Lee Hadwin has an unusual talent. Since the age of four, the Welsch man has been creating artworks while asleep, drawing everything from Marilyn Monroe to partially nude fairies while he is in a subconscious state.
He claims to have no artistic abilities otherwise, assuring critics and journalists that he makes “horrific” artwork when he’s awake. It’s only when he’s sleeping that his knack for drawing detailed figures and abstract forms reveals itself.
Hadwin has allegedly stumped sleep disorder experts. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he explained that he’s submitted to tests by various clinicians who have failed to diagnose the unique artist with anything but parasomnia, a term used to denote a broad spectrum of strange sleep habits ranging from extreme teeth grinding to night terrors. Scientists can explain why he might have the urge to walk and sketch in his sleep, but not why his creative flair remains dormant during Hadwin’s waking hours.
It’s difficult not to be suspicious of Hadwin’s bizarre story. His paintings have sold to collectors around the world (including Donald Trump) and his mysterious condition has catapulted his name to the top of headlines across Britain. But no definitive conclusions have been drawn explaining why or how his “sleep-drawing” persists. Ahead of his upcoming “art” show at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, we contacted the artist to learn a bit more about his circumstances. Scroll down for interview.
When did you start creating art in your sleep?
It was when I was about four or five years old. At around 12 or one o’clock in the morning I would start scribbling on the walls of my bedroom. I wasn’t making masterpieces at that age. I’d just get up, scribble and sleepwalk around. My parents took me to the doctor and they thought it was just a normal sleepwalking habit. But in my teens the drawings became more intricate. I drew four Marilyn Monroe [portraits] at that time, and that’s when the doctors sat up and thought this was a a bit strange. They didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t draw while I was in a conscious state. That I wasn’t drawing while awake, only while I was subconscious.
You began drawing on walls and then switched to drawing on paper. Did you start keeping supplies by your bed just in case?
Years ago I would get up and draw with anything. I used coal from the fire and forks and knives as a kid. Now, basically I just leave a load of stuff in the drawer next to my bed, with paper underneath my bed. It was only four years ago that I started drawing in color. Before it was just pencils and stuff. Now I leave pastels too.
Do you remember making art in your sleep?
I don’t remember drawing. I have no recollection. I know when I wake up. I feel like I am on the verge of a panic attack or something. And I get a migraine. I know I’ve done something, and then I see the drawings.
Do your sleeping artworks resemble images you’ve dreamed of? Do you ever recognize the images?
Eh, some of them. People ask about the Marilyn Monroes, which I made back in the late ’80s when I was 15. Back then I was in high school and Marilyn was around a lot, on t-shirts and things. That’s the only thing I can pinpoint. I think some of the things I have seen in my waking life, but I don’t know if I scribble from what I see, because there is some stuff I can’t explain. Like the fairies. I would never have seen fairies.
You’ve been tested several times in sleep clinics, right? Have you ever been diagnosed with any type of sleep disorder?
I’ve done tests several times. I’ve gone to the main clinic in Edinburgh three times. In New Zealand they thought it was parasomnia. But that doesn’t explain the drawing. That I’ve tried and tried to draw in a conscious state. But I can’t. That was the hardest thing to prove. No one has ever questioned whether I was really drawing in my sleep. The questions were about whether I can’t really draw while I am awake.
I was recently tested by the Japanese for a documentary for Fuji television. They wired me up and observed different things about my brain activity. And they went through all my school reports, did a background search of my old art reports, saw that I dropped out of art in grade five. It’s just not something I pursued.
What were their conclusions?
They won’t tell me at the moment. I presume they don’t want anything leaked.
Did you learn anything from the tests? What could you surmise yourself?
I learned that my body — when it’s in the REM part, I think… when there’s the most activity going on in the brain during sleep — is not asleep or it’s not really resting. Even in a deep sleep, my body is still not sleeping. I also did a [program] for ITV once. They got 20 pieces of my work and they put a sheet over them and had this big art critic take a look. He said the person had probably taught himself, that the work was remarkable. When ITV asked him if the art could be drawn in a person’s sleep, he said no way. But maybe I taught myself in my sleep because [the work] has got better.
How do you or other people you know explain this phenomenon?
I’ve received thousands of emails throughout the years from other people who have sleep disorders or strange sleep habits. I got an email from a woman who gets up in the middle of the night and cooks a meal and eats it and does not remember doing this. But I mostly hear about people producing things they can produce while they’re awake. So that’s different. I don’t know. I also get emails from religious followers who think it’s Jesus.
Do you agree with that — that it could be religious?
I’m quite spiritual, and I’m not one to knock people’s beliefs — everyones entitled to them. I do think there’s a higher force in the universe, whether that’s a god or whatever. But I don’t really take it that seriously, especially when people say [my sleep art] is the work of the devil.
Have you thought about going to art school or taking lessons to hone your craft?
This is going to sound daft, but it does not excite me in that sense. It’s just not in me. I love my music — I was a bass player in a band for 15 years. But I don’t know… the art doesn’t appeal to me.