Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Birmingham Finished Oxford Next

www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com for an account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis
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antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

Exhibition Goes To Oxford Next in July

I went with my 16 year old son Costya to Birmingham on Sunday to take down the AGD from Queens Theological College. It took a good day to set up and 2 hours to take down. Now all the paintings are behind me as I write, wrapped up in the studio, ready for the next Event.

How did Birmingham go? I think it went well in that this exhibition doesn't cheer you up and make you laugh. It is not about a Fun Experience, which is what I had aimed for before when putting on an exhibition. My Every Day Angels are about enjoyment and connection and fun and smiling and colour. A Graceful Death is about Death. About the End Of A Life. Bereavement. All experiences in our Human Condition and not very comfortable ones, and understandably so. But AGD is also so much about Love and Hope. How can someone you adore drift away to eternity and not leave you affected for ever? How can this event called Death not put into sharp focus all you do have, all the wonder of the life you are left to live, and the memory that you, little you, could love so profoundly and passionately? And that the passing of that object of your love has highlighted the power of this feeling and this love? We are blessed if we can love. We are blessed if we can dance someone out of this life.

The reception in Birmingham was one of painful facing of feelings. It was not, I am assured by the feedback I have received from the students there, about helpless pain and distress. The experience was one of Catharsis and working through the feelings of loss and love and grief. The students at Queens are mostly all ordained ministers, and most have experience of death. This exhibition caused them to look at and feel the passing of their own personal feelings of loss and sorrow. I heard from one wonderful lady vicar that I would not ever know the effect of the exhibition on her, how releasing and healing it had been. Her mother had recently died. Until that moment she had been very private, and I had no way of knowing if her experience of the paintings was good or not. Another very brave lady, I don't know her name, missed her husband oh so terribly. She cried before I spoke to the community and said that she felt she needed to stay. Throughout the talk I gave I could see her crying so painfully and knew she had decided what was best for her. I remember thinking she was a remarkable lady. A few hours after the talk was over she came to me still with tears in her eyes and on her cheeks, and said that she was filled with peace and joy. She had faced a storm of sorrow and was uplifted and full of hope.

If nothing else, these two ladies have made the exhibition in Birmingham more than successful. Steve, bless him, has helped to calm some very troubled feelings. His images, this exhibition, can do much good.

Oxford next! More details later when all is finalised. It will be in July.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Peter Snell Died on Tuesday

www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com for an account of How To Be An Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis
www.antoniarolls.co.uk for my website
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

"A Graceful Death" in Queens Foundation Theological College
Somerset Road
Birmingham B15 2QH
As the rooms the exhibition is in are in constant teaching use, please email the college to make a convenient time to visit
Exhibition closes on Sunday 28 March, last full viewing day Saturday 27 March.

Peter Snell Died On Tuesday

Peter Snell was my Aunt's second husband, and the love of her life. He was a wonderful man, wearing bow ties and cravats, with a large healthy beard. He was not only a father to his own children but step father to my 6 utterly larger than life cousins, so his was not an easy path.

I mention Peter here because before he died, he and my aunt asked me to come to the Hospice to photograph him to go into the A Graceful Death exhibition. Peter said it would "Help Others". So I went and photographed Peter and Anne, and spoke mainly to Anne as Peter was too ill to speak much. I was just in time, Peter died exactly a week later and now I am painting his portrait with his wife, my aunt, for the exhibition. The main theme of Peter and Anne is Love. Anne is and was the way Peter found Love and that is what I will paint.

I have been asked to apply to take the exhibition to another popular venue in Birmingham. I will do that, and hope it will go ahead. In the meantime, I have more offerings coming in from people I met recently in London and Birmingham, more poetry and possible images of loved ones.

