The A Graceful Death Exhibition and Project by Antonia Rolls is about what it means to die. Portraits, paintings and words from the end of life. Powerful, moving, loving, uplifting, inspiring. The A Graceful Death Project includes talks, presentations, discussions, events connected to awareness raising of end of life issues. The latest news, exhibitions, events and developments will be available here.
Making a film of the effect an exhibition of paintings of death and the end of life (A Graceful Death, paintings from the end of life) has on those who are involved in the works, and those who come to experience them at exhibitions. Showing how the exhibition is created and broadcast, and hearing what those who love it say, and those who don't love it, say. And very significantly, showing how it feels to paint a sitter as they approach the end of their life, or as they face an uncertain future. A section of the exhibition shows Survivors too, those who have come through illness, or the bereavement process, and are living again.
Click on the link below to see our video and to hear more and to donate to this important work.
I have been sending out information on the above project to everyone that I can think of. It has been hard work to process everything into a small-ish format so that it can be read easily both by email and by post. So far, we have been pledged a very good amount and are grateful. There is not so much to report on the film, as I am only just beginning the fund raising appeal and am awaiting responses. Neill Blume, my colleague who is making the film, and I, have already started work on filming, and will be making another filming journey out very soon as I am visiting a very brave lady who will be painted for the next time A Graceful Death is shown. This lady is recovering from cancer and she and I need to speak first so that I know what it is that she wants from the painting, and I can do the best painting possible.
This morning I spoke to the local newspaper about what I am doing, and about the film project. The journalist that I spoke with has covered A Graceful Death before, and is aware of what it is all about. He writes very sensitively, and I look forward to seeing what comes of it. I am doing all the fund raising and the awareness raising in between having other painting commitments, so every little bit helps. If my local paper comes on board, then I am in a better position to fund raise.
I expect everyone who starts a major project finds that it can take over their lives! I could, if I had no children and no home and no other work to do, spend all day every day doing this exhibition. I love how it is growing, I love how it seems to be working and most of all, I love the responses of the people who come and see it when it is set up. I don't like the feeling that I never do enough for it though. It can be hard to see the wood for the trees. There are a few more very interesting paintings to paint, and some more people I need to contact with a view to painting them. I am remembering people from past exhibitions and realising that they would be excellent subjects for the Survivors that I want to paint. Oh if only time and money were no object. There is a wondeful lady I wish I could visit that I met when A Graceful Death went to Dublin. I would love to travel over to meet her again and to ask to paint her. She was a truly remarkable survivor. And what an artist she is too. I will work on that one though.
I phoned the Spectator and St James in Piccadilly in the last few days and both extremely helpful ladies I spoke to listened to what I was doing, and both said it was timely as they had both lost someone important only very recently. You see, it is such a human experience, loss and bereavement. I meet this everywhere I go. How amazing that death unites is all. I hope to make some new contacts, regarding the Spectator and St James in Piccadilly. It is time to show the A Graceful Death in London again. And, talking with the journalist this morning, he suggested it was time to try to show the exhibition in Chichester once more. I agree and will now look for somewhere to put on A Graceful Death there. You may remember, that when I first tried to show A Graceful Death in Chichester for its first time in 2009, there was such an objection to it that everyone pulled out just before it was to be shown. I think it is time to try in Chichester again. The exhibition has proved itself to be sensitive, controversial and uplifting.
Next week is going to be given over entirely to painting again. I have other commission work to do, and will prepare the wood and the space for the next A Graceful Death paintings, which will be taking shape by the end of this month.
Please visit our page on We Fund, and please donate whatever you can for our film project. Every pound helps. Every amount helps. We don't expect you to give us tens, hundreds or thousands (though should you wish to, we say Oh go on then...), whatever you can afford is helpful for us. Thank you, another update soon.
making a film of the effect an exhibition of paintings of death and the end of life (A Graceful Death, paintings from the end of life) has on those who are involved in the works, and those who come to experience them at exhibitions. Showing how the exhibition is created and broadcast, and hearing what those who love it say, and those who don't love it, say.
Click on the link below to see more and to donate to this important work.
Filming in St Nicholas Church in Manchester, where the exhibition has just had its latest run.
Some reactions to the exhibition in Manchester
"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." Loiuse
"I think what you are doing is a beautiful thing. And I think Jesus is very challenging, and not just comforting. Your writings and what I can see of your pictures speak to me in a powerful way: partly, because my own wife died just over two years ago - she took her own life, but had really tried to give herself a graceful death - which may also sound strange to some people; partly because I have seen many people die; but mostly because they somehow fill me hope when I am such a cynical and pessimistic old cuss these days. I think you have tremendous strength and compassion - so thank you for sharing that with the world." Stuart
"Goodbye Micheal, Goodbye Old Friend". My father leans over to say this to his old friend Michael who died later that evening. They had been friends for about 50 years. (Acrylic on board)
"A Graceful Dying" (saint in a chair in a hospice). Oil on wood. Waiting to die, with only days left.
