Monday, 28 September 2009

Painting Myself Today

In my other blog,, I say today that I am without inspiration.

Often this is true, and the way forward is to just Keep Doing Something. Today I am painting for the triptych where I am sitting with an empty chair. I am happy enough today to do this, it helps to have a plan drawn up on a day when I could think clearly. Or at all. So I am not terribly involved in the painting. I know what I am doing, I know why I am doing it, it makes symbolic sense, but I am simply creating it today. It feels a relief.

I did my stick man diptych, and it looks very much like 2 stick men. Don't know what to make of it, but I will put it into the exhibition. See what you all say.

Below is Steve and me going off into the future together. I think it is interesting that I painted us pulling away, especially Steve. I didn't intend it. Steve kept this in his room at the hospital.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Painting Stick Men

My wonderful writer friend Olivia said "Even if you paint Stick Men and call it death, it will be profound". I think she has something there.

When we loose someone, everything to do with death and dying and bereavement is personal. We see things that have no significance to anyone else, as deeply personal. Everything has a memory attached. It is as if there is nothing that does not have a link to our loss. I looked everywhere in the weeks and months after Steve went for something that was neutral. I wanted to lay my eyes on an object, any object, any view, any scene that was not filled with memories of Steve. In the end, I fixed my eyes on a photo of a peeling wooden door taken by my photographer friend Eileen, and it became the only thing that I could look at that was not directly related to Steve.

It was, I understand, mind over matter. There is no reason why this photo of a door became my refuge, but it did. Every tree, every person, every sound was linked to Steve. There was always a way back to him and the link was instantaneous.

Our experiences of loss make us see the world differently. It is not possible to do otherwise, and I have found that seeing links to death and dying has become routine . Once, it was filled with pain and furious distress, but now it feels real, as if I have a slight handle on the intransience of things. I am painting my observations of Steve's last few days, I am painting the terrible state of his body and I am compelled to look again and again at the photos I took of the man I thought would be here for ever. I am painting the blankness and the sense of smallness I felt both before and after he had died. And everything I do is imbued with this sense of inexplicable, awe filled and terrible end of a life.

And so, today I am going to paint stick men and call it death. It is profound, because I have a tiny tiny insight into one person's end of life.

"Alone" oil on wood.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

No Painting Today. Office Day

I have done the full size portrait of Steve and it looks good. I have put the words I removed from the large portrait of Steve in blue pyjamas just before he died, back. At the time I thought they were too much and they are. They are very sad indeed, they were too much for me at the time. So I removed them and kept them on a sheet of paper until it was safe to put them back.

Today I am putting out the press release and contacting people about the exhibition. I have two very separate functions with this exhibition. The office part is intellectual, it is about Organising and Doing. It isn't too hard to do, though I have to make myself do it. I always fear I won't be taken seriously and that the strength of my work and intentions will be either dismissed or misunderstood. But the painting side. I have to allow myself to take the day off from all other things and go and Just Do It. This exhibition means that I have to try to make clear something that is hard (painting) loss (emotional) a little bit uncomfortable (death) and utterly incomprehensible (end of life). I have to make clear something that is not and never will be clear. A paradox. So I have to explore it perhaps, to make sense of it in the only way I can, through painting. At the same time I am aware that it bonds and links so many of us. The experience of loss. This is how I can work it out, touch other people, and be touched by them. It is turning out to be life affirming, a huge statement on how Life Will Go On, this exhibition. No matter how bad I feel or have felt, in order to paint anything at all means time has passed and the experience is being made visible. Some kind of healing is taking place. The few that have seen the paintings say Ah. Yes. That happened to me. I knew someone who died. And human contact has been made, an important bond that affirms us as Still Alive, as Here and Connecting.

This is the prayer I wrote the day he died. I didn't like it at the time but now it is OK.

