Med thumb the game

As often as three times a week, Lee Hadwin wakes to find images scrawled on his walls and floors, and in the various open sketchpads arranged around his apartment. On these days, he’ll wander around and view the work, taking in the new, unfamiliar creations. Yet while the content varies — sometimes there are skylines with jagged, cloud-piercing buildings; other times there might be beautiful, winged women twisted in mid-turn — one thing is certain: Hadwin created them in his sleep.

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Since the age of four, Hadwin has composed artwork while sleepwalking. During such occasions, he stumbles about in a fugue-like trance, grabbing the nearest available pencil and, hunching over intently, furiously sketches. The results are even more staggering than the act itself. What began as indiscernible childhood scribbles evolved and, by the age of 15, Hadwin’s unconscious self began to show promise, producing detailed portraits of Marilyn Monroe. In the following years, his work progressed so much so that it's been shown in numerous galleries (the Hollywood Museum bought an early Monroe portrait) and some drawings have sold for as much as six figures (Donald Trump owns one). 

Yet while he’s sought-after in the art world, Hadwin is more desired amongst sleep professionals, as his somnambulant sketches and paintings make him an extreme irregularity.

“To this day I still cannot produce the works that I am doing while asleep during my fully conscious state of mind,” Hadwin, who was born in Wales but now lives in London, told Van Winkle’s. As such, he’s been studied by sleep doctors at numerous world-renowned clinics, nearly all of whom are baffled by his unique condition. Hadwin spoke to Van Winkle’s about his artwork, his sleepwalking and why the occasional morning migraine is a simple price to pay to produce his art.

So this began when you were four?

Yes. I started drawing — well, scribbling — on my bedroom walls at around that age. I would just scribble on paper and my schoolbooks. And I say scribble as that is basically what it was.

And when you were fifteen, you realized your work was evolving.

Yes. The progression in my works started in my teenage years. At the age of 15, I drew the Marilyn Monroe and this was when my artwork started to become more “arty,” so to speak.

LeeHadwinArt2You’ve been deemed an anomaly, as you cannot recreate the art when you are awake. As such, you’ve been evaluated by, among other places, the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic. What have they said?

I have been to the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic several times now for tests, yet it has been hard to diagnose my condition as I do not produce art every night. To pinpoint an actual episode is very hard. That said, they have noticed that I have a lot of body movement while I am in a deep sleep.

Back in 2013, I was filmed for a documentary for Fuji TV Japan; they placed cameras in my apartment for two weeks solid and wired me up every night. They did say some scientist in Japan had some good information from the tests; however, they will not or have not disclosed anything to me as of yet, as the documentary has yet to air.

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How many other tests have you had run?

I have had many tests done here in the UK, Japan and Hong Kong. I’ve spoken to psychologists and therapists, too. They believe that it was all brought on by some childhood trauma, but I totally disregard this, as my childhood was good. 

Is drawing your only sleepwalking habit, or do you suffer from any other nighttime issues? 

I used to sleepwalk as a kid. Nothing out of the ordinary, though, as a lot of children do. However, I’ve woken up several times and seen things. I remember once at around the age of 17 waking up and seeing the largest spacecraft in my bedroom. That, as you could imagine, was hard to explain.

How many nights a week do you draw in your sleep? Do you ever wake up tired the morning after a session?

I can sometimes draw three times in a week, but can then go a few weeks or months without drawing or painting a single thing. When I wake up in the morning my thought process changes instantly and this is when I know I have drawn something even though I do not know what I have created. I will then normally get a headache or migraine — but that’s a small price to pay.

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Does your art ever reflect what you’ve dreamed? As in, if you paint Marilyn Monroe, do you have to dream about her?

I have never really been able to connect my dreams to the art I produce. When I created the Marilyn Monroe drawings, I remember she was around a lot on t-shirts and such in high school, so I probably picked up on that. A lot of my drawings show circles and skylines and I love documentaries on the universe and physics, so I believe this is why I draw planet-like stars and circles. The skylines I draw are probably from my childhood fascination of New York and large cities.

I was told by a couple of critics here in London that if I stop producing art in my sleep, it would be the same as an artist dying, so the value of my art will go up.

What do you think of your talent? Do you see it as a gift? A curse? A bit of both?

It’s definitely not a curse, as it really does not impact my daily life apart from waking up with the odd migraine now and again. And that is a small price to pay. It is maybe a gift, as I do see 11:11 all the time, which I believe is a message of some sort. However, I believe this is separate to my artistic episodes and something personal to me.

How do you prepare for your night’s work now? Do you try to set pads out in strategic places or simply cover your home in paper ?

I have tried to prepare for my night's work, but most of the time, if I leave paper out, I may or may not use it. I have most of my artistic tools and materials just under my bed. However, I will still draw on the wooden floors walls or in the kitchen.

We especially like your figure work, specifically the woman with the fracturing wings. Do you have any idea where the ideas come from?  

A lot of people love the figures, which I call fairies. I have not a clue why I produce these. I spoke to a couple art critics a few years ago and they said that I must’ve had to have used real-life models, as it was the only way I could have gotten the figures to look the way they do. That must mean that fairies exist. [Laughs]

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Your work is growing in demand. What’s next?

I really want to exhibit in the U.S. and Japan, and if any galleries would be interested, then please do get in touch. I also do a lot for different charities here and overseas, the main one of which is Missing People. I believe if any of us have the time and can raise awareness of other peoples’ sufferings in life then we have an obligation to highlight this.

Do you ever worry that one day you might wake up to a blank pad or canvas?

No, not at all. I was told by a couple of critics here in London that if I stop producing art in my sleep, it would be the same as an artist dying, so the value of my art would go up. It could be a good thing.

What do you say about your talent, and what it speaks to in terms of tapping into a different side of yourself when you’re asleep? 

I truly believe that everyone has something special to add in this universe. Some choose to do bad and horrific things, while others go on to do amazingly good ones. We are all spirits at the end of the day; we’re just encased in different shells.

To see more of Hadwin's work, visit leehadwin.com