WHILE for many art is simply a passion or a hobby, but for one Warrington man it is something which has changed his life.

Paul Larkin was diagnosed with a mental illness at the age of 18, and over the years he has had many struggles in being able to maintain his mental health and wellbeing.

The now 62-year-old also has a history of drug abuse from his younger years – something which had a detrimental effect on his ability to function on a day-to-day basis in society.

Despite his battles, Paul has turned his life around thanks to his artwork, which sees him paint up to four pictures a day, ranging from musical icons, residents, and local landmarks.

He is sharing his story as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and he hopes his journey can inspire others.

“My life spiralled out of control, I had nowhere to live and I lost contact with the people around me who were important to me, and I was to them,” he explained.

“During my younger years I started to experience hearing voices, which is known as auditory hallucinations, and I suffered a breakdown at the age of 18.

Paul with his wife Sylvia alongside some of his paintings

Paul with his wife Sylvia alongside some of his paintings

“I was then detained under the Mental Health Act in hospital, and this was the beginning of my journey of many years with mental health services.

“The experiences I was having did not feel very nice. I found adjusting to everyday life difficult and I had a constant feeling of not feeling right for several years.”

Having been prescribed many different medications over the years to help with his auditory hallucinations, it was a spell in prison in 1987 that kickstarted a change, when Paul was approached by the chaplain who asked if he would like to try painting.

“This was a pinnacle time in my life that changed my ability to cope with the voices and my ability to be able to manage my mental health needs,” he continued.

“I have now been painting since that day and I use acrylic paints, charcoal pencils and oil pastels as my tools for producing artwork.

“My biggest inspiration is American rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and I have created almost five thousand art pieces that feature him.

“I absolutely adore him, not only for his music and his outstanding guitar skills, but also the kindness and support he offered to the homeless.

“I am very passionate and consider art as the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Paul uses art to help manage his mental health

Paul uses art to help manage his mental health

Paul, who lives in the town centre with his wife Sylvia as part of a supported living scheme provided by Next Stage A Way Forward, says he uses art as a way to manage the voices in his head.

If he experiences voices, he takes himself off to paint, however this is now a less traumatic experience for him as he is able to channel his thoughts into his art, which also helps him to control the voices.

In addition, he has access to the support he needs from the town’s mental health services, as well as his support team available to him at home.

“I am now able to enjoy an increased quality of life with Sylvia and with my love of painting,” he added.

“I believe that everyone should work creatively, especially if diagnosed with mental illness, because it is a fantastic for occupying the mind, relieving stress and improving general mental health.

“If I was able to give my younger self some words of advice, I would have told myself to stay away from drugs find something that you are good at and enjoy life.

“That is the message I hope that my artwork and my experiences will give to young people today.”