Monday 21 February 2011

We Did It. A Very Busy Opening In Manchester. for my website for the Jesus on the Tube image story and image for an account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis for a short film from the first weeks of creating the A Graceful Death exhibition by Bertram Somme

We Opened And All Was Well.

You are warmly invited to the A Graceful Death exhibition -

St Nicholas Church, 408 Kingsway, Burnage, Manchester M19 1PL

From Saturday 19 February to Friday 25 February
In the Church

Opening Times

Sunday to Friday open from 12 - 1 pm and from 7 - 8pm
All other viewings happily supplied via appointment through Rachel on 0161 432 7009 



This is the Heather Stott interview below, I am 1 hour 4 minutes into it.

This below is the Mike Shaft interview from 20.2.2011. I am 1 hour 10 minutes into it.

The Opening of the A Graceful Death exhibition was excellent.  It took a lot of effort and patience, it took time and energy but by 6pm on the Saturday, Rachel Mann's church of St Nicholas in Burnage looked very wonderful indeed.  It took the A Graceful Death Exhibition team a good three days to get the paintings unwrapped, sorted, a place for them to hang, the literature for the exhibition in the right places, the atmosphere created and the whole show to be appropriate not only to the subject, but to Rachel's truly amazing 1930s church.

There were two radio interviews to do at BBC Radio Manchester, on Heather Stott's programme on the Friday morning and then on Mike Shaft's programme early on Sunday morning.  Both those needed to be filmed as A Graceful Death is being made into a film by Neill Blume, who is both a sensitive, creative film maker and a friend.  That was possible through the kindness of BBC Radio Manchester - so thank you to them. The A Graceful Death team were Neill and his camera assistant Graham who drove up with me on the Thursday.  On Friday arrived the photographer and one of my oldest and dearest friends Eileen Rafferty, who is writing a book on the A Graceful Death exhibition and story.  Eileen knew Steve well, and was there for that final week.  She is very much a part of the whole creation of the exhibition.  Later on Friday my son Costya arrived;  Costya is very good at helping to organise my exhibitions.  He has helped many times and knows the ropes.  And finally on Saturday, Alan Bedford arrived to give his support and help. Alan is instinctively aware of what needs to be done, and is always a very practical and valuable person to have on any project.  He also knows the exhibition well, and can guide people during the openings, explaining and talking about the paintings and listening to what people have to say.  And the most important member of the team, Rev Rachel Mann who not only gave her church over to us, but accommodated all of us for three days at her home.  Rachel also made herself available for any help we needed, and was patient, calm and extremely sensitive to every one's needs throughout our stay.

The paintings were wrapped up and couriered over from Dublin, with thanks to my dear Dublin friends and to Philipp Matuschka who met the entire costs of the transportation.  Philipp has supported this exhibition by taking on the worry of transporting the A Graceful Death paintings to Dublin for the exhibition there at the end of 2010, and from Dublin to Manchester for this showing now.  Unfortunately, one of the most important paintings escaped the courier's attention.  Through nobody's fault, the painting of Steve "I'm Not Going Anywhere" was overlooked and remains in Dublin. I only discovered it's absence on the Friday when we were sorting out the hanging of the pictures in the church.  It is a very important painting, as it shows Steve at the very beginning of his journey to his death - it shows him alive and well, full of  normal every day health and life.  Alan sorted the problem out by printing and framing an A4 copy of it, and we displayed that.  

"I'm Not Going Anywhere" .  Steve well and happy and not concerned with his liver cancer diagnosis.  This painting has stayed in Dublin and accidently escaped the courier over to Manchester.  It will come over for the next exhibition in Birmingham inNovember 2011.
Rachel's church, St Nicholas in Burnage, is a huge, dark and imposing building from the outside.  It looks monumental and slightly alarming.  It is heavy, made of brick and looks weathered but tough, like an old warrior.  Inside - what a contrast.  It is clean, colourful, light, open, warm and welcoming.  As Rachel says, it is a place that has been constantly prayed into, and it is this that washes over you as you walk in.  The tough exterior fits perfectly with the beauty of the welcome inside.  The A Graceful Death team couldn't stay away from the church, we loved it. It really spoke to us.

