A job became available so I jumped at it. You know how it is. Life is long while money is short.
If you’ve got health, you’ve got wealth, said my Jewish aunties, followed by a chorus of approval from the entire rest of the family. Of course, they meant good health, not just any old health. In those days, health was what you had if you weren’t ill.
Nowadays governments say we must have health and well being, healthy lifestyles, healthy relationships and a healthy bank balance.
We don’t hear much about wealth; it isn’t done. The rich have wealth and they don’t need to discuss it. Take it as read.
So for six weeks I’ve been working with words - typing, talking, thinking and writing, in that (descending) order. Images have been out of the picture, save for a few bits of tightly word-wrapped clipart here and there.
For a moment, it looked like my art days were behind me. Although I’ve seen that many times before.
No, it was just another blip.
The job lasts for another seven weeks. But this is Friday night/Saturday morning, and I have to make a picture. Not enough light to draw, and I don't have time. I need to make a picture, now.
Here is the result. Pink rabbit on the hosptal roof and me sick with grief. Bad boy Foxy threw it up there. Will I ever forgive him?
Next time I'll write more about the picture and how I made it; it's interesting.
This picture is the latest in what I believe will be a long series, the working title of which is ‘Sundays’.
Whereas the first one was hand drawn and painted, Sweet Sunday was created digitally, with a camera and scanner to get the images into the computer. I used a combination of Serif and Adobe software to edit the images and create the picture.
As previously described, Sunday visiting in the institution was special, extraordinary and transient.
Visitors invariably brought sweets. Not all would be eaten on the day. In later years, when I could walk about, I would save some, keeping them in my locker. This gave me a problem because I hated throwing away the wrappers. They were symbols of something rare and precious. Treasure.
The shape of the sweet wrappers reminded of people standing. So I lined them up, like a row of visitors at the bedside. My mother, who was pathologically self centred, occasionally brought aunts, uncles and cousins to see me. This was to show them how much she was suffering because of my illness.
We had proper hot summers in those days, hence the golden yellow background.
For several years I was completely static, strapped to a plaster bed. The wooden artist’s mannequin seemed a good image to convey this inertness, the limited amount of movement I had. The face is a scanned drawing done by my daughter age nine. I came across it recently during a rummage for old snaps (photographs, in post-war parlance).
The building on the left, part of the old school house at Chailey Heritage, substitutes for the dolls house my parents brought for me to play with during their visits.
The teddy bear came from Ikea a couple of years ago. He is naturally shy but enjoys being in my pictures. I didn’t have a bear as a child. I had a pink rabbit. It was thrown onto the roof of the ward by bad boy David Fox.
It’s a huge though somewhat time-consuming relief finally to give visual expression to these childhood events. I realise now that this is more than mere self-indulgence, but necessary coming-to-terms story-telling. It isn’t just my story.
It is an equally huge blessing that DAO has given me this blog space, to share and get feedback on my words and pictures, which is always pleasing.
For decades I have wanted to write stories and paint pictures about my childhood. I've made many attempts, but with little sucess.
Many old photographs have survived, particularly of my parents visiting me in hospital and Chailey Heritage. In the early ones, I'm very ill. Nearly all of them show big smiles and hugs. Memories tell it differently.
Copying photographs can be pointless and dreary. But recently, while doing just that, something unusual happened.
As I was drawing, I kept asking myself, what's happening in this photo, underneath? What's really going on? What is it that the photograph doesn't show? Then, as I doodled and drew, exaggerating the facial expressions... a kind of grotesque caricature emerged.
Then I woke this morning and it hit me. I had found the imagery, the language, the motif. The circus clown. And Pierrot.
This is the first proper sketch, made this evening. I was trying out the idea to see if it works. It does!
So, what's the story?
Visiting to the ward lasted two hours on Sunday afternoons. My parents’ visits were infrequent, so it was always a special occasion. Their journey was long, there and back. Years later my mother told me that she and my father often had a row just before leaving the house and travelled separately.
The ward sister insisted we looked our best for our visitors. Ribbons and shiny faces from a tin kept for special occasions.
My parents would come prepared for an afternoon of fun: Wind-up gramophone (Que Sera, Sera ); jelly in a jar; a dolls house and other toys that couldn’t be left behind because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t look after them. They arrived in bags and left in the same bags, leaving behind a gaping hole of sorrow.
Sometimes they came in a car, other times buses brought them and took them away again. For ever, possibly. How was I to know?
There are dozens of photographs and many more images and motifs to use: a Southdown bus, a windmill, a church (two actually), a little hut called Pax Est - to name but a few.
I've made an important breakthrough. It feels great.
Once upon a time block-buster art shows were sweaty occasions where we crawled around the galleries in rugby scrums, catching brief glimpses of the exhibits if we were lucky. Most unpleasant.
Happily, the modern art of crowd control as practiced by the Royal Academy last week, meant that Hockney’s A Bigger Picture was, for the most part, a cool and comfortable experience. Entrance was staggered and numbers limited. There was space to move, with ease. I could stare and study the pictures for as long as I liked.
Except for the culture coach trippers.
I was sitting on the bench resting my bones, taking a longer look at the art, when along came a trio of ladies in lemon up from Leatherhead, complete with holiday hair and matching handbags. They stationed themselves between me and my hero, their bums in my face, nattering non-stop about some nonsense to do with one of their number who was not attending.
Eventually my amazed gaze got to them, and they sidled off to join the rest of their party. In the tea rooms, probably.
It’s a day’s work, going to an art exhibition. And a day’s work writing the review. So I’ll stop here
and get on with it.
These days I draw without passion or compulsion. I do it with complete acceptance and absolute commitment. I don’t have to do it. It’s not a problem.
Drawing is a conversation between me and the world. Everything I see is a potential picture. When I’m drawing (I sometimes use water colour and coloured pencil) I feel I’m connecting with the subject, and with the space around and between us.
These are moments of being.
Drawing is handy when not much is happening. There are always interesting shapes to look at and do something with. Station platforms and hospital waiting rooms are excellent places to see people shapes. Parks are good for trees and dogs. Gardens give me cats and birds. The view from my window is all roof tops and cars.
Occasionally I draw from imagination, old photographs and memories. But the marks in these pictures always seem to lack the vitality and variety of my ‘seen’ work. I’d like to make pictures that say something about disability, but it’s a struggle.
Writing is different. Words are like the cartilage in my joints, the oxygen in my blood, and the pigment in my skin.
Words give me direct lines to people I love and need.
Words come from a different place in my head. It’s a word-eat-word world in there, a jungle of thoughts running and jumping around. Like wild beasts who have been caged for too long, they’re ambivalent about freedom. I won’t throw away the key yet though, just in case.