Imperfect and scarred

My friend Penny and I have been working on a collaborative project, sending works back and forth, adding layers of words, tissue, paint and so on. These aren’t about making pretty art. They’re about documenting stuff that’s deep, and occasionally dark, that we share.

I commented to her tonight that “we are utterly imperfect and that’s totally ok. There is both beauty and survival in our scars.”. Our scars are physical and emotional, surface and deep.

I have a lot of physical scars; there’s a giant one and around a dozen small ones on my stomach alone. A couple of weird – but thankfully faded – ones on the side of my neck from a central IV line. A big one on my right leg from a total knee replacement and, later this coming week, there will be a matching one on the left knee.

It’s the same with the emotional scars … some are small and faded, others deep and persistently livid. I’ve talked about the cause of some on this blog, others there’s only one or two people who know the story. And there’s a couple of scars I can’t ever verbalise – but I have shared most of it, in writing, and in tears.

Scarred inside and out. And that’s okay. The scars are part of me, just as my art is part of me. Like me, my art isn’t about pretty. It’s not made to match people’s furniture or look cute in a cafe. It’s about telling my story in paint when I can’t find the words and, some of the time, shining light on dark things and bringing a sense of lightness to them.

Counting down to a new knee

Recently I spent 10 days in Hokitika, staying with Alan for a break. Penny and I made art & had lunch out (always love Monteiths), I rested, did lots of gelli printing and so on. If I stay home I don’t rest as much because there is always something to do, and I visit Tony every day.

The sun came up towards the end of my stay and Alan had gone out the back of the farm to work. Late in the day I decided to try going for a walk on the farm. Knowing my dodgy knee, and even dodgier sense of direction, I left a note saying where I was going and what time I left. I got quite a long way for me, taking care on the farm track and using my walking stick. Alan met me as he headed back and offered me a ride on the bike – no, I wanted to walk back. I’m nothing if not stubborn! I headed back and met him where he was seeing to the calves, then walked the rest of the way to the house with him. I did about 6,000 stops, which is not a lot for most people, but good for me.

Today I went over to the main admin building. It had been raining so I carefully dried my shoes on the mat, stepped off it … and my walking stick slipped. I wrenched my bad knee and now it hates me. I have to work very hard to stand up, and I’m limping like a limpy thing!

I am having my second total knee replacement in exactly two weeks. All going well, by this time of day I’ll have been for a walk on my new knee with the aid of crutches. I had the blood tests today so they can cross match blood just in case. It’ll be done with a spinal block, which is much safer for me. The only thing that could go wrong now is if Covid gets further down the island.

It’s 9 years since my car accident and 8 years since I started using a walking stick. I can’t wait to walk easily, not worry about steps and disabled carparks, and a million other things. I am so grateful this is being done.

This was the day after surgery last year.

Gelli collab

Penny and I spent a few hours playing with our gelli plates today. We talked about processes, colour/pattern likes and dislikes, and so on. Some really useful things happen when you work alongside someone you trust.

Watching Penny work reminded me of processes I’ve used in the past, but have moved way from. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of putting colour on the plate and pulling a print – there’s no other way to get the serendipitous spots of colour and texture.

Penny had stopped using stencils with gelli printing and rediscovered her love of a particular circle stencil. We talked about how I like quite complex, layered prints, while she likes the clean, clear lines you get from a good ghost print (second pull).

I’ve been watching a lot of Elizabeth St Hilaire’s videos and tried to replicate her process. I didn’t get it quite right, and suspect I’m not starting with a dark enough base, need to think more about value / opacity, and do more layers. I’m sufficiently invested in the outcome that I’ll keep trying.

Here’s a selection of papers I made today using tissue and tracing paper, and one piece of Hahnemule sumi rice paper.

The perks of level 2

Level 3 is pretty much level 4 with takeaways. Level 2 is much simpler, in one sense, although I know a lot of people find it stressful. This time New Zealand is in Delta level 2, so a bit stricter than previously. It’s working though, with only 13 new cases today.

One of the changes is masks are mandatory in most situations outside of the home. I’ve bought a couple of masks for Tony, and I’ve got quite a few in various styles. My latest ones have the wire nose piece to try and stop my glasses fogging up.

I’m diligent about mask wearing etc because I’ve had Aspiration Pneumonia so my lungs are perhaps not 100%, my knee surgery is in about 6 weeks meaning I need to stay healthy, and I have Tony to think about. Also, my best friend of 50+ years can’t have the vaccine so is vulnerable; I need to do my part to protect her,

Yesterday I was able to visit Tony in the rest home for the first time in a number of weeks, and today he came home for about two hours in the afternoon while I worked. It was lovely to have him home and Bruno, Sandra’s dog, was delighted to see him.

Tony’s 75th birthday

When it became clear a few months ago that Tony would need rest home care, he desperately wanted to stay at home until his 75th birthday. It wasn’t to be; he’s been in Te Mahana 3 months now, and today was his 75th birthday. Plus we’re in lockdown so his daughter, Yasmine, had to cancel her trip up from Christchurch. It’s all been made harder by the fact I was in self isolation until yesterday due to covid.

We could only ‘visit’ through the ranch slider but he’s seen me, his brother Roger, Sandra, Kim, and Janet. He’s had a call from Yasmine, and his dear friend Doris. He’s had text messages, gifts from staff and one of two residents he’s made friends with, and generally been fussed over.

I’m so grateful to the people who helped make it feel better. Sandra N at De Molen in Foxton, who dressed up the parcel I sent him. Michaela S who made bright bunting and tied it to the posts outside his room in a stealth visit, and dropped off the flamingo at the same time. Peter B who gave me a concrete flamingo to paint when I put the call out on FB seeing I couldn’t go shopping. Pat & Kevin K who found the perfect birthday card at the supermarket for me. People are wonderful when given the opportunity.

