Monday, 5 September 2011

AGD and Suicide

This last week Eileen Rafferty, the Photographer came to stay so that we could work together on the A Graceful Death projects, paintings and interviews.  It was always going to be a strong week, it was always going to be hard work as we did not have an easy subject to explore.

Stuart Pryde came to stay from Scotland so that we could work with him on how to represent his wife's suicide for A Graceful Death.  Stuart took a hell of a risk.  This was a long journey to take, it was not a subject that is easy to talk about, and Stuart is a private and gentle man, who does not, I think, tell people his life story unless he knows them very well.  Eileen and Stuart were friends at University in Aberdeen, and though I was at the same University, I was far too arty and badly behaved to know Stuart.  I did however, know Eileen. (Who was not badly behaved).

Stuart spent Tuesday until Thursday with us here in Bognor and gave us his story.  I have no experience of suicide, I don't know what it is about.  Stuart lost the love of his life three years ago last August and is still struggling to find a way through his loss.  His wife Sue was, by all accounts unforgettable.  A powerful force for good, a deeply intelligent and troubled person, with a history of dreadful personal pain and possibly, deep deep depression by the end.  What makes Sue's suicide so extraordinary is that she wrote everything that she felt, did and wanted to do in an account that is lucid and touching in a way that I cannot describe.  She loved Stuart, that is obvious throughout her accounts.  But she hated herself.  She planned her suicide with meticulous and tender detail right down to the care she took to make her dying gentle and loving.  Stuart is living with this bereavement. He is living with the what ifs, the maybe if I had done something, the I didn't know.  Stuart talked from his heart with dignity and pain, and love and sadness, and hopelessness and darkness and always back to love again.

I have a painting of Sue and Stuart to do, I have text to use as part of the painting.  Eileen filmed and photographed our sessions in the studio and on Thursday morning Neill filmed a powerful and forthright interview of Stuart talking about where he is now in his thoughts and mind.  

On the Thursday evening after we had said goodbye to Stuart as he travelled back up North,  Sarah Crawcour came to do a session in the studio. Sarah has had cancer three years ago. A year before she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her partner died. Sarah's account of her illness following the loss of her partner is something that I want to use for AGD.  Two very important points that Sarah makes are that she objected passionately to the pinkification of breast cancer, with the pink ribbons and pink folders for her papers and the relentless upbeatness of the people around her.  Sarah is all for positive thinking, but felt that she wanted to scream and shout and say that her cancer is not pretty, not pink, nor easy to deal with.  This is her thinking, she knows the pinkness works for many women.  And the second thing is that when she got the call to say that her partner was fading fast, she absolutley did not want to go to his bedside.  That she would never have got there in time is not relevant, I am really taken with Sarah's instinctive conviction that she simply would not go and see him die.  

What Sarah offers I feel, is another side of the experience of being bereaved.  Not everyone wants to go to the death bed.  Not everyone can do it.  And Sarah offers a very good and powerful account of why she didn't want to be soothed by the pinkness, she calls it, of breast cancer treatment and awareness.

The painting I want to do of Sarah is going to be different, I think.  It may be black and white.  Sarah suits the strength of black and white.  We did not film Sarah, but Eileen did photograph her and we did a very good interview.

So now.  Off to work.  I have much to do, and a possible visit next week to Sheffield to visit the University  in order to show the A Graceful Death exhibition at some point.  It would have to be in 2012 as this year is moving on so fast, and Birmingham is coming up where the exhibition will be showing for the whole month of November in St Martin in the Bullring.

So now, a big thank you this week to 
and to Neill for filming on Thursday.

Thank you.


  1. We had some very special experiences last week, and spent time with exceptional people. I think that their stories will add immensely to the exhibition and be both a comfort to those who need comfort, and an aid to understanding for those who need that.

  2. I've been struggling to know how to respond - thank you Antonia for your words - further confirmation that in you and Eileen, Sue and I's story is in good hands. Last week was special for me too - I feel as if I was on some spiritual retreat - my soul feels refreshed. You and Eileen were brilliant - kind, gentle, loving and involved. I knew before, but spending time with you both and seeing the paitings for real, has confirmed for me that A Graceful Death is a hugely powerful, challenging and nurturing act of art and love. It is so sad there are some people who cannot see that, but I am so pleased to have found a way of doing justice to Sue's suicide.