“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.

Getting Down To Business (Lots of Drawings At Last!)

As I have already shared, this has been a difficult time with my mental health and physical health too. (Actually I think I only shared that my mental health has been poor, I didn’t mention my physical health…) Well my mental health has started to stabilise now, I am feeling a lot more ‘together’ and ‘with it’. Physically though, there is a very different story to tell.

I have been suffering with a huge flare up of whatever is wrong with me. My GP is sure that all that ails me is fibromyalgia, but I can’t help feeling like this is a somewhat ‘dustbin diagnosis’; basically I feel like I have had the label of fibromyalgia slapped on me because nobody can be bothered/will make the effort to run necessary tests and diagnose me with the actual thing that I am ill with! .

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Starting from the bottom up, feet first, there is literally not a part of my body which does not cause me pain, though for the majority of the time it is in my joints, not just soft tissue. I also have very hypermobile joints, meaning that the flexibility in my joints is over extended, even though they are sore and tender. My ankles particularly are very weak and I fall a lot, though this is not just the joint pain causing me to fall, but the fact that in addition to the pain I am in, I also suffer with chronic debilitating dizziness. I have had this investigated and the only things that they were able to say with certainty are that a) I have a rather low blood pressure, which stays low even when I have been standing for a while, and b) I have something called psychogenic syncope which roughly translates as “falls over because of psychological reasons”.

I cannot argue the low blood pressure, there is evidence to back that up, but the psychogenic syncope, which is rather vague, basically means that because of my mental health I have fainting fits. It seems to tie in with the dissociative symptoms a lot. I have had several really nasty falls which have occurred at times when I have been blissfully unaware of the fact that I am even awake, let alone not maintaining my balance.

Twice I have broken bones in my altered state, the first time I cracked my cheekbone, not badly but badly enough that 18 months later it still gives me pain. Then last time I did some serious damage whilst unaware I broke my top thumb knuckle into three pieces crushing it under  a chair. I don’t actually remember the breaking of the bone, but when I woke up, some part inside me had had a field day wrecking my living room in bizarre ways…

I woke up in the morning with an extremely sore thumb. I was, at that time, being assessed to see if I had Lupus- still a possibility but they have not taken that ‘evidence’ seriously or to the next round of testing because I think that they think I am making a fuss about nothing. Anyway I woke up with a sore thumb and assumed that it was joint pain, so I put a heat patch on the whole of my thumb and held it in place with a wrist splint. I then set to cleaning my flat because I had had a huge flood in here, unbeknown to me I was cleaning vigorously with a shattered thumb knuckle. I cannot even describe how painful it was. Anyway, I took the heat pad off and saw that my thumb had gone several shades of purple and was nearly three times it’s normal size, so my friend brought me to A & E and we discovered that not only was it broken, but badly broken. Six weeks minimum in a splint after 2 weeks in a full arm cast. NIGHTMARE. It was also my right thumb I am right handed- which made everything difficult and lots of things impossible.

What upset me the most though was the fact that I had and still have no recollection of the fall. When I woke up the scene in the living room was really disturbing. I had spread several packs of gardening seeds all over the coffee table, I had placed plushy dog toys under all the legs of all the dining chairs. All my photos were upside down. All of the blankets and cushions out of the living room were in a pile by the front door. One of the dining chairs was lying down- which the doctors and so on thought was how I broke my thumb by falling on the chair and crushing my thumb underneath it. scary stuff. I had also emptied two pencil cases FULL of pens and pencils into my bin. It was so weird. Like I said though, I still have zero recollection of what happened that night and it was traumatic piecing it all together.

Anyway, the reason for my bringing this up, and getting side tracked (hahaha, nothing new there!) is because my physical health is really dreadful at the moment. I have had five falls in the last two and a half weeks. smashing my phone, getting gravel all embedded in my hand and knees, covering myself with mud, denting my ego rather spectacularly, and mostly really hurting myself. Part of the problem is lack of awareness and the fact that I have done myself real damage.

So yeah the physical side of things is really not good. I am having to use my crutches more and more to enable me to leave the house, and I HATE it!

Having said that, the lack of mobility means that I have ample time to sit and draw. And once I had gotten over my hump of not being able to draw, I was drained and depressed and mentally not in a good place.

I began to draw things out of the garden, flowers, leaves etc, and from photos that I took on holiday (Pete the Duck for example!) and using different media to emphasise tone and texture.

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Pepper from the garden (graphite pencil)
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Chillies from the garden (Graphite pencil)
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Collection of Peas from the garden (pencil and colouring pencil and biro)
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Banana (colouring pencil and biro on brown paper)

I did a couple of drawings of flowers after I had enjoyed doing my Iris pictures so much, but found that they lacked the depth and detail of the irises, I think that I just prefer the colours and the shape and the unusual markings of the irises more than I do on these flowers… they would make good greetings cards but not much else…

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Asiatic lilies from the garden (pastel and biro and pencil on blue pastel paper)
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“The welcoming committee” pansies from the garden

And then I did a few other different pictures, the “Pete the Duck” pic being one of my favourites!

