This blog has been quiet these past few months. The last exhibition was in Manchester, the last big thing was the making of the film. I had work to do, and paintings to paint, and exhibitions to organise. I became exhausted and I think you will all say And? We could have told you that would happen. I did become exhausted and had to put this exhibition down for a while. When you are so very deeply involved with making paintings, writing writings and showing shows, you can become lost in it and I became lost. And so, I put it all down and closed the door. I put all the paintings in bubble wrap, turned them to the wall, avoided this blog and tried not to panic. If I am not doing the AGD, I said to anyone who would listen, it will not exist. Patience, they all replied. It is time to rest. You are not being sensible. It won't go away, it will wait for you to gather your strength and your senses, and it is time to stop.
If it is possible to feel grief for an exhibition, I believe I felt it. This whole thing, the A Graceful Death started at a time of terrible loss and sadness. I think I put all of my feelings into the paintings, into the production of each exhibition, and each time, I felt I had made a difference. Each time I thought Yes. This works because we all share the same story and we all share the same experiences. Dying happens to us all and somehow I can paint it. I want to paint it. I want to paint the end of life, what it looks like, what it feels like for us to watch and most of all to paint a person at the edge of death who is still here. Look! I am still here! I am alive and I look like this and I am still here! Putting the exhibition down and leaving it alone has made me anxious, afraid, lonely and worried that I can't do it any more. I have done the right thing though. I have come back to it with a calmer, fresher mind and I am astonished that not only did I have to leave it alone for a few months, but that I could not see it coming. And though I have been reflecting quite painfully on what I am doing, and full of doubts and anxiety, I am aware that I love this exhibition and the work I am doing so very much, that I must be careful to keep myself strong. I am not dealing with easy stuff. I am not making paintings that you can take or leave. I am not sitting with people who are in a good place and often there is more pain and distress around my subjects than I can imagine. And I am a jolly, fun loving upbeat kind of person. Something had to give, and so it did and I have been away from this exhibition for a good two months.
But! Here is what I have been doing while reflecting and being out of the studio -
- I am volunteering at my local hospice. Mainly I make tea for anyone and everyone, and see what happens. I love being there, and love how the nurses do their job. Amazing stuff.
- I am going to meet Felicity Warner next week (www.soulmidwives.co.uk) and see if this is for me. It may well be, I have no training at all. No counselling/bereavement training, no medical training, not even art training. (I didn't go to art school). This meeting with Felicity may be where I can do something practical. I have spoken with Felicity and liked her very much on the phone. I will see her in the first week of September.
- I have nearly finished the painting of Nushi Khan Levy. I will post it here when I have tweaked it a bit. I need to show Nushi first too, to check she is happy with it.
- This week Eileen (photographer and friend extraordinaire) is staying. Together we are working with a very brave and sad man who is coming from Edinburgh to stay here, to discuss how we can paint the story of his wife for the next exhibition. His wife killed herself and we are working now on the subject of suicide.
- I am meeting another lady this week with a view to including her in the exhibition as not only is she a young widow, but she is a cancer survivor. What she has to say will be very interesting.
- I put some ads in the the mainstream media, and have been contacted by a newspaper for a possible interview. Hope that happens, fingers crossed.
- The film! We are going to start editing it soon, and will present a much smaller film than we first thought. This is another learning curve - we have to start small and work our way into big. Hollywood next time. It will be a great film though, just much shorter.
- Sheffield University is interested in hosting the A Graceful Death exhibition. I will be going up there to talk it over in September
- St James's in Piccadilly is still on the cards for Easter next year, 2012.
- AGD goes to Birmingham in November, to the St Martin in the Bullring church and for that, I will be doing workshops with the wonderful poet Penny Hewlett. I will show Nushi, and I hope the paintings of Stuart and his wife Sue, who killed herself. And maybe Sarah, the young widow and cancer survivor.
- My friend, the artist and artist in residence at St Barnabas House Hospice in Worthing, Stevan Stratford, is joining the exhibition in Birmingham with one of his thoughtful and lovely pieces on "being here and not being here". I am so delighted that he has agreed to add one of his own deeply intelligent pieces to AGD.
- And finally - Eileen is producing a book for AGD , full of her insightful photography and prose. This is a very good thing. Eileen is no lightweight, her work is excellent and her standards high. I can't wait.
So now, with a calmer mind and a fresher approach, I will do the next stage of the A Graceful Death exhibition. I have even found a quartet of young lads who sing and play the guitar so beautifully that I am plucking up courage to ask if they will play for the opening and closing nights at the AGD exhibitions. More on that as it unfolds.
To end, I will tell you what my dream for AGD is.
To exhibit in St Pauls Cathedral, with enormous reproductions of Eileen's photos placed free standing around the paintings. To have Verdi's Requiem playing and to have our film showing in a separate space. To have a new section of paintings and words on surviving bereavement and what really happened to each person taking part (bereavement sometimes makes you act in a wholly outrageous way. What did people really do and think?) and a section of paintings and words from those who are at the last stages of their lives. Verdi's Requiem will certainly keep people on their toes. I want hundreds of people to come and take part, write in the Memory Book and to tell their stories. I want people to write poetry and ponder. Oh and I want tons of tea and cakes and places to sit. All in St Pauls, all in the aisles, and I want lovely flowers and scented candles too. And perhaps to film the whole thing.
Blimey. I don't want much, do I?