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.