The exhibition runs in Birmingham until Sunday March 28.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Exhibition Set Up At Queens

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http://www.antoniarolls.co.uk/ for my website
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

Exhibition Up At Queens in Birmingham.
Queens Foundation (Theological College)
Somerset Road
Birmingham B15 2QH

Exhibition runs until
Sunday 28 March

To view the exhibition, email the university as the exhibition room is in constant teaching use. They will give you times you can visit

After setting up the exhibition in two rooms, I prepared myself to speak to the college on the Monday at 11am. I would be addressing about 60 people, all of whom are practicing some ministry in the Church, and many who are training. All of them deeply educated and working hard on their own paths in their Ministries. I was nervous because I had not done something like this before, and because the people I was to address were so educated. My father and who said " so are you" when I mentioned the bit about being educated. It is true, I have a MA Hons. And my mother said "they don't want a lecture" which is also true. I can only talk about what I know, and that would be, in this case, the paintings of Steve and my story.
I did wear a red jacket too in case I spoke nonsense so that they could look and admire the jacket instead.
Everyone came in and took their places. Each chair had a small brocure created to explain the exhibition, there were fresh daffodils in vases around the lecture room and the paintings were hung behind everyone as they sat facing the front of the room. The more serious paintings were hung in a small quiet room off the main room, and chairs were set up for contemplation and thought. I was made aware before I started that at least half the people in the room didn't have a clue that they were going to hear 45 minutes of bereavement, death, dying and love, life and hope. The Pricipal, David Hewlett had very wisely advised me to start by giving gentle permission to all who felt they could not take it, to leave the room with the chaplain; some had been bereaved fairly recently they may need someone to sit with them. I also said that if there were tears, that was fine, good and natural.
The point of this exhibition is not just my story. It begins with my story with Steve, but it has become about the feelings around bereavement, the need to talk about loss and the desire to share one's own story. This exhibition is at the moment about the release of emotion, if you want it, in a safe atmosphere where we all understand and let it happen. It is about moving on and living after the death of a loved one. For this reason, the response to the talk was spell binding. I talked, and told of the reason for the exhibition - about meeting Steve and his cancer and his graceful dying and death. I spoke of my fury with God and the shattering disbelief I felt that someone like Steve could die when I had only just met him and needed him to be with me. Not dead, not gone away for ever.
I showed the paintings and explained what made me paint them, and talked of the power of life that was highlighted in the act of dying. For the 45 minutes these good Christian men and women sat listening, I felt the empathy and recognition in the room. When I finished, I saw 60 pairs of glassy, moist eyes looking back at me, and noticed that a good few people were crying in the arms of their neighbours. The silence was utterly palpable and I sat down and thought "I have upset these good people, and they didn't expect this" . Neither, I have to say, did I. The Minister who had introduced me took over and said that now was a time for prayer. It was impossible to speak, impossible to move. We sat and prayed, or cried, or both, in silence, and then one by one the room cleared. Some people came and said they had been helped, some came to talk about their story, but not many. I wondered if I had gone too far.
Later, as if to make the experience even more profound, one by one, people came up to me and thanked me. A kind and interesting trainee Methodist minister told me that I should be in no doubt that what I had done was to touch people on many different levels, and show them the pain they carry around. And that everyone had felt so very moved and I know this is what happens. If I tell them my story it is so like theirs, we feel moved together, and it is good to know that I was in a terrible state and painted it so that I could try and make sense of it, and that all of us carry around our stories of bereavement. We all know what we are talking about when we do talk about it.
And later, when I nervously walked into lunch, wondering if I would be held responsible for the absence of students and staff for that afternoon, the kind and lovely principal David Hewlett got to his feet and introduced me formally, and everyone started to clap. That was all I needed! I was OK and they were OK and all was good again! David said to me later that it is vital that in their work outside after their training, all the students here must be able to deal with real grief and loss. And that what I did with the exhibition and the talks was wonderful and necessary. Coming from such a good and strong man, that was very high praise indeed.
The visit to Queens ended this morning for me, and I have left the paintings there to be viewed and talked over until Sunday 28 March. That, funnily enough, is Steve's birthday. He would have been 54.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Birmingham Tomorrow. Very Exciting

http://www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com/ for an account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis
http://www.antoniarolls.co.uk/ for my website
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

Birmingham And A New Picture And A Poem Donated

This is Snowy who was a much loved cat. I am including Snowy because it seems that pets are as much missed and grieved for as people. For those who love animals this will seem as common sense, for those who don't this will seem faintly absurd.

I don't have animals, I found my children quite enough. But I do recognise that pets are absolutely fundamental in many peoples' lives and are, consequently, perfect for this exhibition. Grief is Grief, Loss is Loss. I have enjoyed painting Snowy. The end of life of a Living Thing is very profound.

