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  • Writer's pictureHayley Roberts

New series: All the times my heart awoke

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

When I was 16 I overheard someone in an elevator say ‘why waste the emotion’.  At the time I was riddled with teenage angst and thought this was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. I adopted it as my mantra, my security net against the world, and slowly taught myself to repress the messy and unnecessary emotions that come from not only being human but also an empath.

After two decades of practice I’ve become a fairly unemotional person. I am an INTJ anyway, the type of introvert who prefers reason to feelings (hence why I like to categorise myself), and I’ve learnt to avoid situations that require emotional expenditure. I refuse to watch sad or scary movies, I have little to no desire for a relationship let alone children, and I keep my friends at an arm’s length. I do these things unconsciously and I’m certainly not proud of them but I’ve had to make peace with the way I am.

Naturally as a black hearted ice queen I’ve built up a fairly impenetrable fortress with bricks made of cynicism and distrust. So you can imagine my surprise when I found someone had snuck through my defenses.

This series is about a heart that starts to feel again and the tidal surge of emotion that comes after decades of repression. It’s also, in part, about the need for an artist to bleed to create meaningful art. I want the images to portray something beautiful, about broken and hardened hearts that begin to heal and awaken; about that delightful moment when something or someone touches your heart profoundly. These are the messages I will send these images out into the world with.

The reality though is much darker. The reason the security of my fortress failed is because it was not equipped for the small percentage of people who operate differently from the rest of us. This is how I became briefly entangled with my first and last narcissist; that particular breed of toxic human who feeds on the emotions of others. When you’re cautious about guarding your feelings there is no worse person you could invite into your life than these masters of manipulation. But empaths and narcissists are drawn to each other because they both have high emotional intelligence, it’s just that one uses this skill to heal while the other uses it to destroy. Thankfully I quickly realised what I was dealing with and was able to escape with only slight emotional bruising.

That story might inspire my next series.

I read a lovely quote on a blog that said ‘narcissists can be like angels in disguise. They are catalysts of change in people’s lives: they stir up all the old wounds, scars and shadow elements in a person and force growth.’ This sums up perfectly what this work is actually trying to convey.

love, heart, digital manipulation, coming to life, fine art, composite, color, dark, photography, photograph, valentine, romantic, steel, guarded, protected, metal

When I realised it was all lies

How I created ‘All the times my heart awoke’

Prior to my realisation I had started storyboarding ideas around the concept of someone who is reluctant to give their heart away. I found that many of the ideas revolved around physical representations of a heart coming to life from a state of stasis and so I decided to explore this theme by applying different creative treatments to one heart image to try and tell the same story in as many ways as possible.

I thought about photographing a real heart but naturally this came with its own set of icky complications and so I decided to use a stock image from Pixelsquid. Pixelsquid is brilliant because their images are 3D renders which can be rotated 360 degrees. This allowed me to use the same heart image from a range of angles to add variety to the series.

Human heart from Pixelsquid

I wanted this series to be a Photoshop project instead of photography one and so I didn’t shoot a single image for this series, using only stock I’ve purchased or photographs I’ve shot before. With much experimentation and the help of YouTube tutorials I applied different effects to give each heart a unique look. At the moment my focus is on creating work that, while still dear to my ‘heart’, is faster to make, cheaper to produce and more affordable to buy. After much soul searching I’ve decided to spend 2018 focusing less on pursuing a fine art career and more on creating collectible art pieces for my Society6 and Redbubble stores and so this series is in that ‘vein’.

I created the first nine images with the intention of portraying something romantic and uplifting.

After much deliberation I then created the tenth image that puts a whole new spin on the series. Since it was partially inspired by real life events the last image was necessary in sticking to the truth. While it’s difficult to talk about the exact circumstances that inspired it, the beauty of art is that it allows you to abstractly express the things you’re uncomfortable saying with words. It’s the best kind of therapy.

I loved the challenge of telling a story in this way and recommend the exercise of using one object to tell a story for other creators who are feeling stuck or looking to hone their skills.

What does this series stir up for you?

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