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Deborah Caulfield's blog - disability arts online
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Symbolism, memory and truth - picturing the past. / 13 March 2012

Two circus clowns visit Pierrot in hospital

Happy Sunday. Coloured pencil, gouache, acrylic paint & marker pen on paper. March 2012

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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.

Keywords: chailey heritage,clown,drawing,hospital,imagery,motif,pictures,pierrot