You are not my king I am not your daughter
You are not my father you are not my saviour
Not my redeemer not my lamb,
Not a person not a man,
You are not a Thee or Thou you didn't come to earth to save me and Steve
You are not my parent I am not an idiot
I don't have to be nice to you.
I don't have to obey you I can't hear you speaking
I can't listen because
You don't say anything

Monday, 21 September 2009

A Picture Of Steve From Worthing Hospital

As an image, I like this. I like the features becoming sharper and larger as the face gets thinner. I have painted the whites of the eyes yellow because of the jaundice, and his eyes were yellow. As was his skin. There are many more things to paint, I think, on a thin face. There is more evidence of bone structure and tendons and the skin clings to the structure of the head more, so I can see more shadow.

I remember this moment when Steve felt acutely aware, for this moment, of his fading looks. His dramatic weight loss was still only just beginning, and for a man who was used to health and robust good looks, these moments must have been very hard.

Here is one of me standing awkwardly. On the painting there is a big black cross marking where the cancer was in Steve's body.
I have no face, it is too much to paint my face.
Today I am finishing the full length portrait of the healthy Steve and starting on the tryptich that I want to use to describe alone-ness. I want to do these paintings, but I don't too. Today I have a knot in my stomach and it would be very nice to go on holiday and lie in the sun instead. But only I can do my own exhibition. Better just do it. The large portrait is lovely and it looks like Steve is looking at me, my only worry is that it may be empty. I seem to only go so far with these paintings, and still have not captured the experience enough. Maybe I never will, maybe no one can. However, I will go now into the studio and see what happens.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

You Tube Video And Today's Agenda

Today I am painting Steve healthy and well. As time goes on I can remember him more as well, I can recognise him in the painting I will do today. A large full figure portrait.

A Norweigan artist friend made a video of me 8 weeks after Steve died. Here is the link. I have only just begun the paintings. See what you think.

I have an exhibition of Every Day Angels to do too for the two weeks prior to the Graceful Death, and I have no wit in me at the moment at all. I could do gloomy droopy Angels, or Angels that stare out of the window with their mouths open. Gawd. Better not get my two exhibitions mixed up.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Introduction To This Blog

"A Graceful Death" Exhibition
by Antonia Rolls
Friends House Priory Road Chichester West Sussex
7 - 13 December 2009
"Chichester Quakers are pleased to host in their place of worship, The Friends' Meeting House in Priory Road, Chichester this exhibition from Antonia Rolls which centres on “A Graceful Death”, the story, in pictorial form, of the struggle of the human body against the final stages of liver cancer. The show is both a tribute to her partner, Steve Shaw, the subject of Antonia’s paintings, and a celebration of the life force inside us all, even so close to death."

The exhibition concentrates on the last three weeks of Steve’s life, and the day of his death. I show the change from the healthy outdoor man to the jaundiced and confused and skeletal figure that he became in only a few weeks.

I want to show the miracle of life and death, the power of our spirit to keep going and the majesty and awe of death which is beyond explanation. This exhibition will put us in touch with our mortality.

The exhibition will feature paintings of Steve’s final days and the day he died, with paintings too of how much I felt his loss. Death is a universal experience, and this will touch all those who have experienced cancer and the loss of a loved one whether from this disease or not. The exhibition is painted with sharp honesty and compassion, with touches of gentle wit.
One of the Chichester Quakers says, "Although Quakers give more attention to the way we live our lives, death is an inevitable fact of life and a subject that many people nowadays avoid confronting until they have to. As Quakers we are advised that "accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully" (Quaker Faith & Practice 1.02.30). We hope that this brave exhibition may enable others to think about and gradually come to temrs with this experience and perhaps be able to discuss their feelings and wishes with their family and friends".

The Rev Rob Gillion of Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, London says of Antonia’s work -
“I know what patient care and prayerful thought goes into each painting by Antonia. She will spend time listening as the gifts and interests and personalities of the subjects are described. It is a real journey of delight accompanying her as she slowly unfolds a family and their stories.”

All proceeds to go to St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing and St Wilrids Hospice, Chichester