I want to tell you a bit about an exhibition I had a couple of years ago that came to fruition at a time when someone I loved was dying. I want to tell you about this because it made me understand how creating artwork is a two way diaologue, or more like a dance really - one where the lead shifts all the time. We give our art life and form, but it gives us understanding and depth.
This beautiful man had lived an amazing life, starting his working life as a coal miner when he was 14 – he survived two mine collapses. Then he worked in a munitions factory, before joining the navy and being sunk during the war three, four, maybe even five times – he never learnt to swim! He was a survivor – strong as an ox! – and identified firmly with his role as breadwinner and protector – a strong, commanding father figure. An amazing man: tall, powerful and very certain of his place in the world.
But what does one do with that identity as you get older, your body gets frail, your children no longer need a strong leader or a breadwinner? Your life partner dies before you. Why are you here? Why on earth are you still here? What can you do when your role in life no longer makes sense to you?
One of the pieces in the exhibition I was working on at the time grew to encompass those thoughts and through that process, express those moments in time when we catch a glimpse of ourselves beyond the roles that we inhabit in the ‘real’ world and so gradually deepen into a softly-growing awareness of who we actually are.
We humans are incredibly complex beings. Our inner landscape is an ever changing tapestry, subtle shifts illuminated by fleeting glimpses of recognition and memory. Murky residues floating and shifting just under the surface. The almost-caught understanding of one moment might leave you but the shadow of its influence remains, affecting you in indefinable ways. Sometimes still, sometimes dynamic, sometimes inexpressible in any other form but that of simple acceptance.
Over his last few years, the journey I am speaking of here became more and more visible in that much loved man as he gradually became less rigidly defined by his physical body and his old roles, and more and more accepting and understanding of himself as he was now, not as defined by his previous roles. He gently deepened and softened as his view of himself subtly shifted and re-adjusted.
This work evolved as he was at the last stages of his journey and all those thoughts were seeping through my subconscious and influencing my work. It was too much to grasp in one painting, and too changeable, so I tried to express those fleeting glimpses in a tapestry of small works.
For me this experience was a living example of how our art tells us things that we dont understand until we see them laid out before us, until we actually experience 'thinking them into being' on canvas. When we create it is not a one way communication. It is a dance and the lead shifts all the time.