“One Long Day…”

Coming Home

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It’s been a long while since I wrote anything on here. A good three or so months since my last actual blog post, but I have been writing bits here and there to put on here, none of it’s seems very relevant any more, I have just felt so disjointed and all up in the air, and all of a sudden I feel as though my brain has  let me start being creative again. Hurrah!

Wow.

I’ll start at the end first- logic y’see!

So this morning (Monday 20th March 2017) I posted what felt like an embarrassing SOS on the drawing 1 forum basically explaining that I have been in a terrible place mentally and physically for the last few months. Just leading up to the last few months I was extraordinarily productive and churned out loads of work, something that I will certainly been on the lookout for in future as it was a pretty big indicator that I was experiencing a manic episode. I am diagnosed with bipolar type 1 which if you want to know more about can be discovered abundantly on google with no real effort…. (here is a link to loads of articles on google about it –Bipolar Articles– see, you really didn’t need to put in any effort at all!)

I was amazed at the lovely responses that I received after just a few hours of posting that SOS, I had, it seems, no reason to be embarrassed and every reason to believe that the people who I am sharing the journey of this course with are basically lovely, supportive, and generous folk who are a lot like me…. I had a big grin on my face to replace that glum, solemn grimace that I had been wearing earlier in the day.

As any fellow BP1-er will know, those euphoric highs are pretty much always followed by a crippling low. This was form in that regard.  In addition to that there is also the small matter if the dissociative disorderly stuff, chronic anxiety and various other mental health stuff- and then just to add another layer of fun and games, I hurt my back, which made my physical problems a great deal worse… I have the added benefit of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue… deep, deep, resounding joy!

There I have been since the tail end of that wonderful productive period (I will also be writing a blog post with drawings that I made during that time later, I need to get this off my chest first!) dipping and dipping further and further, until frankly I just didn’t feel able to get back up. The first thing that goes, every time this happens, is the ability to be creative. That’s not to say that the feelings are only there when I am manic, that is not the case, I pretty much feel creative all the time. When I am manic and euphoric that creativity is massively increased, but it never fully goes away, the feelings don’t anyway, the ability to use them, to have those feelings manifest works of art- this is what diminishes. Along with the creative purpose that reduces, I also find that the state of me and my flat are also hugely affected. Often, I end up living in and living as a total mess!

The reason I decided to name this post ‘One Long Day’ is because it feels exactly like that to me. Each day doesn’t seem to end with any kind of satisfying, restful conclusion, boundaried by undisturbed sleep, rather it just drags on and on with unrelenting sadness, emptiness and ultimately despair…

I lived in that one long day for months. Now it is time to start another…

After I posted that plea for support I knew that I had to take action and do something about the situation. Not just sit there and hope that it will go away or somehow magically change into something more positive. This has just been a snag. There may be others, there may not, but it is likely that there will be.

I took out my folder which had somehow acquired the same emotional qualities as a giant five headed monster with big teeth and the attitude of what would happen if Katie Hopkins and a rabid T-Rex were to somehow create an especially angry two-year-old.

With sweaty palms and a raging headache I decided that I couldn’t do it by myself, so I called a friend for the emotional support necessary to open it.

Friend on board, I falteringly opened the folder at the required page and realised that rather than being a hugely pissed off toddler, I was faced with no more than a slightly vexed puppy. Maybe one who had just found out that its tail was attached to its body and endlessly chasing it wasn’t going to achieve anything. Pretty much that. Or maybe the puppy was actually me?

SO the rest of the story is pretty non-descript in terms of narrative, basically I read the stuff I needed to, got some paper, pens, pencils, gel pens, a biro and a drawing board and sat down and sketched several pages worth of drawings, felt really happy about it and now I am writing this. I’ll include photos of the drawings in my next post…

Thanks for sticking with me and helping me to trust the process. It isn’t always easy, painless or fun but the process always wins out in the end.

