Highlands & Islands

How Batman helped me cope with anxiety

Michael Forbes painting Image copyright Michael Forbes
Image caption Michael Forbes began painting Adam West's Batman following his mum's death

A Scottish artist whose fans include Madonna, Monty Python's Terry Gilliam and comedian Ricky Gervais has opened up about his battle with an anxiety disorder. Helping Michael Forbes to cope with the condition has included creating canvases of Adam West's Batman.

Highlands-based, Dingwall-born Pop Surrealist Forbes' art hangs in galleries in Scotland, England and Manhattan in New York city.

His work has referenced women's rights campaigns, featured "mash ups" of glamorous Hollywood icons, also past US presidents such as Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln and the current incumbent at the White House, Donald Trump.

Fans of the Belladrum Music Festival will also be familiar with his artwork on the posters for the Scottish music event. The poster art has included Highland cows wearing psychedelic sunglasses while flying through the air.

Image copyright Michael Forbes
Image caption Michael Forbes and his mother, Eleanor
Image copyright Michael Forbes
Image caption Michael Forbes sits among some of his Pop Surrealist artwork

But while his paintings often show humorous scenes, Forbes has been coping with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition that has affected his life since childhood.

Dealing with the disorder in more recent times has involved immersing himself in painting one of his boyhood heroes - Adam West and his version of Batman.

US actor West was the star of the the 1960s hit TV series Batman. He died earlier this month at the age of 88.

'Incredibly brave'

Forbes says he was first aware of feelings of anxiety when he was at primary school when he was nine years old.

"I was always the class clown, trying to make my friends laugh," he says.

"But I found one day I just didn't want to go to school and ended up being at home for months."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Adam West as Batman with Burt Ward as Robin
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption West died earlier in June at the age of 88

His mother, Eleanor, took him to see a child psychologist at Craig Dunain Hospital in Inverness.

Forbes later learned that his mum had taken her mother to the same hospital years before for electroconvulsive therapy for depression.

"My mother must have been terrified her child was going a similar route," says the artist.

Image copyright Michael Forbes

The psychologist determined that Forbes was "fine", but GAD continued to affect his life including in his 20s before he was eventually diagnosed with the disorder.

One of his biggest struggles came in 2011 with his mum's death at the age of 64.

Forbes says: "My family and I looked after her through her fight with cancer. She was incredibly brave.

"After her death I thought I was doing fine I was grieving, but coping.

"I decided to do some work to the house up to occupy me, but this disrupted my painting and we hit some problems with the renovation and just the drip drip of stress and pushing my mother's death to the back of my mind exploded in a breakdown.

"It's hard to explain it's a total loss of emotional control and an overwhelming feeling of disaster. It's so consuming that the simplest of tasks seems impossible."

Image copyright Michael Forbes

Through painting, coupled with support from his family, Forbes' says he has learned to cope with the periods of "a few days of hell" until they pass.

"All the Batman pieces were created after my mother's death," says the artists, who first saw West's Batman in the 1970s.

"I instantly loved the TV show and it stuck with me through life, but in adulthood as a nostalgic, kitsch, TV show with a pop art aesthetic. I also liked the camp humour."

'We are all Batman'

He adds: "As a child it was my favourite show. Being very young I didn't recognise the comedy and campness. To me it was genuinely exciting.

"I had put it aside for many years but with my art becoming more pop, the imagery of Batman was a rich vein for a pop artist."

Image copyright Michael Forbes

Forbes says: "In the series of paintings I wanted to paint Batman not as the crime fighter, but as a man who is suffering mental illness from the trauma of losing his parents.

"He turns his pain into revenge and creates a new persona for himself and wears a mask.

"I knew too I was wearing a mask, the happy face for the world. So I wanted to paint Batman not fighting crime but the fight of getting through life.

"I painted him in everyday situations like doing the laundry of vacuuming the Bat Cave. I wanted to show the viewer he is us and we are him.

"We are all Batman."

Image copyright Michael Forbes

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