Sunday 30 October 2011

Stuart and Sue Pryde and Nushi Khan-Levy Finished Paintings

A Graceful Death Exhibition
St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham B5 5BB

Friday 4 November - Tuesday 29 November

Open Daily

Opening Event Thursday 3 November
2pm - 4pm

Poetry Workshop with Penny Hewlett
Poet in Residence at St Martins 

from 2.30 - 4  "Facing Loss"

All Very Welcome and Tea and cakes for all

I have finished the paintings of Stuart and Sue Pryde.  Sue committed suicide on 7 August 2008, leaving her husband Stuart bereft, confused and devastated.  Stuart has worked with Eileen Rafferty, photographer and co-producer of the A Graceful Death exhibition, and me to produce these images and allow me to reproduce some of Sue's words and her suicide note.  I have not used Sue's suicide note to Stuart, just the one she left for the police.  

The image I have used for Sue is an image that Stuart came upon by accident, it was taken without her knowing only a few days before her planned suicide took place.  The photo shows Sue without artifice, as she truly was at that moment with the knowledge of what she had planned and set up taking up all her thoughts.  No one knew of her decision, and the photograph was just a quick snap of a friend on an uneventful afternoon.  What it actually captured is evident in hindsight.  Sue was withdrawing from the world, setting things in motion for her death and most of all, keeping it deeply secret.   Who could have known?  Taking this photo was the last image ever taken of her.  Who could have known that within a few days she would have arranged her own death in a deeply thoughtful and precise way.  Sue left no space for failure, she wanted to die and killed herself with gentleness, peace and deadly thoroughness.

Stuart loved his wife and loves her still.  Eileen and Neill have both filmed him when he came here to discuss this work for A Graceful Death, and we were all struck at the depth of his love for her and for her love for him.  But Sue had too many terrible demons in her mind, and nothing it seemed, could still them.  Her own death was the only way out.  Here are the paintings
Both Stuart and Sue loved gardening and these are the flowers that Stuart suggested for the paintings.  The deep blue sky is a memory of the skies of Sue's childhood in Tanzania.  Below are three smaller canvases that go in between Stuart and Sue

The words are Sue's suicide letter, some words from Sue's diary, and finally Sue's wonderful letter to Stuart on their wedding day.  The text is set out below for you to read.  It is very important that you read these words, Sue was articulate and amazing.

First Painting
To whom it may concern
I have taken 40mg of diazepam to decrease my anxiety, and some more (crushed) to depress my breathing and decrease my likelihood of convulsions.  Some Tramadol simply because it makes me dizzy; around 6 units of alcohol and 30mg zoplicone.  The helium is self-evident.  There is no cry for help here; I do not intend to be found; I intend to die.
My plan is to have taken enough drugs and alcohol to fall into an unnatural sleep.  Before I do so, I plan to turn on the helium in order to suffer oxygen deprivation and die.  I am afraid of pain and do not want to suffer.  I think and hope that this will be a peaceful way out for me.
I do not have a mental health problem, and I feel that I have made the decision to die as a rational choice given the nature of my life for the past 40 years.  I have decided that I can’t tolerate my feelings of helplessness and disgust (for myself and the rest of the world) any longer.
I am not afraid of death
but I am afraid of dying.  I have been waiting for the right time to do this for many years, and now it’s here, I look forward to just not being here anymore.
Should I be found alive, this will be a mistake on my part, because I intend to die.  I ask that no attempt be made to resuscitate or treat my condition.  I request that I be allowed to die.  Should I end up unconscious and in hospital being treated, I request that I do not be treated in any way other than by being given

oral care.  There is a Statement of Values attached here, and this document specifies the conditions under which I would like to live and die.  If necessary, please revert to that document for guidance.  I know it is unlikely that my organs will be of use, but I’m on the organ donor register all the same.
I offer my sincere apologies to the staff of Premier Inns, and in particular to the staff member who was unfortunate enough to find me.  I hope that the anonymity that suited me
 will help them to keep what has happened as an abstract concept that does not intrude too heavily on their life.
I would like to add that I did this entirely under my own steam.  Stuart nor any other person has any knowledge of my plans.  No person helped me in any way.  No person or organisation that supplied me with equipment had any knowledge of my intentions, and I took great care to act in an appropriate manner when making purchases.
If I could somehow do this with making no impact on anyone’s life, I would.  I am more sorry than anyone can know that I will make people look inside themselves to see what they did to drive me to this.  I truly hope that those who know anything about suicide (either from experience or study) will know that this was a decision I made all by myself, and that nothing anyone could do was enough to keep me from this path.
The people I love most in this world are Stuart, Maureen and Tara.  The rest are irrelevant to me.