Some Reflections on Survivor Art…

I wrote an email to my Course Tutor last weekend about the updates to my blog and the work I had started for my degree and she got back to me stating that my story brought to mind three artists who she recommended that I look up; Tracey Emin, Richard Billingham and Artemisia Gentileschi. All of these artists have experienced either rape or abuse in their childhood. I have both rape as adult and sexual abuse as a child,so there were a number of pieces which really resonated with me. I have picked out one of each of these which had the most profound effect. By Tracey Emin I have picked the drawing “I want you so much” drawn in 1995; Richard Billingham’s picture from his book of candid family photographs, ‘Ray’s A Laugh’, taken between 1990 and 1996. Finally I have looked a the Baroque period female artist Artemisia Gentileschi, in particular her painting ‘Judith slaying Holofernes” painted between 1616 and 1620.

The first picture “I want you so much” by Tracey Emin, to me spoke of the rape I experienced. She has drawn prolifically around this period of over-sexualised women and raw pictures depicting female genitalia using words as well to express some disturbing almost childlike writings, in a very childlike script. This picture though, really reminded me of my own rape. Being face down and feeling the pressure of a dark, menacing presence on my back, crushing the life and freedom out of me:

tracey emin
Tracey Emin- “I Want You So Much” 2015

The way she has blacked out the face of the woman to me felt like the dehumanising effect of being treated like a piece of meat and the fact that the figure on top of her has taken the form of some kind of monster with a beak. I would not necessarily have chosen a bird type depiction of the perpetrator of my rape, though I guess it could also be a horned beast, indeed there is no explanation that I can find about this picture to suggest that it was directly about her rape aged 13, but I strongly believe that we are informed in our artwork that is most emotive by our experiences throughout our lives and can’t help but feel that the blacking out of the face, the fact that she has used lots of heavy dark ink add weight and menace to this picture that gave me a stab in the chest when I saw it.

I love how she has portrayed so much with so few lines and so little detail, it really speaks of the power of such a critical event on the victim, the blackness to me indicates shame and dehumanisation as I previously mentioned and the need to not be identified by something that so very much identifies us.

The second picture I have chosen by Richard Billingham taken between 1990 and 1996, from his autobiographical photo book/album named “Ray’s a Laugh” depicting his abusive parents, his grossly overweight and abusive mother and his classically alcoholic and abusive father. I picked this one:

richard billingham
Richard Billingham from his book “Ray’s a Laugh” taken between 1990 and 1996, of his Father, Ray.

I chose this picture because after my own experiences of childhood sexual abuse and adulthood rape turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. This picture to me speaks of the despair and hopelessness that I felt during my late teens and early twenties whilst experiencing full blown addiction. He looks so pathetic and lost which reminded me of the pursuit of escapism through substances only to find oneself hopelessly lost. I don’t know Ray’s own history, whether he too was abused which informed his own behaviour towards his children, without talking to him it would be impossible to know. Interestingly, I could relate this despair and hopelessness to being a victim as well as an addict as in effect with either of these situations one is consumed an controlled by something outside of oneself.

The seediness and vileness of the surroundings, the vomit on the outside of the toilet bowl, captivate me, as something that the individual would swear blind was under his or her control, but clearly it isn’t the case, for Ray or for me.

I think that Billingham has cleverly reduced his abuser to become something pathetic and harmless, something that I am guessing was somewhat cathartic for him along  with all of the other pictures, proving beyond doubt that his family failed in so many ways.

The third picture that I chose by Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Slaying Holofernes” is a depiction of an old testament biblical story of Judith overcoming her more powerful superior, who had raped her, with the help of her maid, beheading him in bed. It has been depicted many times throughout history but to be drawn and painted by Gentileschi, somehow seems more significant:

judith
Artemisia Gentileschi- “Judith slaying Holofernes” panted between 1616 and 1620 during the Baroque period.

For one this painting seems almost photographic in its delivery. I read whilst researching this painting that she had been raped by her father’s painting pupil, though what happened to me was not the same, it still revolved around my art and I am certain that there must have been some catharsis in her painting this picture in that she got to inflict the rage and pain that she felt towards her father’s friend and pupil in painting two women overcoming a man who had raped one of them. Maybe the young, fresh faced girl, the maid who is holding the man down yet being strangled by him represents the innocence that/who was stolen from Artemisia?

