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Friday, 7 December 2012

Yesterday, a man from the Spectator called me. My first thought was that they had read the death-by-Spectator bit in my past blogs, and that when the Spectator arrives on a Friday I close my eyes and put it into the wicker basket next to my sofa.  It is nothing to do with the Spectator, it is only that I don't get round to reading it as it arrives, and they pile up, one after another, looming at me, until I have to take a week off to read them.  My first thought was then, when I answered the phone to a man who introduced himself as Phil from the Spectator, that they knew.  There was going to be some kind of show down.  Actually, Phil only wanted to tell me that unless I paid up immediately, my subscription would end within the next two weeks.  The sup plot was, what would I do then?  Oh Phil, I could have said, I would sleep at nights!  I embrace you, Phil, for only sending me two more weeks of this magazine.  In the coming year, Phil, I will read the whole of the past year, which is all I ask, and then, next year, Phil, when you are checking the Christmas subscriptions, come back to me and I will be a different person.  Dear Phil, send me those last two Spectators, and then let me rest.

I must just add here that it is a gift from one of my admirable brothers, that I have had a subscription to the Spectator these past few years.  What I actually said to Phil from the Spectator was that my dear brother deals with all my subscriptions, and I left him to think that I had many subscriptions, and that I could not only handle them all, but I was blase about them.

This week in Bognor has been quiet and good.  I have needed to be quiet.  I have some thinking to do.  There are some changes to the A Graceful Death exhibition which I feel need to be made.  At present there are 48 paintings and poetry, a book, music, poetry workshops, a film, a prayer bowl and much writing including an amusing and provocative essay by my dear friend and writer Olivia Fane .  The paintings continue too, I am presently working on new paintings and new people to the exhibition; new images new stories, new lives, new deaths.  It is getting very large, and I feel that it is changing.  So what do I do, and in which direction will I take in order for it to be effective?  A Graceful Death started with my story.  I began the whole thing by painting Steve as he died, and after his death.  That is the introduction.  It is now utterly about other people and how they face the prospect of illness and death, it is not about me at all.  Many who I have painted for the exhibition are no longer alive.  But their stories and their images are, and they all contribute to a discussion on what it means to die.  A great deal of good is done by this, and much saying of things unsaid takes place when people see the exhibition and read what is written by those who have been painted.

One of the problems that I am facing is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to transport all of these paintings and everything that goes with the A Graceful Death.  My car isn't big enough, and what worked for a smaller exhibition does not work for a larger one.  Transportation and protection of the works is a big issue now;  how to best and most efficiently wrap the paintings so that they don't get damaged in transit?  Bubble wrap used to work but now it just gets in the way.  And the largest of the paintings is about 5' x 4', so now that there are 47 other paintings and poems of varying sizes, plus all the other things, I need a new plan.

Another issue is that it is ever growing in size. More people are being painted, so that it feels that perhaps I should show the exhibition in two halves.  Or with just a selection of the paintings, and a catalogue available to show all of them.  Another addition to the exhibition is that I am beginning to use video, thanks to the work of photographer extraordinaire and friend Eileen Rafferty, who is already the official AGD photographer.  I am also thinking of using drama as part of the exhibition, I want to use some plays and scripts written for the end of life by various writers, because I think it would encourage excellent discussions with people who come to take part. But, the biggest problem now, is the funding.  What funding?  Here is a bit on the funding.

I paint people for the exhibition, keep the paintings, and Eileen presents the sitter with a top quality print of the painting.  Nothing goes on display without the consent of the sitter, or the sitter's family.  Working with someone on a painting is a labour of love, and the experience for all us involved is profound, moving, enlightening and wonderful.  And sad, too, when that person dies if that is what they do.  Some of the people in the exhibition are alive and well, some are not.  But because of the nature of A Graceful Death, I do not charge anyone anything.  It feels as if I am receiving a priceless gift listening to life stories and painting portraits.  So how does the exhibition manage to exist, grow, exhibit, make itself?  Miracles.  It runs on miracles.  If I take the exhibition to a conference, or an event that I am not organising, then I charge a fee. But to create the exhibition, I do not.  And now I must find a way to fund the creation and maintenance of this amazing work.  It is time for it to make its way in the world so that I can concentrate on the paintings and the work I do with the people involved in making it so powerful.  It is time to get financial.

This then, is why I needed to be quiet in Bognor this week.  I must do some serious thinking, it is time to take this huge, growing, glorious exhibition to the next level.  It is time to find that open door, and step through it.  It is time for benefactors to vie with each other, falling over each other to offer their services, in order that I can keep this exhibition serving the people that take part, and that come to experience it.

And as if to help me to do this, I have planned to do nothing at all this weekend.  I have planned to wear my pyjamas from Friday night until Monday morning, and to follow my every (legal) whim.  If I wish to eat eggy toast at 2am, I shall.  If I wish to lie on the sofa under soft green woollen blankets and dream of the future, I shall.  If I wish to watch my phone ring, and not answer it unless it is from the Spectator wanting to give me an award for perseverance, that is what I shall do.

It is time for a very emotionally mature and ridiculously wealthy philanthropist to decide to go on a journey of personal discovery.  Go to Bognor, the Philanthropist's assistant will say, I have had a dream.  And so, leaving the limo behind, giving the helicopter pilot the day off, the Philanthropist will catch the train to Bognor.  Where, the Philanthropist will ask at Bognor Regis station, is the house in which a lady lies dreaming on the sofa under a green woollen blanket?  Where is the house in which a lady is eating eggy toast in the wee small hours, as I must go there; my assistant has had a dream, and my assistant is never wrong.  Ah, someone will say, you will want the house of A Graceful Death. I am intrigued!  The Philanthropist will say with feeling.  I feel a journey of personal discovery coming on!  I will go and accompany this lady (when she gets dressed and answers her phone) and I will meet people and hear things that will make me wonder at the miracle of life and death.  I will go with her and see how people tell the truth at the end of life, and how it is sometimes the hardest and sometimes the most intensely rewarding part of one's life.  I will be prepared to be humble and to listen, and I will see how Art can reach the parts other things can't reach.  And most of all, I will pay for everything.  It will not take much for me, the Philanthropist on a journey of personal discovery, compared to what I will experience and learn from being with those who are dying, what are a few noughts on a cheque compared to that?

Quite, I shall say when I hear the Philanthropist knock.  Quite.  All I ask, I shall say as I put the kettle on and wrap the Philanthropist in a warm pink and white spotty blanket for warmth, is that you come with me, see what I see, and make it all possible.  I do not need more than you can give, but come with me and see how this is all done.  Listen to the music that Lizzie has composed for the exhibition.  Meet the lady who is going to be painted next and listen to her story.  Meet her friend who loves her, and see how life gives us so much that passes under our noses until we are in need of someone to hold us as we face our dying.  And see, how we can ask someone who is dying - Who are you?  What are you saying to us?  Sit with me while I paint it, and tell me what you are feeling.  And the Philanthropist will say, well blow me down.  This is profound and within my grasp and all that.  But first things first.  Can I have ketchup on my eggy toast?


Goodbye Michael, Goodbye Old Friend.