Second Painting
If life is sacred, then we shouldn't have to drag it around like a death thing all our lives.

This is such an alone place to be.  I don't choose to be here - I choose to be someplace else that no one else can understand unless they feel suicidal.  It's cruel that ther is nobody to help me simply because suicide is such a taboo.  A dying cat or dog can be cradled in its owners arms.

I see myself as being stuck with these terrible feelings for the last forty years, and when I think of just how long that is, I want to lie down and sleep forever because I'm so tired of it all, day after day of loathing.  It makes me choke and vomit in the morning, each time I awaken and realise I'm still here.  And that it won't end, and witll be the same until I run out of steam.

Third Painting
Sue’s statement on our wedding day, 26th June 1998.

When we are done, and they see the pages of our life, bound and nestling together, I want them to turn to each other and say: “Theirs was a good book – such characters; what a story.”

Some will see the life and laughter; some the pain and death.  Some will see God and love.  But they’ll all know a good book when they see one.

And when I read our book, I want to read about all the laughter and all the pain; all the life and all the death; all the God and all the love, because a good book has it all.

We have built our castles and planted our trees, and I thank our God for what we have done together.  If one of us dies today, we will have had a beginning, a middle and an end, and if we live to be a hundred it will be the same.  I know that had our pages, our lives, not been set this way, we would not have found this love: Circumstance and coincidence have long ceased to explain our magic.

Nushi Khan-Levy

 Re reading Nushi's notes taken when we discussed the painting, I realised that I had not painted Nushi's love of cherry blossom.  I have taken out the yellow patterned halo, taken from a Hindu Goddess painting, which did not really suit Nushi, and replaced it with a softer more sympathetic cherry blossom halo.  Nushi is still a goddess, she is warmer and softer with this pink colour and style.  I have improved her eyes, and I have painted in the lower right hand corner, the small cut glass perfume bottle that she talked of.  If, she said, she could distill all the moments of love and understanding, the close and intimate moments of empathy and kindness, shared with her husband during her illness and treatment, she would put them into a beautiful perfume bottle so that when she is better, and life has returned to normal, she can dab a little of that perfume on each morning to remind her of how close they were.  

This image below, is taken by Eileen Rafferty, the official photographer and co producer of A Graceful Death.
So now, come to the exhibition if you can.  You are all welcome, and write in the Memory Book all that you want.  I will be there for the opening on Thursday and for Friday morning, and then on the 28 and 29 November for the closing prayer and poetry workshop with the amazing Penny Hewlett.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Painting And Preparing For Birmingham In November

 A Graceful Death at St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham B5 5BB

Friday 4 November - Tuesday 29 November Daily

Opening Event with Poetry Workshop by Poet in Residence Penny Hewlett on Thursday 3 November, in the church.

Amazing how time flies.  I first planned this Birmingham exhibition over a year ago, and thought it was always too far away to worry about.  And now, it is here.  The exhibition opens at the end of this month.  I am getting everything ready, including the following items -
  • I am developing Nushi Khan Levy's portrait a little.  When I read the notes we took when we interviewed her, there were references that she wanted to her life which I had missed.  I have given her a cherry blossom type halo now, and have put in the pretty perfume bottle that she said would represent the closeness she felt with her husband during her chemotherapy treatment.  If she could distill these precious moments, she said, and put them in a bottle of perfume, she would dab a little on her wrists every day later when she was well.  There are a few more touches I want to add, like leaves.  And more words.
  • Painting Stuart and Sue's portraits has begun.  For some reason, Sue has turned out smaller than Stuart.  They are facing each other in profile, with a bright blue sky behind them.  I will add flowers and plants that meant a lot to both of them, and see what happens.  Already I want to add a golden outline to Sue.  The photo I am using is the last one of her, taken a few days before she carried out her planned suicide, which is leaving me feeling very sad.  I like her face, though it is not very easy to see in this photo.  I like her, and I want to do something that says she is special.  Stuart is coming on very well.  He is blessed with a face that is very easy to see.  Some people have features that seem to merge into each other and the face, and thus are hard to distinguish.  Stuart does not have this problem, his is a face I can do!
  • Penny Hewlett's poem May Remembrance needs to be re written and re presented.  I have not done it justice, and so, will do it again.
  • I am writing the prayer I wrote after Steve died on a larger piece of canvas.  The original is on a block of wood and is difficult to read.  Possibly because I was so disgusted with God when I wrote it.  But I want the words to be read clearly;  we are often very angry when someone we love dies, and want to tell God in no uncertain terms what we think of the whole thing.  It is part of the experience of loss.
Poetry Workshops During the Exhibition by Penny Hewlett  