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Artemisia was forced under torture to give evidence at the rapist’s trial before her father’s death, and I’m sure that this would have left her with some serious unexpressed rage. Though maybe I am projecting my own feelings, how else do we view the work of others but with our own eyes and experiences? Maybe this painting was a way of expressing some of the rage she felt towards her own perpetrator in safe way and is in some way an intuitive and repressed ‘autobiographical’ piece based on what she would have liked to have done rather than the actual outcome?

It also begs the question, is all art made by survivors then intrinsically ‘survivor art’ by the very nature of the artist being a survivor? Or can we shake off that title and make something NOT influenced by those experiences? My thoughts are that we cannot as we are more than a sum of our parts but also equal to a sum of our parts, we cannot remove that survivor self any more that we can deny the female or male, young or old self. We cannot not be something that we are.

As I said all of these pieces really resonated me and I would love to think that I would some day have the courage to express my feelings about what happened to me as a child and as a adult in such a way, using art as a way to play out my feelings and use it as a catharsis of my own, resolving some of the years of madness that plagued me after such events. Time will tell I guess.

Drawing Feelings (Traumatic!)

My journey from fear and trauma to freedom and peace in myself. Some graphic content.Honesty that I am a bit scared of posting,

This is a particularly difficult time of year for me. I had written no more than two weeks ago that I wouldn’t go into any traumatic stuff unless it came up in my art- knowing that at some point it probably would. Well, it did. In spades.

I feel compelled to share with with anyone who wants to read it. Partly because  a close family member shared her own experiences with a group of total strangers, breaking down those barriers of shame and secrecy that bind survivors of trauma of this kind and in effect, handing back the shame and the ownership of the event to the perpetrator rather than having to carry the weight and burden of it herself. Now is my time. I have done a lot of work on this but still on this date, every year it rears it’s ugly head, as today is the anniversary of the event. I have talked about it many times in the past, but somehow this assignment, having  to draw my feelings on this day brought up so many feelings that for the first time I was able to actually work through and come through the other side, realising for the fist time that actually feeling those feelings doesn’t lead to imminent death and doom as they feel like they will, but relief and even joy!

On 21st May 2000 I was 19 years old and my life changed completely in just a few hours.

The previous day I had been standing at the bus stop wielding a huge carrier bag of poster paints that I planned to make a mural on my bedroom wall with. the bag broke and out tumbled the several bottles of paint prompting a well dressed man to ask me, as we chased the paint bottles across the pavement, if I was an artist. I had no problem in those days with describing myself as such and proudly announced that I was. He said that he was looking for a local artist to do a collection of works for his practice- Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture- not far from where I lived. He asked if I could bring my portfolio over to his practice the following afternoon so that he could see some of my work and if we decided to go ahead with it, I could measure up the space he wanted work in.

I was utterly elated at the thought of actually doing some paid work and phoned my mum when I got home who did the worried other part and said to bring someone with me to the place for my own safety. I was gung ho about it and said something along the lines of ‘For God’s sake mum, I’m a GROWN UP. I can do this by myself!’.

The following day came and I gathered up my work and headed down the five/ten minute bus ride to his place of work with my art folder, just a small one, A3 to show him some of my work and was trilled when he said that he loved it and wanted to spend around £1000 on a few pictures for various spaces, something that to me at the time was riches untold.

He was a Chinese guy and obviously first generation in this country, his English was good but not perfect, he said his name was Charlie and I thought that he probably had a name that was difficult to pronounce and went by that name and didn’t question it. He then asked if I would join him for dinner, and in my naive head believed that this was just part of the process, he was going to ‘seal the deal’ so to speak, and build a business relationship, so I gathered up my work after measuring the space and off we went on the bus into the city centre to his favourite Chinese restaurant.

