Back on the Farm

This week was spent in our house out in Narembeen/Bruce Rock. Our whole lives seem to be stored there, I married my husband, Kevin at the age of 21 and lived there for the first 16 years of our married life before moving to Perth, with Kevin still working the farm part time. So the house has become much of a storage space for all of my art over the years. This week I unearthed a lot of it…from more recent endeavours to things I had created 27+ years ago (I even have a portrait done as an adolescent of our family dog). It’s been a strange journey. There has been many reoccurring themes, a lot of pictures of Kevin and my boys, portraits of those dear to me, dreams, religious art, self portraits..and the best one…I found a precious little sketch I did of my eldest son Jordan when he was about 18 months old.

It made me think, once artwork gets old, it becomes a bit sacred. You don’t want to destroy it just because it contains a piece of your heart, ideas and musings from the past depicted in form and colour. And although it most probably means little to other people, for me, looking at all this stuff has been reassuring. I’ve mustered some compassion and respect for my own personhood. The pictures bear witness to not only the ebbs and flows of my life, but the hard things, the difficult times in the past, that may have otherwise been glossed over as if they never existed. It’s provided a map of where I’ve been, giving a sense of purpose to where I’m going. These things are impossible to see at the time. Often when you create an artpiece there is no conscious, deliberate intent. It’s not til later that you can see the spirit or soul that drives the inspiration. I’ve always said art makes visible the things that go beyond words, and it’s true.

So today, I suppose armed with the belief that life matters, that our interpretation of this life also matters, I set to task to hang as much of my work on our farmhouse walls as I could. Prior to today they were placed on the floor against the walls of our bedroom and Jordan’s old room. None of them are hung particularly neatly, and some walls are asbestos so you can’t put a nail in them. But I did my best- I’m so happy seeing them occupy ‘real’ space on the walls! It’s been cathartic in a way, too. I’m giving space to my self, validating my own art, silencing the inner critic, hopefully also creating a space for future art musings, experimentations, themes and dabblings to occupy.

 

‘To Remember a Dream’

One of my oldest friends also lost her son in a car crash, just around the corner from where my own boy drew his last breath. She shared a dream she had, describing how her boy showed her how he is watching over her life, and how this is true for all heartbroken mothers. She said “they love us, they really know us, they are proud of us”. What a comfort when other grieving mothers share their hearts.

I find myself looking for Jordan everywhere, so I guess this painting is making my friend’s dream ‘real’ for me. I’m reminded of a quote by one of my favourite painters, Marc Chagall. He said,”If you can’t see angels you should paint them”. I will never see my boy again on this earth, hear his voice, touch him or breathe his scent, so this is my way of bringing him close. He is like an angel to me now, in a way. But it’s hard to imagine what he is really like; I believe when we die all of the parts of us that are flawed and broken are healed. Is he still Jordan, but more ‘himself’ than ever? I feel like a child trying to understand things that are beyond me.

I wish I could remember my dreams in more detail. My boy showed up in my dream last night, we talked about lots of things (actually I talked the most, he was just with me, his presence, listening)….but I asked him at the end, “is heaven beautiful?” He paused, face looking really fresh and calm, “Yes, heaven is beautiful”.

I miss you my son.

Remembering Jordan

Creating art has changed for me in many ways. My eldest son, Jordan died in a car accident in March this year. He would have turned 26 on the 18th of March. For a few numbing months, lost in the shock of it I thought I would never paint seriously again. I remember in those first few weeks I took to watercolours, but in my mind they were just doodles. I felt I’d lost my mojo. I was and often still am overwhelmed by the grief that can be so intense words alone cannot describe it.

I’m back painting again. I only have a very short attention span nowadays, preferring to numb out emotion through whatever means easily accessible (food, alcohol, Netflix. Anything mindless) . But I’ve come to realise that through creating artworks ‘about’ Jordan, I’m also creating new memories ‘with’ him. This is an important distinction for me, and I suppose it is based on the belief that he is still ‘alive’ in the truest sense.

After a death you are still in a relationship with the person, however, now because of the chasm of death, that relationship is connected through pain. That’s why many grieving parents say they will never ‘get over’ the loss of a child, and they don’t want to either. That child is a part of you. A deep and indelible part. A parent-child relationship is an unconditional one where the parents’ role as nurturer causes such a strong psychic connection that their concern is always centred around the child’s safety and thriving.

We are accustomed to, as parents, to worry about our kids. We can be heartbroken and concerned for them. We suffer with their sufferings and rejoice in their triumphs. This doesn’t change after death. Through my artwork in some ways I’m saying, “are you ok Jordan?” “You are loved” “you are remembered” “You are amazing” , and a wonderful quote from one of his friends, “heaven adores you”. I suppose art has given me a way of nurturing him, including him and yes of course, remembering him and his time on planet Earth. I want him to be forever remembered by everyone who knew him. And if you know me I want you to know him, too.

