About this picture …
The background is a sunny beach. The yellow represents the sand; the blue is the sea and sky.
The wardrobe represents my mother. She had a concern for physical appearance that bordered on obsession. She spent a lot of time on her hair, clothes and make-up, trying to look glamorous; but only when she went out.
The fish represents me.
As a child I was criticised a lot by adults, particularly my mother, especially about the way I looked, but also about what I said, how I said it, what I did and didn’t do. Etc etc.
Growing up, I always felt I was in the wrong place. At home, I felt scared and rejected. At Chailey I felt scared and rejected.
The inspiration for this picture is a black and white photograph taken on the beach at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. I was five years old.
In the photograph I’m struggling to hold myself up. I’m extremely thin, ill with a second bout of TB Spine. I’m smiling, of course.
My mother relaxes in a deck chair, wearing sun glasses. Composed. Posing.
The point about these pictures and this blog is about finding images that speak to a deeper truth.
I’m not sure how healthy this is, or if it is a good use of my time. This is a genuine and lifelong worry.
Is there something else (better) I should be doing?
PS. The fish is made of wood. It's beautiful, I think. I bought a whole shoal of them, twenty odd years ago, from Reading International Solidarity Centre.
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.
I was visiting Heart n Soul, a creative company that nurtures, supports and works with learning disabled artists. Together they make music, theatre, dance, visual art, digital art, films and clubs.
My mission was to get to the heart and soul of the enigma that is Dean Rodney Singers, who have been commissioned for Unlimited, a project celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Heart n Soul
After a warm welcome from Sandra (Communications Officer), I met with Mark (Chief Executive/Artistic Director) who filled me in on all the detail. I asked about Heart n Soul.
‘Heart n Soul is a place of self-expression,’ Mark told me. ‘We’re not about labelling and we don’t tell people what to do.’
Heart n Soul works with talented and creative disabled and non disabled people, trying new ways of doing things. It’s about opening up creative paths for, by and with people who have a passion for making music, dance, or other art form.
When I met Dean he was rehearsing with his creative and dance mentors Adele and Mel. They were making film clips using an iPad, the cool technological tool at the core this epic enterprise.
Dean is a young man with energy and autism. He got involved with Heart n Soul when he was 14, taking to performing like a natural.
In 2005 he started his own band, Fish Police. The group is made up of Dean (rapper, co-songwriter), Matthew Howe (guitar) and Charles Stuart (keyboards, co-songwriter, background vocals).
Big music fans, their key musical influences range from Kraftwerk and Daft Punk to Bob Marley and Will Smith. They fuse all this with their passion for computer games, cartoons, fast food and Japanese culture to create their own distinctive sound.
Fish Police will be releasing an album in the summer 2012.
Dean Rodney Singers
In 2010, Dean wrote a song called the Dean Rodney Singers. It was about a mission – getting disabled and non-disabled artists from around the world to work together.
Dean Rodney Singers is Dean's personal vision, a mighty one that continues to evolve: 72 (seventy-two) performers from 7 (seven) countries - China, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Croatia, South Africa and UK. Together they will produce 21 (twenty-one) songs with videos. All of this on iPads.
Team Dean is, as I write, busy composing, curating, creating and sharing all manner of beats, bars, moves, grooves and images to inspire and get everyone started. All of it generated on an iPad using a whole range of amazing apps.
The songs will be written, composed, improvised and played by the band itself, using the best web technology they can get hold of.
The audience can be part of this too, watching and listening online, as it is being created, and contributing to it if they choose. Dean’s song MIMI will soon be available for remix.
The project’s finale will be an interactive sound and visual installation at the London Festival, 1 to 9 September 2012. This will be another chance for audiences to enter and be part of Dean’s world. They’ll be able to take get involved with the music, videos and images created, make their own track or appear in a video.
Keep up with Dean Rodney Singers here:
DRS Website www.deanrodneysingers.com
DRS YouTube Channel http://www.youtube.com/user/DeanRodneySingers?feature=watch
DRS SoundCloud Page http://soundcloud.com/the-dean-rodney-singers