I began to feel uncomfortable when he began to buy me drink after drink, alcoholic and seemed to be trying to get me drunk. Like in the films, I was pouring drink after drink in the nearest plant pot when he wasn’t looking because for some reason my head told me that I needed to keep my its about me and didn’t feel comfortable. The food was awful, loads of slimy stuff in big bowls with whole octopus corpses floating in them and other gross stuff that I did not want to touch, so I pushed a few things round my plate, at this point really wanting to leave.

I told him that i had to go and meet a friend- at this time it was about 6pm and I made moves to go. He stood up and pushed me back into my chair and said that we needed to go back to his shop to finish talking business and to measure the space. I said that I HAD measured the space and that I really had to go, but he was insistent and because of other experiences in my life I didn’t feel that I could walk away or escape. This is something that has plagued me for years, that I didn’t just leave that i stayed that I didn’t ask for help, that I didn’t fight back.

He paid then held me hard on the elbow and arm and steered me back to the bus stop.I KNEW exactly what was going to happen, I knew it and I didn’t run, I still didn’t run, I still didn’t shout, or cream or fight back. I was frozen with fear, the scream was lodged in my throat, I had this learned feeling that to go along with the whole scenario was somehow going to keep me safer than if I tried to fight against it.

He sat in the aisle seat on the bus, trapping me against the window and when we got back to the shop he pulled down the shutters once we were inside and locked us both in and locked the door. He put the key in his top pocket.

Then he turned nasty, he started insulting me and forced me up the stairs to his bedroom which was in the flat above the shop. It was vile in there, probably because of how I felt, but he stripped me of my clothes completely and took them away then began hours of him raping me and telling me how gross I was and me laying face down willing thoughts of politics into my head to dissociate away the shame and pain and fear and terror.

I don’t know how long exactly this went on, this raping and insulting and terror but i know that when I finally got my clothes handed back to me I was a numb, frightened wreck, but I had to keep up this pretence that it was ok, that I was ok, that he could trust me to let me go, that I wouldn’t run to the police and tell on him.

He wouldn’t let me out of the shop and kept trying to drug me with tablets but I refused to take them, he said he would phone me a taxi in the end after I begged him to let me leave as my friend who I was meeting would be worried he said ‘I will call you a taxi, it isn’t safe for a girl to be out on her own at this time of night’ (!) . I watched as he unplugged the phone and then denied that there was an outside line and really began to fear for my life.

Eventually he agreed to let me go, there was a phone box about 50 yards away from the shop and I told him that I would call a taxi and then go and wait on the corner for it He finally agreed and unlocked the door and shutters. Then the final insult, he pulled me into his face and kissed me. I had to reciprocate though it nearly killed me to do so. I had to keep up the pretence that it as ok, that I was safe to let go. But that kiss, the feeling of his tongue has never left me.

I walked slowly to the phone and to my horror it was out of order. I faked a conversation with an imaginary operator and pretended to arrange a taxi hen walked, still with him watching me from the shop, to the corner, at which point I broke into a run and ran up the road round the corner, banging on doors begging for help only to have door after door slammed in my face.

Eventually, just by luck, a black cab saw me and pulled over and I got in and went home.

I got home to an empty house, my house mate was out and I burned myself with bleach and boiling water in the bath. The next day I painted a monster on my bedroom wall that was so terrifying that I couldn’t sleep in there for the rest of my time in that shared flat.

After I painted that monster, I didn’t pick up a paintbrush for years. Or a pencil, or write anything. My creativity had been stolen from me completely. Eventually  started to draw again but I could never connect to my drawing in the same way, the same with painting, there has always been a disconnect between me and what I was creating, like I was creating without the creativity.

This first exercise in my degree course was to draw feelings. To take four pieces of A1 paper and to fold them into four A3 quarters then to take the words Anger, Joy, Calm and another emotion- I have chosen Anxiety as I had it in spades at the beginning of the exercise. Then I had to draw using one colour in each of the four corners of the paper and one type of drawing medium, I chose oil pastes, soft pastels, ink and coloured pencil; and to show dark and light, heaviness and lightness of pressure and to convey those four emotions as they feel to me.