I am going to Birmingham tomorrow. To Queens Foundation in Edgbaston. It is a Theological College and I am very lucky indeed to be going there. On Monday I will address the college, and that will be a learning curve for me. I am addressing highly educated and devout people; I am inclined to think "What do I know?" Well, I know about the paintings, and I know my story. I think I know what I think, but that keeps changing. Perhaps I will just have to admit that I am in a permanent state of flux.

The Poem is written by Jane Eddington and donated to the exhibition. Jane is, amongst other very impressive things, a Clown. She is an insightful and thoughtful and intelligent woman I met at the "A Graceful Death" exhibition in London. Jane has kindly donated this poem about her Aunt and Godmother Liz, who lived a life giving to others as a midwife, while rejecting any closeness and kindness - especially in her final years. Liz had suffered as a child and it left her prone to a devastating depression as she got older. Jane visited her and wrote this poem as Liz was dying.

I hold your hand.
Is it for me...
or is it for you?
does it matter?
I'm not holding on to you
as you turn your back
on the world
your mouth firmly shut...
the only way you can sayno
to life
A life you have been so tired of.
You lie peacefully
so it seems -
a husk left from a life
devoted to helping others
into the world.
It was for you, you said,
for what it gave you,
and that seemed a weight
that lay leaden in you.
I want you to feel
the connection between us
little hand, silky, no longer tanned,
no pressure,
just lightly held
so you know you are
not quite alone
as you go on your way.
You will always be
with me.

By Jane Eddington

The exhibition starts at

Queens Foundation, Somerset Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2QH

Monday 8 March 6 - 9 Opening Night.

I will post all the other details, like open hours and people to contact if you want to come and see. As it is in a College, I think the visiting rules will be different.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

London Is Done, Birmingham Next

Steve's Last Bath on the left and on the wall opposite Hiram Burnett.

http://www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com/ for an account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis
http://www.antoniarolls.co.uk/ for my website
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

So Tired But Onwards And Upwards

Here I am giving the Opening Night speech. There were over 60 people there, and it was a wonderful occaision. There were about the same number at the Closing Night Party on Sunday.

I think the main success of the exhibition is that it enables people to talk. Visitors talked about what was in their hearts and minds, without fear that it would be innapropriate. The exhibition is not heavy. It is full of life and love and sadness and bereavement. It is what you bring to it. We do want to talk about How To Die. We do want to talk about what has happened to us, and we want it to be heard in a sympathetic, normal and empathetic way. If we want to cry, it is fine. It is neither necessary nor discouraged. It just Is. Here are some comments from this London exhibition -

"A very moving and interesting exhibition. Really quite beautiful in a very unique way! Very brave and a courageous move"

"Thank you for inspiring and providing help through painful experiences for me and so many others. Never hold back because it is the truth in this art that makes it so beautiful."

"As you know, and indeed observed, this was a difficult exhibition of me to visit. V. difficult not to break down. I was with both Mum and Dad when each of them died at home and you have captured the "look" or "ambience" of death which I remember"as it were yesterday" And what a wonderful tribute to Steve you have made"

Now the exhibition will begin in Birmingham on Monday. I will give an address on that day, and will have the launch in the evening. I am being given so much opportunity here, to speak from the heart and make the whole exhibition shine. I will include the next image too - a pretty and much loved cat called Snowy. I did not think to include pets, but goodness they are important. I have only one day to paint the image. At every exhibition I want to include at least one more person either in a painting I will do, or in a poem sent to me which I will set up. And I have only received the image today, and will go this weekend, painting Snowy is just right.

I received too, my first request from a dying man in a Hospice to come quickly, take photos of him, as he is not expected to last the week. He wants to help other people, he says, and wants to be a part of the exhibition. His name is Peter Snell, and he is a gentleman, an inspiration and a brave and thoughtful man. He is my aunts husband. Both Peter and my aunt Anne requested that he was included. They will be painted together for the next venue, in Oxford if all goes to plan, and their painting will be about love. Peter is next to death, is dying of cancer, and Anne is beautiful, compassionate and so loving. This is where Peter finds just how much he is loved. I will take much time and thought on this picture when I do it.