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“Pete The Duck” Otter Falls Cottages, Devon, drawn with felt tip pens, colouring pencils and minimal biro on sugar paper.
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Sea shell, drawn with colouring pencils on brown paper, experimenting with using different colours for shading rather than just black/grey/brown
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My left hand- soft pastels and biro on sugar paper.

Not so happy with the hand one although I like the colours, it came out somewhat chunkier and more manly than my actual hands! Still an interesting and fun picture to draw, it was difficult to achieve the fine detail with soft pastels on a paper with a bit more tooth.

Finally I drew some pictures of non famous people, one was a commission piece of work for a birthday present for the person who was the subject of the portrait- and she loved it! wow! the other ones are my cousins, Maisie and Reddvers.

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“Tia” Commission piece for the lady in the pictures’ birthday
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“Reddvers” my young cousin, very sweet photo of him taken by his sister, Maisie
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“Maisie” My cousin, given to her as a gift, graphite pencil and biro on white cartridge paper.

Maisie loved her portrait. She is still very young (13? 14?) but an incredible artist herself, so busy drawing everyone else that she doesn’t do any of herself and nobody else does either, so it was a nice surprise for her to get it!

Re-engaging with the drawing of objects form the garden, animals from photographs and other organic items was so much fun. I enjoyed it and managed to include some of the items from previous work

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Still Life, charcoal on cartridge paper, A1
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Portion of the same still life, charcoal on cartridge paper.

As you can see I included the skull that I eventually had in my final piece in these two still life studies. Actually I had never drawn a picture exclusively in charcoal before and though I was at a disadvantage, my paper was flat on the table as I did not have an easel or a drawing board that would allow me to elevate the paper, thus I ended up with a wonky picture with poor perspective as It was being drawn flat on the table. It actually looks worse in the photo than in real life because I had to angle the camera in such a way that it actually took the picture, let alone managing to get the perspective corrected. I will be investing on a tilting A1 drawing board just as soon as I can afford one as it is absolutely essential unless you keeps stopping and standing over the picture and preparing to draw the lines in using a ruler for accuracy, it would really make my work a lot easier to have a board on a stand so that I am facing my work rather than having it stretched out in front of me looking all wonky when I am done with it! still, I had a go and having never drawn a picture exclusively in charcoal before I was actually pleasantly surprised with the results!

Onward to the next module now….

Turning The Cogs…..

It’s been a weird few months, with my resolve wavering with regards to my degree and my commitment towards it in the actual doing of the work and being able to hand it in. Mentally and emotionally I am totally committed to the degree, I really want it, like really REALLY want to do this. I have wanted an art degree for as long as I can remember, but after pursuing a life of excess and actively living to forget the somewhat harsh reality of the details of my life for so many years after leaving college doing my A-Levels, I had only dreamt that me doing a degree was a possibility.

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Jon Snow- Game of Thrones
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John Snow- Game of Thrones

When I found the college that I am doing my degree with and found that it was so geared towards people like me, people who suffer with problems that mean that they find it so difficult to leave the house that doing a degree by going to an actual university was nothing more than a pipe dream. That the degree that I wanted actually exists, to do the qualification solely based on my drawing which is indeed my favourite way of being creative- I class painting somewhat under this term too, in as much as it is drawing but with a paintbrush and plan to do at least one painting module as part of this course. Honestly, when I found that there was an achievable way of gaining the long sought after degree that I have tortured myself with the absence of for so many years…. I was a complete wreck of anxiety and excitement- which incidentally feel very similar physiologically, something that I have to remind myself of almost constantly as the anxiety conspires in my belly to make me sick with terror, I have to remind myself that the anxiety that I am feeling could very well be a mixture of excitement and anticipation.

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Jon Snow- Game of Thrones
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Jon Snow- Game of Thrones
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Jon Snow- Game of Thrones

When I enrolled on the course, secured my funding and started the degree, as I posted here in the beginning, I was so fired up, though so completely nervous about opening the folder and seeing what was inside that I couldn’t even make a start for over a week and a half. But…. when I started the work, I found that the commitment was further solidified by an absolute joy at what I was doing…. then I ground to a halt.

It was suddenly hard to do the work, suddenly hard to do the written work. Despite knowing that I am most happy whilst drawing and painting, I shuddered to a despondent halt, stopping all working and writing immediately, including writing on this blog for a long while.

I realised with some disappointment that when the college had asked me if I wanted to hold fire on starting until my support worker/mentor was in place so that I would have the right kind of support and not be completely on my own working on a degree in the confines of a space that I hide myself away on from the outside world; I had insisted that the degree would be doable and fine to continue without the support mentor, that I had everything under control…. the truth was that I really very much needed that extra support and would go on to struggle without it.

