Saturday 24 September 2011

An Act Of Love

I watched my beloved elderly Aunt talking yesterday, and the way the light fell through the window onto her face.  At 85, she finds recovering from her ill  health more and more difficult; her time is precious but she is still strong willed and beautiful.  I saw how tiny she had become, and I saw the way her brown eyes looked large in a face that had always been beautiful but was now ethereal, painfully thin and utterly exquisite .  If I could paint you, I thought to myself, how would I do it?  If I had you in front of me, as you are now, and my paints, how would I see you?

 She moved her tiny hands with grace as she talked softly and slowly.  Her hair, smooth and soft, shone in the sunshine that lit her pearl necklace and earrings . When I was about 10 years old, watching my Aunt apply her make up as she sat on the floor in front of her mirror on the coffee table, made me long to do that too for the rest of my life.  I wanted to paint my eyes with brown eyeliner and put on green eyeshadow.  I wanted to wear a pretty under-slip and sit cross legged on the floor in the morning and put heated rollers in my hair, wearing pink lipstick.  I wanted to do everything she did and be as breathtakingly beautiful as this wonderful Aunt. 

  Oh how I love this brilliant, talented, funny, lady. How her grandson and all of her many nephews and nieces do.  As I watched her skin catching the sunlight, as I saw how deep her eyes had become, and as I admired the softness of her now white hair, I realised that every brush stroke I applied to a painting of her, would be an act of love.  An act of love to capture the pleasure her beauty has always given me, to capture the wit and fun of her nature, to capture the wonder that is her.

When I paint someone for A Graceful Death, there too each brush stroke is an act of love.  Though I do not know my sitters as I know my Aunt, the love and respect I feel for each person who contributes to the exhibition is the same.  Watching my Aunt yesterday, gazing at her face and tiny form, I longed to do her justice. That, I think, is how I feel about all  my paintings for A Graceful Death. I long to do justice to the life and the power of the person I am painting. I am in awe of the power of life, in awe of the mystery and extreme power of death, and am deeply touched by the journey that my sitters are undertaking. When I paint Stuart who is alive, and his wife Sue who is not, for the November A Graceful Death in Birmingham, I will want to honour not only Stuart who is living and making his future painfully day by day, but also Sue who by ending her own life has taken a most powerful and traumatic step and cannot and must not ever be forgotten.  I will want to honour them together and apart, as I want to honour the journey of Nushi who I have just painted.  Nushi has undergone cancer treatment and is changed in a way that is not only powerful, but deeply meaningful for the rest of her life.  In fact, looking at the painting of Nushi (which has appeared in an earlier blog called Cancer Chic), it is not quite ready.  There is more to do to it, and I know what I will do.  More on that when it is done.

If I was to paint my Aunt, I would paint my love of her and my gratitude for all that she is and was and means to me.  I would attempt to capture her soul before it slipped away.  Perhaps any painting for A Graceful Death is about capturing the soul before it is gone.  Perhaps each painting I do is about glimpsing the soul before it moves on to wherever it goes next, about honouring the extraordinary now-ness of life before it becomes death, and painting the vulnerablitly and awe of the human condition.

I will not paint my Aunt for this exhibition.  She would not like it and I would not ask.  But I may paint her anyway, just because she is so important and I would regret it forever if I did not. I will keep the painting with me for private viewing as a tribute to the love we have for one, single, private, funny, utterly beautiful lady, our Aunt.

.A Graceful Death is an exhibition that speaks of the power of dying.  It speaks of the power of life.  It changes and develops and follows a path that is about love and mystery and survival and death and always back to love again. And alongside the paintings are words, words from those who are being painted, words from those who are taking part and words from those who just want to be heard.  I sat with my Aunt yesterday, as frail and tiny as a whisp of mist, and it is interesting that it is not my Aunt that wants to be heard today, it is me.

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