Musings from the attic

Musings and thoughts from my studio....

3rd April 2020

This is my first Blog from my Attic Studio .......

In these worrying, uncertain times, with COVID-19 Virus effecting every part of our modern society it seemed the ideal time to reflect on my art practice.  Social distancing and isolation are now the daily norm in the UK, so I decided to turn this isolation period into something positive for my studio work.  Hence this Blog,  it's something I've been meaning to do for a very long time - so here it goes!!!!

Being in my attic studio for a few weeks now, has made me reflect about life and how very precious it is.  It's posed questions as to why I paint and what is the driving force behind my creative practice.  Although, this isn't the first time in the past couple of years that I've reflected on life, existence and human mortality.  

Christmas 2017
As an artist it didn't occur to me that a serious illness could blight my painting practice and have visual implications for me.  However, in December 2017 I found myself in such a situation.  Strange visual distortions in my left eye prompted a visit to the Eye Clinic at The Hallamshire Hospital.  The staff at the hospital were absolutely brilliant and they were so thorough in their tests. But, I will never forget the abject fear when the nurse said the back of my left eye was extremely swollen – as I had no pain what so ever!   The shock to me that my vision was theoretically under threat petrified me. A consultant confirmed that I had a swollen Optic Disc and by 7:30pm on Christmas Eve I was in an MRI Scan, being tested for a number of neurological conditions.  My emotions were running high to say the least and whilst in the scanner I thought to myself, will I be able to see my husband, dog, family, friends, anything in a few weeks?  It was a lonely 45 minutes and I had a  sobering realisation that my life might change forever.

After a number of months of intensive steroid medication and further tests they discovered that my eye condition was rare, brought on by extremely high blood pressure. I have now, thankfully regained 85% of my sight back in that eye, but still have partial vision centrally.  My right eye was luckily unaffected and with both eyes my eyesight is excellent once again. However, the eye condition lead the hospital to discover that I was/am suffering from an incurable auto-immune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome, which I was diagnosed with in 2018. 

One of the neurologists impressively suspected this on admission in 2017.  ALL the staff at Sheffield Hallamshire were utterly AMAZING in my care and I continue to be well looked after by them to the present day, with the Rheumatology team and Eye Clinic specialists.

The Neurology Consultant who had the hunch it was Sjogren's Syndrome prior to all the test results coming back was really into his art, especially Vincent Van Gogh.   He travelled all over the world to see Van Gogh paintings in various collections and galleries.  

So, as a 'thank you' for his care and the vital medical intervention I received from him, I gave him the painting (below) in my gratitude for all his help.

It's a seascape of the North East Yorkshire coastline (England) and at the time of painting it I was very influenced by Van Gogh - so it seemed a very apt gift for him !!   

I know a painting cannot measure up to the gift he and the hospital gave sight back in tact, that is utterly immeasurable and I will always be so very grateful to him and all the team, but I do hope the painting will give him lots of pleasure in the years to come.

'Sand bank' 2016 (oil on canvas, framed in solid white wood, 15x15cm) - gifted by me to one of the Neurology Consultants at Sheffield Hallamshire Hospital. 
So, even in the darkest times I felt my art could serve as something more and I started to think about 'audiences' and how pictures can give people pleasure and also be a gift of thanks. 

Here and Now - Isolation

I chose to start the social distancing about three weeks ago, as with suffering from Sjogren's Syndrome I am more prone to respiratory complications than a healthy person is.  

I experiment in my studio with pieces that push my own perception of what can be achieved creatively by challenging societal cliches around mental health, being an infertile woman and having disabling fatigue with the Sjogren's.

'The Invisible Series'
Three years ago I embarked on starting ‘The Invisible Series’, a body of work produced around my infertility and chronic depression.   I am still working on the series today. 

At the beginning of the project, I was extremely depressed and in a very dark place.   I needed coping strategies to express these negative feelings but in a safe place……this safe place was my attic studio at home.
I had always been ambivalent about using my art-work as a vehicle to express how my mental health had/has impacted on me for the majority of my life.  I didn’t realise that this series would open up so many windows of opportunity for sharing ideas with other arts professionals, I am so glad I had the courage to start them.
'Invisible Series' paintings in their earliest stages.on the studio floor
Psychotherapy directly influenced the original desire to create the body of work, it also renewed my interest in abstract expressionism.  I approached the early paintings with this art movement in mind, how they used a freedom to inform colour, line, so in their spirit I allowed my subconscious and memory to start to guide my work.   I made the decision to explore my raw emotions, and not hold back, looking starkly  at the corrosive effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and infertility, no barriers or masks, just me exposed in the paintings.  The work started to respond in a very dynamic and positive way.

'Invisible Series' paintings in their earliest stages.
Working on the attic floor gave me and the work a great sense of freedom!

'Dread Guest' in it's earliest stages.  First part of the title taken from one of my husband's poems.

'Dread Guest - You cross my boundaries and violate my inner self' 2016-19, oil on canvas

Dread Guest' was also an attempt to convey a dialogue about how my depression and OCD is with me most days.  The creature Dread is an unwanted guest but keeps coming in through an invisible door in time and space.  He features to the bottom left of the painting.

‘Invisible i with red’ left above (oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm).
‘Invisible series, unsung lullaby’, right above 2017 (acrylic on canvas 100 x 100 cm) shortlisted for the BEEP International Painting Prize in Swansea, 2018

When I began 'Invisible Series, unsung lullaby’ canvas, I was in an extremely dark place, with chronic depression and black moods.  The intensity of my mental state is evident in the black palette I chose to begin and complete the painting with.  I had to look at my inner emotions and project them in an effective way onto the canvas.  Initially,  I blanked certain parts of the canvas out like a template and 'drew' a composition with this method.  I wanted the image to feel like barbed wire barricades from the First World War. I started putting black acrylic onto the surface, letting my emotions control the composition.  The 'sewing needle' in the composition also changes into a WW1 rifle, this was deliberate and an attempt to translate the battle ground and invisibility you feel as an infertile woman.  

The needle turning into a rifle is my attempt to state how a 'motherly' comforting hobby such as sewing became a complete battlefield for me and I was it's war casualty.    

BEEP International Painting Competition -  Swansea College of Art, August 2018 

Both pieces on display at BEEP International Painting Prize in Swansea

‘Invisible Series, unsung lullaby’ is also featured in a new book entitled ‘WOMEN: Inspiring quotes & artistic responses Volume 2’ (Pages 70 & 71, Published by Wild House Publishing, concept/book by Nicola &  Andy Wild) 

I am so very proud to have this painting of mine, along with a quote from art hero of mine, Frida Kahlo (chosen by myself) featured in a new book about creative women. Its an honour to have been included in such a prestigious book that will speak to such a diverse audience with this pivotal painting.

Myself pictured in my attic studio holding a couple of copies of the book! (photo credit: taken by my hubby) 

In my next Blog extract I will explore my more colourful pieces that I've manged to produced, despite my depression!  

3rd April 2020


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