The A Graceful Death exhibition is a collection of raw, powerful and loving paintings and poetry about the end of life. The poetry has been donated and sent in by those who have been affected by the exhibition, and tells of their own stories. It began with paintings of the last few days, weeks and day of my partner who died in 2007 from cancer. It has grown in the last two years to include the experiences and portraits of others both at the end of life, and those who have been left with no other option but to go on living - Surviving.
"Survivor" the colours of golden yellow and orange say it all. Nothing else is needed, this is me having come through the loss of someone special. I did it. I am alive still and life is good. Oil on wood.
The exhibition has had an extraordinary reception as it has toured the UK. It started in Bognor Regis, and went on to London, Oxford, Birmingham, Dublin and Manchester. It is next due to exhibit for the month of November in Birmingham.
The next huge project for A Graceful Death is the making of A Graceful Death, the Film. My colleague, the film maker Neill Blume, and I are making the A Graceful Death film about the way the exhibition is created and received. We want to film the hard work that goes into the creation of the exhibition, the progress it makes as it travels to each new venue. We aim to film the responses of those who come to see it, and of the reactions that people at the exhibition, beside the paintings. So far, the reactions of those who have come to the exhibition have been overwhelming. They have been truly cathartic for many, very painful for others, and deeply moving for all. There have also been those who do not like the exhibition at all, and we will be filming what they have to say too.
Our film will also show paintings in progress of those who are nearing the end of their lives. It will film how it is to make such a work, and the reactions and thoughts of all those involved. This will include how it affects me as I am working.
The aim of our film, the aim of the exhibition, is to start the long overdue conversation on how it is to die. We want to challenge, with grace, this taboo called Death. What is means to be at the end of life, and how we all will die. It seems that Art can address this issue in a way that is beyond mere words, and that the A Graceful Death exhibition and film, is just at the beginning of this discovery.
We Fund is a website that is dedicated to helping artistic and creative projects to find backing. Neill and I have set up a page on this website and would like to encourage you to follow the link below, and to help us by helping to sponsor our project. Every small donation helps (as well as every large one.) As you will see on the website, we offer heartfelt rewards for each sponsor. Please visit this page below and watch our short video which explains what we are doing
The link for the A Graceful Death Film funding project at WeFund is below. Please go now and have a look. And then, please donate in return for a small token of our gratitude - all of which is listed on our page on the link below ...
Neill and I have set up our project at We Fund, a website dedicated to raising money for artistic projects. We have already started filming, and are excited and inspired by the reception the exhibition is getting, and the extremely personal and profound responses from those who come to see the paintings and poetry.
We Fund is a new kind of website in the UK. It is an American idea, where projects are open for individual sponsorship and donations, in return for Perks, all of which are listed beside the A Graceful Death video. The excellent idea behind this We Fund sponsorship idea is that unless the total amount of sponsorship required is reached, no money is deducted from any donor. You pledge your money and on the closing day of the project, only if the target is reached or exceeded, is the money deducted in one fell swoop into the A Graceful Death, A Film account by We Fund. If the target is not reached, no money is deducted and Neill and I have to think again.
What we would like from you is your support. If you go onto the We Fund website, the link is at the top of this page, you will see what we are offering for each donation. Watch the video, and imagine how important each of your individual responses are to us. It is utterly vital that this film is made. The story, the Art, the expressions of the human condition of loss and recovery from loss is so important. Bereavement, the End of Life, Death are all so evident in the wider world, in the news, in catastrophes and in other peoples' lives - what the A Graceful Death exhibition and experience does is to speak to your experience. It says your story is so very important and powerful. The exhibiton seeks to start the conversation on what it means to die, and how we are affected by it. What is this End of Life thing? It touches a deep chord in those who have shared, at whatever level, the experience which is as profound as it is normal. Death is normal. The poetry and painting in the A Graceful Death exhibition goes beyond the conventional approach and touches us deep in our souls. The A Graceful Death film shows this as it happens. The A Graceful Death film is as important as the exhibition in showing the power, the effect and often the great peace that encountering our own stories of loss and recovery through the A Graceful Death exhibition, brings.
Please be generous and join us on our journey.
With so many thanks and we look forward to the next stage in our filming and exhibition story.
