admitted that, if he didn’t have his paintings to help express his feelings during these times, he would’ve truly struggled to cope. He added:“it was a mix of art and cognitive behavioural therapy that helped me process my emotions, along with medication and help of friends and family.”

Studies show that activities, such as drawing and painting, activate reward pathways in the brain. This has found to have had significant benefits on mental health patients.

Andrew, who’s art style was originally influenced by Salford’s L.S. Lowry, since took his own direction of art style when expressing his internal state of mind, specifically in his ‘Stress and Anxiety’ pieces.

“Stress and Anxiety’ collection. Click the images above to watch a video explaining the meaning behind each painting.

He continues: “I hope to break the stigma and prejudice of people who suffer from mental health issues and raise awareness and bring positivity to people who need it the most. I try to get people to be more understanding of issues around mental health, with the hope that one day people can be open and honest and not feel that they will be judged as inadequate in their careers or personal lives.

…I have come to terms with my condition coming into 2023, ever since 1996 when I was diagnosed as having Paranoid Schizophrenia by the psychiatrists, a condition which I did not agree with. This condition is considered the most severe form of schizophrenia.

This condition is always in the news relating to people who commit the worst crimes of humanity.

I have hidden this from the world because of this, and felt that if I was to release this information then I would be stigmatised and would be prejudiced in anything that I did.

So, as I have been stable for many years holding down stressful jobs and careers all of my life, I feel it is now time to let people know my condition as I have come to terms with it.

I hope to break the stigma and prejudice of people who suffer from mental health issues, and raise awareness and bring positivity to people who need it the most. I try to get people to be more understanding of the issues around mental health, with the hope that one day people can be open and honest and not feel that they will be judged as inadequate in their careers or personal lives.”

Explaining ‘Stress and Anxiety’, full collection.

You can find out more about Andrew and his lifetime of artwork here.

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sophie

online journalist based in MCR, currently writing for Union's editorial page. Fellow of John Schofield Trust 2024.