10th September 2011 at ICA London
“I wake up; open my eyes and I just know that I have done something.
My thought process changes a bit and I feel a migraine coming on.”
Lee Hadwin, the World’s Sleep Artist, baffles the world with his night time adventures full of creative output. With wide-open eyes, Lee gets out of bed and sleep walks his way to the nearest pencil or pen and starts drawing at an incredible speed without out a blink. ”It makes him laugh” was the PA’s reply to what Donald Trump thought of his new Lee Hadwin original. Unless there is a piece of paper available, the sleeping artist will draw on floors, walls and furniture. It makes us laugh, because while thousands of artists struggle against artist’s blocks and fight for their life to reach an audience; Lee is not even interested in art.
The last couple of weeks have been hectic with a global media coverage ranging from BBC to Alarabiya News for the Middle East, Americas “Right This Minute” TV show and Latin America and US News NTN24. Curators, collectors and journalists all over the world are amazed by the mystery of the World’s Sleep Artist.
Do you meet a lot of skepticism?
I used to, but not so much now, because I have been to the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic quite a few times and gone through proper examinations. When I first got involved with the press ten years ago, the hardest thing I had to do was to prove that I couldn’t draw when I was awake. When I did the documentary for BBC I also had to go through my old school reports to prove that I have never had an interest in art. In 2008 I was filmed sleeping in my bedroom when I got up and started drawing a fairy. I am just staring, not even blinking. In January 2011 I did a documentary for Japan and they were filming me moving my hands in my sleep. They were also saying that I held the pen differently in my hand when I was awake. At this point even hotels have video footage of me getting up at night and the few people out there who still doubt are welcome to do so.
You were saying that you tend to be more creative when you go to bed really drunk. How is this related to sleep walking?
Yes, alcohol brings it all out. When I went to the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic five years ago with ITV we were told that both alcohol drinking and sleep deprivation brings sleep walking on, which is why you have to stay awake for 40 hours without sleep at Edinburgh Sleep Clinic.
Do you go out drinking to bring on an episode of creative sleep walking?
No, I drink because I like drinking. I might do some tonight. Many people think I do portraits every night, but I might just scribble a little bit one night and then go three weeks without drawing. It is very sporadic.
Ideally I should interview you when you are asleep, because that is when I’d be interviewing the artist, but I understand from the YouTube videos that I have seen of you that it is impossible get any response from you as you are sleep walking and drawing. Is that correct?
Haha, yes, that is true.
“Awakening” by Lee Hadwin, © Lee Hadwin
Have you ever left paints and brushes out for your night-time adventures?
I keep pencils, pens, brushes and acrylic paints in the drawer next to my bed. Even though I have paint brushes available I always choose to paint with my fingers, but that might change in the future because I only started drawing in color in 2009. These days I only bur acrylic paints, because it is too messy with oils.
Most of your works are signed; do you ever sign them in your sleep?
No, I sign them afterwards.
How do you feel when you wake up?
I wake up; open my eyes and I just know that I have done something. My thought process changes a bit and I feel a migraine coming on. I know that I have done something, but not what I have done. Then I have a migraine for 5-6 hours, because of the exhaustion.
This sounds very tiring, do you sleep walk a lot?
No, I might do a drawing once or twice in a week and sometimes five weeks can go by without any drawing.
“Fall of Being” by Lee Hadwin, © Lee Hadwin
The drawing ‘Fall of Being’ depicts a fairy between two falling leaves whose wings and arms are dissolving in the wind, and ‘The Game’ is a drawing of fairies in various positions under the full moon, with elements of what appears to be a tail and legs of a leopard. Also, one of the fairies is falling helplessly from the sky or struggling towards abstract forces. Do you have any level of interest in fairies whilst awake?
The only thing I have a connection to is the 11:11 drawings, because I also see 11:11 when I am awake, although the American flag might have been related to my upcoming trip to the US.
