Cancer is as vast and complex an experience as I have ever encountered but I am making some connections that seem worth sharing.
I should make clear that I am not expecting this cancer to kill me, the prognosis is very good, however, having the disease means you have to face the thoughts!
At three years old, my son Joe, then an only child, considered the notion that he would one day grow up. After some careful questioning and reflection, he concluded that if he were to grow up to be the Daddy, then Daddy would grow down to be the boy. If he was to countenance change, some things had to remain constant!
Our world begins in sensation and interaction, from the mirroring of expression to the discovery of our physical edges. As we learn the vastness and complexity of the world, we engage with imaginative reasoning to make it a place we can understand. We posit theories that connect the known with the unknown; a creative engagement that is rooted in our wonder at the world around us.
It seems to me that preserving our capacity for wonder is one of Life’s crucial tasks, we have to fight the cynicism and disinterest that seeps into our ‘grown up’ state. My own route to self-preservation lies in making images.
As some of you know, I am currently undergoing treatment for cancer. I began this painting THE WOLF & THE MOON - A LOVE STORY (just a snap shot so please allow for picture quality), before my cancer diagnosis, and have been working on it during my recovery from surgery and preparation for chemo. It became significant when a yellow girl and a black dog arrived beneath the wolf’s bed beside a pool of dripping, pink moonlight. They were spontaneous additions, not featured in early drawings. I was happy to remove them if they didn’t fit. However, they didn’t just fit, they completed the painting, making it more than I had planned.
The weird thing about imaginative work is that the connections and meanings you find are curiously hard to hold on to. I had, for example, forgotten that the trio of girl, dog and moon have appeared in my work several times before. How could I forget this, when their arrival in this painting felt so meaningful? Perhaps we have to let go of old significances to learn new ones?
Whatever the case, this re-encounter with my familiar icons made me feel as complete as the picture, and I had my first panic-free thought about sickness and death and this is it:
the world will shift to accommodate my absence. It’s not a bitter thought, I could not feel better loved or supported, nor is it a frightened thought, it's just the way it is. Apart from anything else, what other choice does the world have? This revelation was accompanied by a feeling of such naive, wondering surprise that I was reminded of Joe's reasoning about growing up. Seems like there is always something new to learn.
* Illuminate Herstory: https://www.facebook.com/events/1202726563192895/
** Religion and the Decline of Magic https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Religion_and_the_Decline_of_Magic.html?id=yQwSAQAAIAAJ
An icon is defined as an image worthy of uncritical devotion but uncritical devotion is a dangerous thing.
December 11th is fast approaching. All details on times and events here:
The Greek playwright Aeschylus places the Graeae and the Gorgons on Kisthene’s dreadful plain where ‘neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon’*. In fact Weird Sisters never do belong in the community. They are banished from the kingdom to deserts and wastelands; living, like so many outcasts, beyond the pale. People have always preferred to banish 'monsters' and these times are no different to any other, look at Brexiteers' views on EU Freedom of Movement or the ideology of ISIS. It's hard to find any example of modern conflict that lacks the basic (and base) desire to cleanse territories of 'foreign' influences. It’s also hard on the level of the individual human body to find any example of modern concerns that don't equate non-standard appearance with monstrousness. (see January’s Blog).
There are ways of looking at and embracing our differences, which is fortunate considering fewer lives are devastated when we're guided by tolerance and inclusivity. It is in this spirit that I have begun a series of new drawings about the Weird Sisters of the plains, imagining them as whole people rather than symbols of all that is fearful, people who might from time to time want to visit new places and try new things. What, for example, might Medusa's first kiss look like? Or the Graeae's first trip to a nightclub?
I am, however, decidedly against moving Medusa and her sisters to the city full time. Psychologically, I don't believe wildernessess are places to avoid or to fear because they are where we exist undisguised, in all our uncertain vulnerability and individual truth. Perhaps in this series, the Belles will visit the outlands while the pariahs go to the ball... I'll keep you posted!
Incidentally, I wasn’t sure why I was drawing mythic monsters until I remembered something I read years ago by James Hillman. He describes wildernessess as places where ‘we never learn, cannot help, fall back to and cry from again and again’, as an essential (if uncomfortable) landscape of human experience.**
* Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound C5th B.C.
** James Hillman, Abandoning the Child, LOOSE ENDS, Spring Pubications, 1975
In an interview accompanying the show, the artist speaks of the 'idea of landscape which is full of life...nobody knows, within a second, just by a little act of terror... it transforms.' Qureshi's work often references the political situation in Pakistan but his intention is not to make work parading brutalities, rather he seeks to name the universal presence of violence. As he explains, “...there’s a lot of violence around me in Pakistan, but then there is a lot of violence all over the world. Violence is not a strange thing or a stranger for anyone."* In Where the Shadows are so Deep, we find life as well as darkness even in the deepest shadows of The Curve. Qureshi's achievement is that he communicates so much more about the nature of violence because it is shot through with such shimmering beauty. It is an extraordinary achievement AND it's there until July 10th. Don't miss it.
* read more
The angel here highlights another requirement: beauty should exist without pride or vanity. To the long list of acceptability criteria, a girl must add modesty, natural grace and, I would suggest, a bird-like appetite - unless she is providing for the appetites of others*, to the list of qualities necessary to be a woman deserving of a happy ending.
* See August Blog The Two Faces of Eve
BP: A Walk Through British Art at Tate Britain covers 500 years of British home-grown talent. I'm not sure that I've ever felt, or wanted to feel, particularly British but, as I wandered from room to room, I was surprised to discover that I was looking for something, a common characteristic that is reflected in my own practice.