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Victoria Wood
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John Cleese

I finished my blog post about the artist Odilon Redon- Research Point, but failed to publish it, and began to immerse myself in a world of practical need and need fulfilment, such as ‘I’m hungry- I’ll eat’, ‘I’m tired-I’ll sleep’. Neglecting all but a small number of portraits, all of which (bar a couple) have been stuck in my sketch book as I figured that any and all work was relevant to the module I was doing as it had organically evolved from found objects and still life to looking at the textures of skin and hair and fabric, all of which are a major part of my portraits. In fact this was all I managed to do except for the final piece as the first part of the module….  I entitled it “A Few Of My Favourite Things” as it is a group of objects which are meaningful to me for different reasons…

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“A Few Of My favourite Things” Final Piece for Drawing 1 module 1

I chose the boot because it belongs to my partner and she wears them literally ALL the time. I bought them for her for Christmas a few years back and they still creak like new shoes, gotta love a pair of decent quality boots that also look awesome….  I chose the glass bottle because I love glass bottles, and the reflections and the way that light catches the bottle in different ways really intrigues me. I chose the stuffed bunny rabbit at the back because my Aunt gave it to me after she made it and I chose the skull, shell and starfish as they are all organic objects which appeals to me enormously. I really enjoy drawing anything that you can find in nature, that, along with drawing the human form and faces fascinate me as I draw them due to their organic and fluid nature. I love irregularity and imperfection and getting my hands dirty, I guess all this is true in my life outside of art as my partner and I maintain a wonderful veggie patch in the back garden as well as cultivating beautiful flowers and shrubs. I chose the mannequin because it reminds me of my folks who always have been and still are my biggest supporters when it comes to my creative endeavours… They bought it for me from IKEA when I really insisted that I needed it for my art work… well it came into it’s own! And I chose the green fabric because I love drawing the way that fabric falls and love it as a backdrop to most items that I draw. I spend as much time working on the folds in fabric and bringing that to life as I do on the objects in the foreground.

I decided to draw the final piece in colouring pencils and pencil primarily, mainly because I was really excited by the colours of the objects that I was drawing. Also I have done lots of studies using colouring pencils but not many larger pieces * the  final piece is A2.

So that was my final piece drawn and done. Very happy that it is done, not so happy with the result if I am honest. It is mediocre at best, but it is done and I have done the net step too of sending it off to my tutor!

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Steve Hogarth “H” Marillion Lead Singer (2016 photo shoot)
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Steve Hogarth “H” Marillion Lead Singer, younger days photo shoot, with the album Afraid of Sunlight

Anyway after much dilly dallying I actually had my learning support worker/mentor approved and was able to make my first contact with her a couple of weeks ago. Her name is Becky and she is lovely. I was so happy that I had been allocated a learning support mentor that I actually feel safe in the presence of and happy that I feel comfortable with her and have to say that I wish, in way that I had started my degree once I had her support in place, as I have found that it is so much easier to make deadlines and stick to them with her support. As it was I didn’t and have struggled somewhat to keep on track.

Our first meeting we decided that I would have a deadline of a week to hand in and complete the first module, at least to the point where I could hand something in. I had been in contact with my tutor via email to apologise profusely about not having handed in my work yet and that I have been struggling with my mental health over the last few months. Moving from a manic phase to a crappy, depressed phase which has been hard. She was really nice about it, reminding me that I am in no rush, not that I have to make sure everything is perfect before handing it in. This is a huge problem for me. Unless something is perfect and presentable and exactly-just-so, I find it incredibly difficult to hand in work, or pass on a portrait that I have completed…. or what ever really…

Anyway, I booked the collection of my portfolio from my home at 10.30 AM on Tuesday 11th October and by 1.30 PM it had been collected by a nice man from ParcelForce and then it was delivered and signed for at midday the following day. I can’t fault their service and the cost was reasonable too, I also managed to find a shop on eBay who sell A1 sized postage bags that I can fit my art folder in comfortably. So off it went, delivered and received and it is in the lap of my tutor now to decide if I am actually on the right track and have what it takes to do this qualification. I am not going to lie, I am terrified about receiving it back. hey ho.

I saw my support worker again this week and she was hugely helpful, doing a short guided relaxation and breathing exercise and we set a couple of deadlines for me to meet, such as finishing the second module by Christmas at the latest. I have another appointment with her next week…. I am actually looking forward to it, now that I have a weekly point of contact, suddenly deadlines seem like my friend and not my foe!

On another note, I do feel like my portraits are improving immensely, I have practised quite a lot and feel that I have moved forwards in the quality and feel of my drawings and seem to be getting a lot of feedback that backs this up!

 

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.