I started with anxiety as this reconnection to the feelings around drawing was making me icy cold with fear and with the tie of the year being as it is the anxiety levels were very high. I started off in the top left and corner with charcoal, then clockwise, black oil pastel, brown pencil and purple-pink ink. As I worked through this anxiety I started to feel anger. Anger that this had happened, anger that I have spent so many years not connecting to my art, the very thing that kept me going throughout my childhood and teenage years. Anger that it was stolen from me. So I proceeded then with the Anger page. After anger came a feeling of calm as I began to get into the flow, then finally joy.

I have decided that this date no longer is the anniversary of the rape, it is MY anniversary, the anniversary of the day I got my feelings and my creativity back. the day I made that commitment to myself that NOBODY can take that away from me again.

I was actually feeling guilty, after the initial excitement of the gift of the art studio had been promised to me, I started off feeling excited and happy and full of beans but after a day or two I began to feel terrified. This time of the year reminded me that I am not worthy that I do not deserve nice things, that I am a failure that I let people down. NO MORE.

I AM WORTHY. I DO deserve this art studio, I WILL succeed, I already am a success in so many ways, I do not need to feel guilty or ashamed or fearful, I have done nothing wrong. This is HIS shame not mine. I DESERVE GOOD THNGS.

So this date. The 21st May 2016 is the day that my feeling for art came back.

here are my feeling pieces throughout this process:

anxiety
Anxiety: clockwise from top left-black charcoal, black oil pastel, brown coloured pencil and pink-purple ink
anger
Anger: clockwise from top left- Black charcoal, black oil paste, black colouring pencil, black ink
calm
Calm: Clockwise from top left: Blue oil pastel, blue soft pastel, grey colouring pencil and blue ink
joy
Joy: clockwise from top left: Purple soft pastel, Purple oil pastel, purple pencil and purple-pink ink.

I thought it was fascinating how the feelings pictures moved from spiky jagged edges to soft swirls and calmer colours. It was not an easy process but a very fruitful one and though at first I felt frustrated that I wasn’t drawing something technically difficult like a portrait, it was almost more difficult drawing from the heart. I’m going to leave you with a poem I wrote about the rape a while ago where I felt angry, it was something that was very much in my head whilst I was drawing the anger picture. Though now I don’t feel like it is a life sentence, it is a life changer for sure, but now I have my day back I feel ok sharing this knowing that it is a thing of the past, my future is more colourful and joyous.

Vitriolic Hate Poem

I fucking hate you 
you evil piece of crap 
low-life scum 
worthless, vile cretin 
and you share this earth with me 
have the audacity to breath the same air 
feed yourself 
wash yourself 
buy yourself nice things 
and probably don’t even think about what YOU DID 

hate you 
I really fucking hate you 
not even “what you did” 
or “how I reacted” 

Just YOU 

with your roving eyes 
pestering fingers 
sweaty, stinking skin, 
desperate dick 

Is that all you thought about? 
I suppose I was an easy fuck? 
what value has a life like that? 
more than yours. 
more than yours. 

and God, what “lesson” should I learn from this? 
what clever part of the plan was rape? 
are you making him pay for his sins? 
does he pray to you to “let go” like I do? 
was that his drug of choice? 
power? 

I don’t want a life sentence 
for some crime I never committed 

Instead let me commit one. 
let me tear him apart, limb from limb 
castrate him 
pull out his nails, is eyes, his tongue 
let him feel REAL pain. 

tattoo “pervert” across his face 
for the world to see who he really is 
put a gun to his head, 
show him real fear. 
make him remember it every fucking day until he dies 
Give him a feeling of terror when he hears footsteps 
in sync with his at night 
make him lock check lock check lock check the doors 
make him afraid to be touched 
scared to be held 

and then help me let go 
please help me let go 
I cannot carry it any more. 

But I want you to imagine now after reading that that it was a poem that was written about a closed fist, an angry closed fist with no potential, that fist has opened now and can hold things, pain, joy, sadness, elation, calm, peace and above all a pencil. That is where I am at.