Slowly, slowly I am getting back to working in the studio. I am generally an optimist, some have called me a gambler, a risk taker, but that has been my life, and has enabled me to advance both in art and design, and to succeed, fail, succeed again in business. Cancer changed that, and I am struggling to regain my optimistic mind set. The painting undoubtedly helps, as does my ever loving.
I found this quote in an article I was reading that struck me as very apposite: ”Dr. Harpham said she came to dread the query “How are you?” because “no matter how it was intended, being asked ‘How are you?’ rattled my heightened sense of vulnerability.” When I feel vulnerable the instinct is to curl up protectively, to retreat into my shell like a turtle, but the reaction is inimical to creativity and especially to the risk taking that is a part of making paintings.
Making art is a performance, and like any performance it seeks an audience. Performing on canvas can be just a terrifying as walking on stage – rather more detached from the audience reaction, but I have experienced those newspaper reviews that disparage the artist with an incomprehension on the part of the critic about the work, as well as those reviews that delight in it (one said recently “made my heart sing”). Having an exhibition can sometimes feel like walking the main street naked.
Going into the studio is a positive act, and keeps the apocalyptic horseman at bay. Recovery from a major operation such as I have had is not a simple process, and physical condition/pain is a limiting factor which also can undermine positive thought. I have gradually been stretching my walking to the point where this week for the first time I enjoyed a walk along the beach with a camera. It is just 6 weeks since I came out of operating theatre, and my body is still not fully recovered. I am no longer symmetrical, so still a way to go!
Slowly, slowly, the physical healing underpins the mental recovery but time and again the conversations about the cancer knocks me back, as Dr. Harpham says “fighting the contagion of grief and fear”. I immerse myself in the studio as my antidote to fear, because fear immobilizes. However always at the back of my mind is the next biopsy, because, you see, once the hospital has you for cancer treatment they “have you forever”. Biopsies mean another day on the ward and you should read my account of time on the ward to understand how negative are the emotions that arouses in me.
Becoming the ‘glass half full’ kind of person again is an uphill climb. Perhaps, you might think, now is the time to play safe. I see no point in that, no gain. Onwards and upwards has taken me through many crises, the kind we all have in our lives. The death of parents. Divorce trials and tribulations. Business crises, economic collapses, alike. All of them have led to looking ahead for the next challenge. So it is within me, this devil that drives me to constantly press forward, onward and upward, putting setbacks behind me.
Looking at the painting of the Daisies takes me back into my own past to the photographs when I was enjoying working and living briefly in Seattle, and forward into my own future as I try to make the canvas expressive of the emotional and physical turmoil I am working through. I am sustained by knowledge that others have trodden this past and seen success – Monet persisting even with his vision impaired by cataracts, persisting to produce some of the most beautiful and lyrical paintings he ever painted – indeed some of the most lyrical and beautiful paintings ever produced; Van Gogh producing painting so expressive of his insanity, movingly evocative of his world; the list goes on.
I cannot compare my small talent with these great masters, but I can take my inspiration, reinforce my determination, from their example. More than this though, it is the ability of my painting to suck the poison of doubt from within me, to overcome the aftershocks of being reminded that cancer treatments continue. The canvas becomes a repository of emotion, expressive perhaps of hope, of fear too maybe? Being back in the studio is better than physiotherapy, because it is both physical and mental. The challenges are there – technical, expressive and not always answered successfully. But I know the surge of joyous emotion I get when an incomplete work starts to come together, the delight in a successful result. Sometimes I look at a partially completed canvas and laugh out loud in delight as I realise it is working.
There is nothing to compare with the mental and emotional healing that results from making a successful painting. When a knowledgeable viewer compliments and says “it makes my heart sing” or a passing spectator says gleefully “it is a tree of life” my ‘cup runneth over’.
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