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.

Creativity helps

I’ll skip the details but Tony wasn’t great today. He was home for a bit while I was working from home, so I could attend a bunch of local meetings, but I ended up taking him back because he said he felt “absolutely dreadful”. The rest home staff said they’d call me if he got worse.

I felt we’d had far worse days at home but until now he’s been remarkably well in their care so think they got a surprise. As I said to one staff member, he was assessed as needing rest home care for good reason! He’s feeling and looking better now but hasn’t really eaten anything today.

It was an unsettling day, so after dinner I grabbed the new art journal I’ve started and made a bunch of backgrounds. The thing about creating backgrounds is there’s no real thought involved. I grab 3 sprays to lay down some colour, add more colour through a stencil or two, splashes or drips of water to activate the sprays and maybe some dark splatter. It’s about getting my hands busy and distracting my mind. I find it soothing – I believe art is good for the soul (but not so good for the colour of my hands!)

If you can’t say it

What cannot be said will be wept. Attributed to Sappho.

If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint. Edward Hopper.

Every work of art stems from a wound in the soul of the artist. Ted Hughes.

These quotes speak to me to my soul. I paint because it’s good for me and because I can say in my art journals the things I have no words for – or the words I can’t speak. Words are tricky things for me. I can talk a good talk (to quote Shane Koyczan) but there are topics I can’t verbalise on, and words I just can’t say. A lot of addicts are the same; it’s our old foe, shame!

I read poetry, and sometimes use it in my art. Of course what we take from poetry is subjective too. What I read and feel, and what someone else takes from it might be quite different.

It’s the same with art, and journal pages. The meaning might be clear to me – or not – but it’s up to the viewer to find their own meaning in it. Even when the meaning is unclear, making art and sharing it is always an act of putting your soul on display. And, for some of us anyway, our pain…

At the Legato Exhibition in Italy, 2010, with the NZ Ambassador.

Lean in

A few years ago I read “Lean in” by Sheryl Sandberg , Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but the concept of leaning in has its uses. Last night I wrote about my struggle to set a new routine.

Today I’ve realised I can ‘lean in’ to the lack of routine, the early nights and so on. It’s not something I need to fix for now.

I visited Tony after work but he wasn’t feeling well. At 6.30 he said I needed to go home and cook my dinner, his way of saying he’s had enough. I reheated last night’s leftovers and cleaned up, then headed for my art desk.

I’ve had a good play with paper and paint, but have still found myself in bed at 8.30. And it’s ok. I need to just lean in and do this. I also need to just sit with the “you should be busy” discomfort it causes me, because that desire for constant busyness is common in addicts. Here’s what I’ve been creating.

I’m not quite ready

Since Tony went into the home I’ve been going to bed early quite often. Before, I’d go to bed about 10-10.30 but often I’m tucked up with the iPad, magazine, writing paper and a pen by 8.30. I’m not sleeping well though, waking in the night, probably out of habit from years of caregiving.

I’ve said to a couple of people today that I need to just stay up, no matter how I feel or how cold it is, and get back to my usual routine. Hopefully doing more and being properly tired will help me sleep better.

But you know what? I’m not ready for this to be normal. There’s a new normal ahead of me, but that’s not here yet either. I’m going to cut myself some slack and slide off to bed if I want to. The day will come when my old routine feels ok again, but today isn’t that day.

Thinky thoughts! #BlogJune 30

I’ve been talking with my friend Penny tonight and, as often happens, the art chat circled back to the roots of our addictive natures, which for both of us led to morbid obesity. We also talked about symbolism in our art.

Penny asked why the Patea freezing works and cool stores appear and reappear in my art, even when I’m seemingly concentrating on the Hokitika Gorge colours. It’s an interesting question.

When I was sitting on Alan’s lounge floor in Hokitika contemplating the series of abstract mixed media pieces I was working on I suddenly realised I’d been loosely drawing the shape of the cool stores.

I’m Patea born and bred and, at 56, have only lived away from here for a few years. I left at 18 and came back at 27. This is home. Growing up, the Freezing Works were central to our lives – Dad’s grocery business depended on them in some ways, friend’s parents worked there, friends expected to work there as generations before them had.

The freezing works dominated the landscape as we drove into town from the south – a symbol of home in the same way the maunga is. The freezing works is long gone, demolished after a fire. The cool stores remain, long-abandoned and heavily graffitied.

My addictive nature has its roots in pain essentially, according to Dr Gabor Máte in his book “In the realm of hungry ghosts; close encounters with addiction” and more recently the movie “The wisdom of trauma”. I’ve talked about some, but not all, of that pain before so let’s put that aside.

For me the freezing works and cool stores symbolise home – not just my town or the family home – but Mum, Dad and my sister. They stand for love and safety or, to put it into an addiction/pain context, those buildings represent anti-pain. No wonder my mind pulls fragments of them out all the time…

A safe place #BlogJune 27

My art journals are somewhere to download the thoughts in my head without fear of judgement. The pages don’t have to make sense, be pretty or be “art”. They just have to feel right to me.

I use a very intuitive process in my journals, just as I do in my artworks. For me it’s as much about the doing, as the result … it’s more about process than anything else.

Tonight I’ve finished a small black Dylusions journal. I used lots of Dylusions Shimmer paint and Shimmer spray, shaped the page edges and cut peep holes, and generally had fun. I love the final result.

A place for thoughts #BlogJune 17

I can talk to library customers about anything they need info on. I can write fairly easily but, when it comes to tricky emotional stuff, speaking often eludes me. I’ve been known to text or Viber people if I can’t get the words out.

I started watching the Dr Gabor Matè movie “The wisdom of trauma” this week but emotionally can’t deal it at the moment. I’ll come back to it though, because his thinking on trauma and addiction speaks to me.

One of the ways I deal with emotions, and addictive personality, is through my art journals. I can say anything in my journals without fear of judgement. I often share my work, so make the writing illegible if I need to, or cover up the writing.

This is a Dylusions Dyalog that’s almost ready for me to start writing in. I’ve used Shimmer paint and spray on the pages, then added collage. I like the small format as it’s quick to work in when I just want to get some thoughts down.

The value of art time

Some weekends, aside from cooking meals & basic things like washing etc, I spend both days at my art desk. This is one of those weekends. Tony is in more pain and sleepy so he’s sitting in the lazyboy, napping, while I play with my art supplies. Art is good for me – the movement of my hands, the meditative sense of slowed-down time when fussy cutting out images, and the chance to get my thoughts & feelings out of my head and into my art journals.

I’ve been working in my large Dina Wakley journal, and the large Dylusions journals. I’ve really enjoyed playing with Steampunk images for a change.