Small Town Inertia

Documentary & Portraits by J A Mortram

Market Town : Tilney1 : Electric tears and all their portent


Such things we bury within us. Such fears, voices, seeming insignificancies, memories and scars.

Imagine an internal strobe light that flashes the detritus of a life lived endlessly. Imagine there might be a code, a purpose, a line through the very heart of all the events and shadows of your life. Imagine sewing and stitching every element of your personal history together in an attempt to understand the present so obsessively that the past becomes your every waking moment.

Loud, bright and clear. In focus. Imagine you can remember everything, every detail of every experience. Imagine these are the thoughts that occupy you, inhabit you and you can’t turn their volume down.

I first began to document the artist and poet Tilney1 in 2009 whilst I was volunteering at a local drop in Mental Health Arts group. Both the creativity and honesty of his work left a huge impression upon me.


Tilney1 painting in 2009 at the Independent Arts and Minds mental health drop in group.

His canvasses instantly reminded me of the American painter Basquiat. Coded, abstract narratives, words and the branding of memories. Filled with symbols these confessional mind maps captivated me. His photography, poetry and scrolls of writing all held the same power.

He’d written a book of thoughts, fears, stories, his life story and left it purposefully upon a table in an Arts Centre so someone may find it.

Tilney1 started having problems at 13 and was diagnosed at 17 with Schizotypal and Obsessive Compulsive disorders.

A series of traumatic events acted as triggers. He was abused. He worked nights at Tesco’s. He fought to retain normality. He succumbed to the increasing volume of his internal narratives. He’d been sectioned. After being both incorrectly and over medicated he spent 10 years in bed. 10 wasted years.

There was a rebirth, an awakening after having his medication and dosage revised. He discovered a passion for art and Tilney1 was born. Expressing and expelling the obsessions and memories, fighting the deluge of memories that never quiet.

Tilney1’s small flat towards the outskirts of Market Town is where he works and lives alone. Scrolls of paper, canvas and books of writing lay alongside an eclectic taste of novels, records and videos. Philip Larkin and Chuck D alongside Burrough’s The Naked Lunch. Madonna and The Manic Street Preachers alongside KRS1 and all have a very real meaning to him. I’m constantly told of how in a sea of conservatism

‘I’m not racist, I could never be a racist but there so much of it here… I listen to this music, read these books… but I have to hear about Cameron and the Royal Family all the time.’

Writing offers some solace. A catharsis.


There’s a rush at the beginning, talking out loud as he works, recalling memories, moments, paths well trodden within his internal landscape. Typewriter keys beat a slow rhythm whilst punching in letters with a single digit then fall silent as the text is re-read.






The gravity of some words, memories though recalled everyday always retaining their impact and holding their power as if the very act of recalling charges them. These recollections for Tilney1 do not fade with time, every name, meeting, relationship, achievement and abuse is as poignant and clear as the instant they were first lived. Caught in his mind as though with barbs.


Notes from Tilney1 2012 : ‘Move the Cage you might be working with.’


Searching through scrolls of illustrations and canvasses.






‘Manufactured under licence’ by Tilney1


Describing the fashion that symbols can appear in hallucinatory visions.


Isolation and the stresses of living in a rough apartment block have a great impact upon Tilney1. He strives to make friends,to connect and to have relationships. Weekly he makes the 40 mile round trip to a writers drop in centre though many of the participants there are in far worse condition that he is and it’s difficult to relate. As the times he was sectioned it was hard to cope with being on a ward with patients with violent psychosis, suicidal tendencies or going through the early stages of drug withdrawal.

‘I’m just stuck in my mind… not out of it…’

Once you’re ostracized from the mainstream of society it’s increasingly difficult to relate to those around you or to find a way back in. It’s often a thankless endeavor to attempt to do so. Some acquaintances are forged through fear; better to be on the good side of a bully than the victim. People hang around the apartment block, arrive uninvited, borrow money never to repay. The building is a soundtrack of shouting and loud music that only serves to amplify his anxieties.


Though support workers visit every other week and there are bi-weekly visits from his Mother the solitude is constant. The need to communicate all that’s flashing through his thoughts is ever present. The absence of love and a partner leaves wounds.

Writing, painting, sketching all help to combat the fight of the day to day and it’s a war thats been raging all of his adult life but not a war that’s been lost.


You can see more of Tilney1 and his work here.

I’ve given Tilney1 a video camera to record visual journal entries and these will be shared on Vimeo unedited, per his wishes.


  • John MacPherson

    February 10, 2012 at 9:29 am → Reply

    Jim. Phew. I read this feeling like I was on a razor edge, a sharp balance between voyeurism and insight. Difficult trick to pull off but your visible concern for the subject, and the trusting collaboration thats obvious in the content, has driven this piece firmly into the landscape of understanding. I’ve worked professionally in disability services for over 20 years and seen several tilney1’s and witnessed their struggles to find some level horizon in a turbulent world of expectation and contempt. Desperately trying to articulate their thoughts and feelings and fears. Your insights into this one man’s life are important. Important for him to see some of his story articulated, and important for we ‘gatekeepers’ to have expanded our narrow understanding of the true nature of the lives of people on the margins of our vision.The words in the Anul and Void image are disturbing, is this about desire or anxiety. No answers here, just more questions.I have a grossly overworked cat image on my wall created by an artist I met once, so compelled was he to work that every space in his house was filled with canvases, piled against walls, furniture, doors, and so many on his bed he had to lift them off in order to get to his bed.It’s so very sad that it’s easier for society to dismiss people such as this, rather than accept them, and personally I feel we lose so much by doing so. If we look carefully enough we might see what they share with us, but sadly we rarely reciprocate. Your work may be all about a ‘Small Town’ but it’s a big theme. And an important one.

  • J A Mortram

    February 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm → Reply

    John, thanks for your comment and observations. I more than agree with ‘that it’s easier for society to dismiss people’ and like yourself I believe we lose so very much by marginalizing the very people that make ours and all societies a far richer one. I’ve always shared any feedback on the images/stories that I work on, it’s particularly important on long form documentaries as it integrates the subject within the whole process, it’s a real collaboration and I’m looking forwards very much to showing Tilney1 your words, he’ll be thrilled someone stopped long enough in our fast and frenetic world to take an interest.Hope to talk again, Very best, Jim

  • javi

    September 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm → Reply

    what to say? I’m impressed, i added tilney1 in flickr. I wrote once about the need for creation.. it was my particular fight against the devil so to say…i mean it’s far away from what he’s experiencing… but some years ago i could feel my brain cells buzzing.. or something alike, i had to write, to listen, to paint, or mix all.. put all the stimulus together, probably none but me would understand yet it worked for me… i poured pieces of my mind into two blogs.. then i quit…i’m so glad i got here and read this. Basquiat, dubuffet,… i heard there was an acclaimed school in swizerland who treated people like him through art…i’m rambling i think anyway.i perfectly know you ain’t here for lauding but i gotta spit it out anyway.. i’m green with envy mate 🙂 your pics are friggin’ good, and you have a thing to write..english is not my language and your texts get me glued to thank you JIm.

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Market Town : Tilney1 : Electric tears and all their portent