Setting up the paintings was very hard work.  Once they were unwrapped and lined up along the pews prior to selecting a hanging space, they seemed insignificant inside this huge and gracefully empty church.  We had to have faith that they would be OK when hung, and that the exhibition and the church would compliment each other.  On the Thursday night, Rachel took me into the church alone with her for some silent time.  I needed to gather my thoughts and focus.  I have taken on much with the progress of this A Graceful Death. Each time I show it, the exhibition is larger and better known.  I am also making a film of it with Neill, and he neccessarily has to follow me and those involved to capture the whole story of how the exhibition works, and what it all means.  Rachel saw that I needed to be silent and alone to think clearly about how the exhibition would be presented.  That time alone with her, and later with Eileen too, made all the difference.  We got a sense of where we were and what we were doing.  Neill was very happy with this - it helps him if I don't flap about being indecisive and fragmented when he is trying to film.  

Before the exhibition opened, Neill interviewed Rachel about what it meant to have the A Graceful Death exhibition in her church.  She has taken a risk, the paintings are powerful and raw, and are visible and present in the church for each service that she takes.  Her congregation has to engage with them, and Rachel has had to take that into consideration.  Rachel does not take her ministry nor her congregation lightly.  She knows what she is doing;  I think she is right, the paintings are superb in the church and the subject is such that the church can take it and hold it with grace and strength.  When people started to arrive, they took their time looking and really engaging with the paintings.  Many people were visibly moved, and Rachel, Eileen, Alan and I moved among them talking and listening and being there.  Eileen was also taking photographs as the official photographer.  Neill and Graham interviewed a selection of those who were looking at the paintings, and asked them for their reactions.  Costya had organised the wine and food area, and had created a display of relevant cards and information which was very successful.  He arranged a space for people to sit and take time out, and put flowers and candles around the spaces that needed them.  In fact, he surprised us all by being a magnificent flower arranger.  Neill and Graham were very busy finding out what people thought of what they were seeing and experiencing, and documenting the reactions as they happened.

Alongside this A Graceful Death paintings I am showing a selection of Every Day Angels, and a small Jesus on the Tube exhibition.  I have found that this works well, people have more to look at than the subject of the End of Life.  And the end of life always takes part amidst life, so the two small unrelated but complimentary exhibitions give a grounding to the experience of walking amongst the A Graceful Death paintings and reading the A Graceful Death poetry.

A comment that struck me from a lady who spent a long time looking at the paintings was that though she had not experienced loss of someone close to her, and had had no real experience of grief and bereavement, she still cried because something about the A Graceful Death exhibition resonated with feelings of huge change and loss of other things in her life.  It was not a feeling of hopelessness - A Graceful Death should never affect people in that way - it was an empathy with the passing of things.  The passing of time, opportunities, relationships etc.

The exhibition is open now.  Please go and see it - call Rachel to make an appointment to be taken around.  The church is open generally between 12 - 1pm and 7-8pm, all other times call Rachel on 0161 432 7009.
And see you all there for the Closing Night party on Friday 25 February from 7-9pm .  I am not supposed to say anything, but it is also Rachel's birthday that day.  So we will have a double celebration!


  1. It is a wonderful exhibition. The pictures look great in the church - it's a perfect setting.

    I was very struck by how long people spent at the exhibition. I'm used to seeing most people walk fairly quickly round exhibitions. But those who attended the first night were really engaged and spent ages at each picture or poem and then went back again to some pictures after they'd had time for reflection.

    Your interview is very eloquent too and I'd encourage people to take time to listen.

  2. PS: Check out this link - you may be interested in her work.

  3. I was privileged to be at that opening evening, truly powerful. Reading of some of the reactions of people to Antonia's work (I loved Jesus & John the Baptist playing their Gameboys, a card which made me laugh out loud in the middle of all the other images which often moved me to tears, how could anyone take offence??) just makes it even clearer why we need Antonia & her work. Thank you so much to Antonia, Rachel & all who made it possible.