The exhibition was held in St Nicholas Church in Burnage, Manchester, with the Rev Rachel Mann.
a family looking at the Steve As Christ's Head painting hung in the Baptistry in the church
The A Graceful Death exhibition has been packed up, folded away, and transported back to the studio. It was a new kind of venue for me in Burnage, Manchester. I hung the exhibition in a public place, a church, and left it there for a week. The paintings looked very effective in this setting; they looked strong and memorable and difficult to ignore. It was hard for some in the congregation, who when they came to the service on the Sunday, could not but be confronted with images of death and dying under the title of A Graceful Death. "There is no such thing as a graceful death" was the general feeling of those who did not like it. The opening and closing nights were full of those who chose to come, and take part in the exhibition experience. But the service is part of many of the parishioners pattern of life, and non-negotiable. Those that did come, and did not like it, are very brave indeed. The end of life is not an easy subject and if it is unavoidable as part of the Sunday service, then that is very hard indeed.
Neill, in the hat is the Director of the A Graceful Death film, Graham is the camera man. The large painting of Steve in the background above the altar was particularly effective and wonderful, though very prominent.
A church is a place of refuge for many. A church, your own church, is yours, and is not somewhere that you want to challenge or frighten you. Sometimes we have arrived at a set of beliefs that mean everything to us because they make us safe in a world which is unsafe and random. Sometimes, we feel it is better to come to the services and masses and feel connected with what we feel we need so much, like reassurance, familiarity, companionship, communion with God. To have paintings from an exhibition that shake that necessary injection of hope and love from God, all around this sacred place of personal refuge, must be extremely difficult. And A Graceful Death is not an exhibition that is easily dismissed with indifference. So there were those who disliked the exhibition with a passion, and those who loved it with a passion. As I was packing up to leave, helped as ever by my son Costya who had come up especially, a church warden came into the church. The church is kept locked at all times when there is not a service or function going on, as there have been some tricky situations from the street outside. So I knew this lady was part of the congregation. Having asked if I was the artist, she told me with great kindness that many of the older folk had been very upset. I knew this, Rev Rachel and I had discussed it. Her husband, she said, would not come near the exhibition. Just as she walked into the church ten minutes or so before, I remembered, she was accompanied by a man who took one look at me and turned and ran back out of the door. Ah, I thought. The husband. She explained that some of the younger members of the parish had lost friends and family recently and were in no fit state to come and see an exhibition of this kind. I can see that too, and I am so sorry about that. This lovely church warden then went on to tell me about her father and her sister's deaths, and how she reacted to them. She spoke with clarity about what was obviously still very difficult for her, even 20 or 30 years ago. After a while we said our goodbyes and as she went back out into the street I heard her say, "She's very nice, you know" in a surprised voice to, I presume, her husband outside.
Many of the paintings of Steve's last moments were hung in the Baptistry, along with the painting of Peter and Anne Snell, at Peter's death bed. There were tiny paintings in here too, like the Dancing Steve Out of Life, the Sadness and Tea Diptych.The painting of me as a Survivor is on the wall of the main part of the church.
I am very nice. The exhibition is tough. It brings our experience of loss to the surface and if we have not been able to cope before with the sadness, we are not going to be able to cope in the exhibition. But this is where the hope and the catharsis comes in. In this exhibition it is safe to feel a connection with your own story of loss, or bereavement, or illness, or survival. I am there to talk to and listen for the openings and closings of the exhibition, when there are the most people visiting, and if I am not there, someone else is. In this case, Rev Rachel, for the days midweek that I was away. Sometimes images that are not photographs, that are painted, can touch the places that we keep covered. Other people have written poetry and written essays for the exhibition, and those words are full of hope, sadness and sometimes, acceptance. At the A Graceful Death experience, taking time to look at the paintings and reading the words, the universal human condition of life and death touches us and if we have been bereaved, we know what the paintings and the words are about. One very amazing lady told me that she had at last, connected to her father's death of 20 years ago when she came to the exhibition during the week. She was, she said, a mess during the time she spent looking at the A Graceful Death. She came back again to look finish looking at the paintings and words, at the closing night party. Now, she said, she feels a relief and a kind of release. She is a priest herself, and counsels those who have been bereaved - and she thanked me for the healing experience. I thank her, she is a brave lady.
A very important part of the exhibition is the Word Wall. Here is hung many of the poems that were sent to me for use in the exhibition, plus a few words about who they are about.
I met some truly wonderful people. I met the daughter, the granddaughter and the great-granddaughters of the lovely old man who I painted called John Horne. It was the first time they had seen the painting in real life. I had sent them prints made by Eileen the photographer, but to meet them for me, and for them to see the painting in real life, was truly a highlight.
The lovely John Horne.
There were many profound conversations, and I have some wonderful writings given to me which I want to use for the next A Graceful Death which is in St Martins in the Bullring in Birmingham in November this year. I hope to receive some more poetry from some very kind people who were moved by the paintings, and I hope to paint more Survivors of the bereavement and grieving process. And as ever, anyone who would agree to be painted at the end of their lives, with love, grace and dignity, then that is what I want to do.
Looking at the book of thoughts, and reading about the A Graceful Death exhibition. I spoke with this man, who was very sensitive and had worked in health care himself.