All roads lead to…

Working from home is a busy time, everything takes a little longer and checking on staff wellbeing requires extra effort, but I also have a lot of time to think. I was in Auckland two weeks ago and visited two locations of interest so needed COVID tests at days 5 and 12 and had to totally self isolate. Both tests have come back negative and, after 14 days, I can do Level 4 like anyone else. Yay!

Once I got the negative test result I went up town and dropped some stuff outside Tony’s ranch slider, then into Four Square to get a couple of things – hand sanitiser, mask and QR code of course. I saw some old friends while I was there, looking a bit overwhelmed. My instinct was to reach out to them. Yes, I’m one of “those” people; I’m a hugger. If someone is distressed I’m inclined to touch their hand or arm or, if I know them or have permission, give them a hug. Some of you might know “The 5 love languages” by Dr Gary Chapman. It’s no surprise my main love language is physical touch – it’s how I show love, concern and caring. Fortunately I’m sufficiently empathetic to recognise people who don’t want to be touched, and offer them support in other ways

For someone like me physical distancing is difficult. (media tend to call it social distancing but it’s not – we can be social without being physically close). Watching people struggle with lockdown, and all that comes with it, makes me want to, quite literally, reach out. Not being able to stresses me. And it’s there the road circles back, as it always does…

I’m a very addictive personality and my drug of choice is food, but I’ve also struggled with other addictions. Thank goodness I never tried drugs! Dr Gabor Mate believes the root of all addiction is a response to pain, and one of the primary triggers is maternal deprivation. Mum was 40 when they had me and very sick; I was a 2lb 13oz prem baby who stayed on in hospital after she came home. They lived an hour’s drive away and had a business to run – through no one’s fault I suffered maternal deprivation.

When I had my consultation for weight loss surgery Dr Dhabuwala asked about my birth weight. At the time I thought it was an odd question, but he explained about the impact of infant formulas used in the 50s & 60s to quickly get prem babies up to a standard weight. I suspect he also knew about the research.

Lockdown makes me want to hug people, and deprives me of the touch of others. My pain response is that of all addicts; I want to self-soothe with my drug of choice – food. And so the cycle continues. Thankfully 5 years on from weight loss surgery I understand so much more than I did then and can fight back. But it is a fight, and a tough one.

It’s all connected

There’s a lot happening for me at the moment, and I’m struggling not to eat my feelings. Once an addict…

I had a fantastic weekend with my sister Ailsa and her family in Auckland 10 days ago. I finally got to meet my niece Rosie and her husband Jason’s wee boy Harry; he’s an absolute delight. We all went to the Firebird ballet, which was incredible (thanks Ro). I did quite a bit of shopping too.

I flew home Sunday night, so visited Tony on the way home and saw him again Monday night. By the end of Tuesday the rest home was in lockdown and by midnight the whole country was in lockdown due to a community case of COVID.

I’m working from home and have canceled the next newspaper because community papers are out at Level 4. We may go to Level 3 this weekend but advertisers won’t be ready etc.

In the meantime Penny and I are working on a collab, and I’m looking back through some of my old art, thinking about colours, texture etc. Its interesting to look back and see what’s changed … and what hasn’t.

Tony turns 75 this weekend and I won’t be able to visit him. His daughter Yasmine was due to fly up from Christchurch but of course that won’t be happening either. It’s sad and awful but out of our hands.

Work, family, art, community and COVID are all intertwined in my life. As I said, there’s so much happening. I’m grateful for all the people supporting me, and to live in a community where people look after each other.

The joy of Kraft

Kraft, not craft! I love the 6×6 Dina Wakley Media heavy Kraft journals. It’s more like cardstock than paper so paint doesn’t bleed through and the substrate never warps. I’m still playing with creating basic backgrounds, exploring colour and pattern. I’ll go back and journal on the pages eventually but for now I’m enjoying pushing paint around.

Layers aren’t precious

Most of my art involves layers. Layers of collage, paint, mark making. Hiding things, revealing others, making some areas stand out. The layers are intuitive and unplanned, my hands working back and forth across the substrate.

I was talking to my friend Penny tonight, who is also an artist. She was talking about an aspect of her process that’s important to her. I commented that, when I’m cutting painted paper for collage, I might cut it multiple times, shaving a few millimeters extra off until it feels just right. The shapes are organic, so you’d think those few millimeters wouldn’t matter – but for me they’re crucial.

When I work in layers I’m happy to give up almost any layer, mark, colour if I need to. Nothing is so good it can’t be covered over. I can always paint another one, cut another one. There’s enormous creative freedom in being able to let go. Yesterday I shared online the layer online seen below and said I was going to start covering up most of it. A few people said “don’t”. Too late, it’s gone…

Isn’t it obvious?

Tony and I’ve never made a secret of his deteriorating health, or that the decision to go into resthome care was made by the medical system. We knew the time was coming, but the choice was taken from us – which was a good thing.

In the six weeks he’s been in the home Tony has (mainly) been quite well, although he isn’t doing so well just now. A few people have made comments about how well he looks and questioned whether he needs to be there. Not helpful, even if well-intentioned.

Yesterday Sandra visited an old friend of Mum’s who was sensible enough to ask “is Tony seriously sick?” and expect an honest answer. Sandra simply said yes. Mum’s friend said “thought so”.

From the way the conversation went, I gather some people in town are discussing why Tony is in the rest home. It’s simple; he’s there because he needs to be. Yes, he’s that sick. If people want to know more, ask. We’re happy to provide the truth rather than have people make up their own version.