When I studied art therapy I learnt about how art can facilitate these ‘altered states’ It’s not as mystical as it sounds. Altered states are just below the surface of our everyday pragmatic existence. You experience them when you are deeply involved in something. It’s a chance for your subconscious self, to come to the foreground of your awareness. This always happens when we dream, because we have no filter and our minds are not preoccupied with the mundane. When Jordan left us I realised how often I straddle these two states. I long to become aware of the spiritual, to learn how to notice little things he may be saying to me. Yet I am so deeply aware of how difficult this is. It’s frustrating, when we are alive we are truly bent away from seeing anything spiritual. So seldom do we scratch the surface of our existence. The times he has sent me a message, and I have been ‘awake’ enough to receive it, are held very deeply in my heart.

Because being creative helps us access this ‘altered state’ or dreamlike state of awareness, it has helped me understand my own pain, just a little bit. I’m someone who will feel something deeply then minimise things once I’m past the pointy end of my pain. A painting holds up a mirror in this way. When you are very emotional anyway, you develop tools to numb things over, so validating an experience is important. On another level, there’s the things we don’t know about the ocean that is our psyche, and engaging in art can be surprising. It can reveal things previously outside of our awareness.

So many people who have lost their precious children have also lost purpose. What’s the point? What’s the point in doing anything? Everything is meaningless. Life is about surviving until we can be with them again when we die. It’s only been nine months for me. So I have no answers and I feel like this often too. All I know, really on a very basic level, is I’m grateful for my art. I don’t even care what others think about it now. At the end of the day, it’s a comfort. It’s a comfort because of the tangible link it has to the Spirit. Music is the same, as is writing.

I will always remember Jordan saying-not that long ago- “oh cool mums getting her paints out. I love it when mum paints!”

Whimsical Watercolours

I have been mad keen on the ‘fairytales and fables’ theme with all of my students. For older artists, I like to keep things a little open ended, so their brief was: “an image inspired by a fairytale”….very broad, I know. We have already had conversations about the ins and outs of fairytale lore…it’s not just the realm of little children, some of them give a great insight into the history of the day…(Did you know that in the timeframe of the Grimm brothers, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth…..so, the cliche of the ‘evil stepmother’ found in the most popular fairy tales has some roots in real life situations).

Anyway, I’m really pleased with their efforts; they researched and chose images that had some meaning for them, and learnt the subtleties of using watercolour to boot.

 

 

Pre Primary Castles

Pre-primary artists used corrugated papers and paint to make fairytale castles. This is a great activity to teach shape and texture. We achieved this in two 50 minute sessions, the first session we looked at the shapes found in old castles, and I demonstrated how to cut out shapes and assemble them onto the paper……so very important to demonstrate, I always have to remind myself that children are not mind readers!!! After doing some drawings of castle shapes, they cut out their shapes (some needed a little help- cutting castle turrets is hard work!), then glued them down onto black paper (we used pva glue). I was a bit torn between painting them the following week or using them to make prints….but I think the greater learning was achieved through just painting them. Young kids looooove colour mixing. I think the more of this they can do, the better. I love hearing shrieks of “oh wow I made gold/purple/green”….messy but worth it! I think these young artists should be very happy with what they have achieved.

Painting Revamped

This painting is one I did earlier this year. A portrait of one of my favorite actresses, Vivien Leigh. I experimented with heaps of leaf prints and texture, but was unhappy with the colours and overall look of it. This is the before picture (right) and after (left)….its kind of apt for Vivien, seeing these side by side, since she was very theatrical, a true artist who played many roles. Painting is 61x76cm, acrylic on textured canvas.

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The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood

I have been looking at paintings by pre-raphaelite artists. These include artists such as Millais, Burne-Jones and of course Dante Rosetti. They were driven to represent spiritual forms in much the same manner as artists from the Renaissance prior to Raphael, and in the Middle Ages. It was very needed in this time in history, since industrialisation and modernism created a kind of vacuum to artistic expression that was spiritual in subject matter. I love the way their paintings tell a story; and to try to depict celestial beings such as Angels is a noble but at the same time curiously earthly thing to do. I say this because our angels or visions of heaven, no matter how sublime and beautiful are probably to heavens eyes like a child drawing with crayons on a paper napkin. But it’s a joyful thing, and a way that art brings humanity into something bigger than ourselves. It’s also interesting to me how the spiritual realm is so often the subject matter if artists throughout the ages.

The pre-raphaelites, however, perhaps hit on something within our culture at this point in time, maybe as a neo-modernist society (for lack of a better term; I am not sure that our culture can be termed as post modernist anymore, and I have not found a term that fits), we live in somewhat of a cultural desert. Everything is mass produced, and like industrialisation, the demands of productivity are at a premium (collateral from a disposable society). We are in need of the integrity, joy, depth and mystery found in the spiritual, which brings reassurance that not everything is banal and throw-away. That something exists outside of that, beyond clear perception that is more real and meaningful. For me, these pre-raphaelite paintings help me see these things. They touch something deep within my soul, giving almost a feeling of wistful nostalgia.

“…the more materialistic science becomes, the more I shall paint Angels: their wings are my protest in favour of the immortality of the soul” (Edward Burne-Jones)image