Artist Tess Sheerin’s mental health journey hasn’t been easy – but it’s been one she’s been able to inspire others with through her art.
Her new mental health-focused mural in Tahuna (Queenstown), titled Rejuvenate, depicts some iconic Kiwi animals or taonga and how the values they represent for her can help us through tough times.
“I process my life through my art, and creating Rejuvenate has been no exception,” Tess says.
The mural was inspired by some of Tess’ toughest times.
In 2018 I suffered a nervous breakdown. I really had to look at my life and consider what was important to me.
“I just had to slow down and stop working so hard, because I was working my arse off. The balance wasn’t there. I’d gotten to a point where I wasn’t able to look after myself.”
Realising she was burned out, Tess moved back to her family farm in Christchurch to look after her mental health. The farm had some beehives, and watching and learning about the bees taught Tess a lot about balance and looking after your health – skills she knew she personally needed at the time.
“The bee not only gives us delicious honey, but pollinates our flowers and plants, helping us grow food, and keeping us happy and healthy human beings. She respects the balance of life. and shows that every individual makes a difference, no matter their size,” Tess says.
On the farm, Tess also realised some hard truths, including that she regularly practised negative self-talk, which was harming her self-esteem and sense of worthiness.
“That was a really hard thing to realise and take in, that I’d been talking myself down without even knowing it.” – telling myself ‘you’re not good enough.”
Tess began therapy to help her quell this negative self-talk. Therapy helped her to “understand my thought patterns”, which reminded her in turn of the kindness the kiwi bird symbolised for her. Inspired by this taonga, a kiwi ended up in her mural.
“[In Rejuvenate] Karma Kiwi and the stairs she sits on are a representation of the steps of my psychological journey. The Kiwi is calm, grounded and kind to herself, taking the time to slow down and watch her thoughts and emotions,” she explains.
Noah the Moa’s life lessons were the last to be depicted in Rejuvenate.
To Tess, the moa represented her realisation that it was okay to rest, and the sense of gratitude she developed for the little things in life.
“There’s such a huge demand in society around what we need to achieve in such a short amount of time. And it’s just not achievable,” Tess says.
“Noah the Moa is ann interpretation of our now-extinct flightless bird and a lost treasure. He reminds us to express gratitude for what we do have, what’s often right in front of us, before it’s too late.”
Tess started Rejuvenate when COVID-19 first hit Aotearoa, and found its messages resonated throughout the community over the two months she painted it.
I saw how it reflected what was happening in the wider community once the pandemic hit. Simple things in life are what’s most important, connecting with people, animals, nature. The main purpose behind this project was to do something bright and colourful. during a really dark time.”
The response to the mural has been overwhelming for Tess.
“Seeing how the local people reacted was almost better than doing the mural itself,” she says.
“People who worked in the area would come and say hello and say how they’ve seen it progress. I had a family from Wanaka come each week with their children and they’d be so excited. There was a whole school group, like sixty kids who came and saw it too.”
Tess’ greatest sense of pride comes from seeing how her work has touched others.
“I had someone who had a breakdown themselves come and see me. They’d read a snippet in the local paper and he came and talked to me to say how happy he was to see something bright that he could relate to. What I was doing was making a difference and that meant a lot.
“Speaking about mental health, yes it’s difficult, but if I can help one other person then that’s worth it, that’s what counts.”
While Tess is very proud of Rejuvenate, she acknowledges there’s still work ahead for her mental health journey.
“By no means am I saying, ‘look at me, I no longer have depression and anxiety’. I still live with them, but I learnt better ways of coping and healing.
“Self-compassion is probably the biggest change I’ve put in my life. Now I say ‘I love you Tess’. I wrap my arms around myself sometimes, give myself a hug. It sounds silly but it’s life changing.”