St Martin in the Bullring has a poet in residence.  Penny Hewlett is a fine poet and a deeply thoughtful lady, very experienced in many areas of life and living, and dedicated to her craft.  I am so lucky to have Penny to take poetry workshops for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and these are the dates and times -

Workshop 1: Facing Loss          Thursday 3 November: opening 2.00 pm and workshop 2.30-4.00pm
Workshop 2: Saying Goodbye    Saturday 12 November 11 am - 1pm (if you are coming to this workshop please bring some photos)
Workshop 3: Moving Away      Tuesday 29 November, Talk 2.00, Workshop 2.30 - 4.00 pm 

I hope to see you all for the opening on Thursday 3 November,  where we will not only have Penny's first workshop on Facing Loss, we will have tea and cake.  Perfect.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Birmingham Next. Come And See Us There.

So now the next exhibition is full steam ahead. Here are the dates and times for your diaries -

A Graceful Death Exhibition next at 

 St Martin in the Bullring
Birmingham B5 5BB
November 4 - November 29

opening times to be confirmed - approx 9 am to 4.30 pm

Opening Celebration - all welcome -
Thursday 3 November
2pm - 3.30pm

Tea and cakes for everyone and 
poetry workshop run by Poet in Residence Penny Hewlett.
Come and meet us, see the paintings and write in our Memory Book

Eileen Rafferty, my dear photographer friend, is now officially on board and is part of the A Graceful Death exhibition.  She has always done so much for it, always been behind the scenes giving her time and expertise and being indispensable in every way.  I am delighted to have her officially a part of A Graceful Death.   Though Neill Blume is making us a film of A Graceful Death, how the exhibition works and what it all means, (ready by the end of this year),  Eileen will also be providing a separate small film and sound track to show alongside the paintings, complimenting Neill's work and approach.  Eileen also is the official AGD photographer and will be publishing many of her works in an A Graceful Death book at the end of this year.  The book will be on sale at our next exhibition at St James's in Piccadilly, over Easter 2012.

We are very lucky indeed to have the services of St Martin's Poet in Residence, Penny Hewlett.  Penny will be leading three separate poetry workshops within the A Graceful Death exhibition, working with concepts that affect us at the end of life. The first workshop will run during the Opening on Thursday 3 November, 2 - 3.30pm.   I will let you know more as Penny lets me know her themes.  There will be a workshop mid exhibition, dates when I know them, and at the end of the A Graceful Death's time in St Martin's.  Penny will run her final poetry workshop at the closing ceremony on November 29 between 2 - 3.30pm.

I also hope to show  work by the artist Stevan Stratford.  Stevan is the artist in residence at St Barnabas Hospice in Worthing, West Sussex.  He is very intrigued by the themes of 'There and Not There'.  Stevan has a small installation piece that is both deeply thoughtful and deeply intriguing.  I hope to show it in Birmingham, more on that later.

For this new exhibition, I am showing the paintings of Nushi Khan-Levy, who is so  interesting to film and to paint.  She is painted looking very glamorous, doing what she called Cancer Chic despite the effects of her chemotherapy treatment.  She is an articulate and powerful lady! I am also painting the portraits of Stuart and his wife Sue for this exhibition.  Sue killed herself, leaving Stuart utterly bereft.  Sue also left some very powerful accounts of her decision to die, and has left us with no doubt that she could not do otherwise.  Her accounts are moving, tragic and deeply brave.  No amount of her love for her husband Stuart, can make his life now any easier.  Stuart struggles to live on without her, and his decision to be painted with Sue, and to use some of her words for the exhibition, is brave and strong.  I know Sue will touch others and will open up a conversation on the dreadful pain of suicide. 

More Dates For Your Diaries

With each showing there is more work.  I will paint more paintings, the public will send in more poetry for which I am incredibly grateful.  Penny Hewlett has agreed to come to London to run poetry workshops there and Eileen Rafferty's book of her photography around the A Graceful Death exhibition  will be on sale.  Neill Blume's film of A Graceful Death, what it means and interviews with various participants in the exhibition, will also be showing and copies will be available for sale too.  

A Graceful Death will be showing at St James's in Piccadilly, London over Easter 2012.  
Tuesday 27 March - Tuesday 10 April 2012.

A Graceful Death will be showing at Sheffield University, Sheffield for three days in November 2012 as a public engagement event aimed at exploring and debating end-of-life issues using perspectives from University of Sheffield research, art and poetry.

More on these engagements nearer the time. 

In the meantime, if you want to contact me about this exhibition, please do so.  I am available on 

See you in Birmingham on Thursday 3 November for the Opening of A Graceful Death, from 2pm  -  3.30pm.