What are your present concerns regarding ’11:11’? I have seen 11:11 on and off for many years as well, sometimes very frequently, in all sorts of situations.
I had just done the ITV documentary in December 2008 when it started happening. I could switch my mobile on now and it would say 11:11 even though it was 13:20. I went to Barcelona with my partner and it was platform 11, seat 11, time 11:11; really full on. There are millions of people around the world that see 11:11 and there are different theories. Generally it is believed to have a connection to the spiritual world and some people say that it is a way for spirits or angels to contact people on earth, to draw your attention.
If this is a way of contacting you, what happens after you have seen 11:11? What happens when they have you attention?
I don’t know. I get a nice feeling, but it is nothing more than that.
Do you think that you are lead by spirits when you do art in your sleep?
When I was on BBC the doctor was saying that we are all more conscious when we are asleep, meaning that we are using our subconscious more. The doctor also said that it is impossible to create stuff when you are asleep, but I disagree with that, because musicians like Paul McCartney create music in their sleep. I do believe that as human beings we have lost our sixth sense a lot. When we are asleep, we might be more receptive. What confuse the doctors the most is that I can’t draw when I am awake.
“Together” by Lee Hadwin, © Lee Hadwin
Some of your drawings are slightly eerie. The drawing ‘un-titled’ consists of the three numbers 5, 1 and 8. Have you tried to figure out what it means? ‘Together’ is similar in the sense that it only consists of numbers. It is something a bit scary about it, like something out of a thriller film.
It is the numbers that get me, I think about what they mean. I have done this all my life, so to me there is nothing eerie about it.
Your piece ‘Awakening’ includes words like ‘ARSE’, ‘Fuck’, ‘Love’ and ‘Please’ as well as numbers and signs. It appears to have taken a good couple of hours to create. For how long do your drawing sessions usually last?
I did that when I was 15-16 and it took 25 minutes. Sometimes my hand moves so fast that what make take an artist 3 hours to create, takes me 15 minutes. There is video footage of my hand moving at that speed.
Would you be interested in trying to do clay sculptures or do you feel indifferent towards different artistic expressions?
I have never tried it before, but it might be interesting. A gentleman asked me the same question yesterday and I thought ‘Don’t get me started on creating pottery in my sleep!’ I might do it though, but I’d be going to bed with clay all over me.
It doesn’t have to be messy, you can use oil based clays like Plasticine. What was your dream profession as a child? I know that you never had any artistic ambitions.
I wanted to become a TV-presenter. I would still love to read the news, but I am not any good at it.
Do you support yourself solely on your art, and if, are you worried that the sleeping artist inside of you will vanish?
Back in North Wales I cared for people with brain injuries and when I moved to London I started working for migration. I never dreamt of an artistic career, but since I have been offered a huge, beautiful space in East London for two months, I am now planning an exhibition with over 200 works. It is going to be a show to remember, because the space calls for it. I don’t worry about whether the sleep art will stop one day or not; life is too short and there are more important things to worry about in life!
How do you choose the titles?
I only started titling my drawings five years ago. I look at stuff, try to think what it means and find words with the help of a dictionary. A lot of the circle ones I do make me think about the universe and space so I give them names like ‘Vortex’ and ‘The Abyss’.
Would you like to tell the readers about the charity ‘missing people’, which you are supporting?
When I was 14 or 15 years old I ran away to London for four days and it caused my parents a lot of grief. I came in contact with Missing People through a breakfast show on GMTV (ITV Breakfast Limited). In the green room back stage I met Richard Branson and a woman who had lost her sister; she was obviously out of her head with worry. She gave me a ‘Missing People’ card and I contacted them later on. They invited me to their Head Office, where I agreed to give them a percentage on all originals.
Have you ever thought of doing a project where you sleep in an art gallery; a big room with white walls and a bed in the middle and plenty of materials positioned around the room? It would make for an interesting exhibition!
I would love to do a live installation for a couple of weeks and broadcast it live on the Internet, but the problem is that I can’t guarantee any sleep drawing.