It’s a picture that speaks a thousand words – and helped its maker come to terms with tragedy and loss.
Sheffield artist Ruth Garner is bravely exhibiting her self-portrait Exposed – which was inspired by her experience of losing all her hair through alopecia – at this weekend’s Art in the Gardens event.
The single mum started to notice her hair shedding just days after her friend Gary Gardiner, aged 46, was the victim of a brutal murder, along with his girlfriend Jane Wheatley, in Nether Edge in 2007.
Ruth, of Stannington, said: “Days after what happened his brothers and friends went out for a meal one night and I found about three hairs in my food. I assumed it was the restaurant.
“A few weeks later I noticed my hairline had changed – and I had to shave off what was left the next year.
“Apparently stress is quite a common factor. I think Gary’s death was the trigger but I was probably quite stressed already.”
The alopecia, which has affected Ruth’s eyebrows as well, meant she had to totally ‘rethink’ her appearance.
She chooses not to wear a wig, and admits people would sometimes stare – but she hated feeling like she had to hide her condition.
One day the 42-year-old decided to paint a picture of herself and, although Ruth says Exposed was never quite finished, it will now go on show at the biggest outdoor art event in the north of England from tomorrow.
The name of the painting reflects how she sometimes feels because of the condition.
Doctor’s surgery worker Ruth, who also said many people were supportive, particularly patients at Weston Park Cancer Hospital when she was training to take blood, said: “The painting was a bit therapeutic really, maybe it did help me come to terms with it.
“People say I look fine and can get away with it because I have a nice shaped head, which is all very nice, but I do worry what I will look like when I am 60 or 70.
“The painting feels like it is me, and because it is my first exhibition that’s great.
“It is very different and I’m not expecting anyone to buy it – and I don’t mind, I would like to keep it.
“But it would be great if it raised some awareness about alopecia. I know only one other person who has the same kind.”