In my garden, is my studio. I can see it from the house, and I get to it from across my garden. As the garden floods easily, everything in Bognor floods easily, Alan has constructed two long thin planks of wood, single file, as a bridge over the waters from the house to the studio door. Even if there are no floods, visitors coming from the house into the studio often think that they ought to balance their way across the garden upon this bridge like thing, as if it is a test. You cannot enter the studio by normal means, it seems, I want you to prove your courage and true heart by tottering along some fiendish construction sent to test your ability to understand art. If you can cross it, you can enter the studio and you will be one of us. If you fall off it, you will land in mud, or if there is no rain, you will just fall off and feel you need to go back and try again. There are those that ignore the bridge, and wade across the garden in wellies, or cross the garden in fine weather without noticing it; they have no tests to pass, in their hearts, they are just fine as they are. I am mentioning this because the studio is, to some, a thing apart. A place where art happens. A place where creativity happens. A place where otherness takes place.
Even to me, as I look over the garden to the studio, even to me and it is my studio, I feel a little bit of alarm. In there, I paint. What if I can't paint any more? Will the bridge break and the studio melt away? It is a place I have used over the years for creativity, for thinking, for being broken and mending again through art - that is where the A Graceful Death exhibition evolved - I have used it the play, to organise, to be entirely in the creative zone. There is no housework in the studio, there is no cooking, there is no making the family work, as there is in my house. In the house, I can be called away to all manner of things to do with having children, keeping a home going, being available to the outside world. Sometimes, I look over the garden at the studio as a place I shall never enter again. Sometimes I feel that life has taken over and that I have fallen into every day life as if into a bowl of blancmange, and I shall never climb out again. That passes though; I gird up my loins, and with a bellow of intent, I leave the house to either cross the rickety bridge over the floods to the studio door, or stride across the garden in my slippers, scattering daisies as I go. With a look of grim determination on my face, I pull out the newspaper wedged into the door which doesn't close without it because the lock and the handle fell off years ago, and I enter my studio. Even though it often is so messy I get the hoover out and clean it up before starting any work. Even though it is often so cold I can see my breath on the air as I breathe it. Even though my paints may have congealed because they have been untouched for a while on the old chipped plates that I use as a palette. Even though all of this and more, it is where I have left my real self, it is where I am enabled and challenged, it is where I can do things.
Sometimes, as I sit down at the desk in the tiny office part of the studio, a single spider descends on a web in front of my face, silently, slowly, as if to check that I belong here, and I won't disturb the quiet, the equilibrium of the place, before continuing on to the floor and scuttling off to report the rest of the wild life in the studio. Once I put my old painting apron on, and a very large spider jumped out the pocket and ran away. Oi! it said, less of the rushing in and disturbing me! Shriek! I said, I will never wear this apron again! So now, I check with my I love all God's little creatures hat on, but I do it with gritted teeth. So far, no more big spiders have been living in the pockets of my painting aprons and old thermal painting coat, so far, there have been only tiny ones, and I don't mind them. They can stay. I feel we can do business. The big ones need to go before I come in, and not live in my painting clothes nor die quietly in the drawers of my desk, amongst my printer paper, their eight legs all drawn into their middles, looking huge, pathetic and ridiculous all at the same time. I used to dress up like a Scene Of Crime officer, in a white all in one body suit showing only a bit of my face, with rubber gloves and a dustpan and brush to get rid of them.
Now I just sigh and, still with my rubber gloves on, shake the drawer into the bushes outside.
I am an artist, and I freely accept that. But how I do anything that I do, is beyond me. I have this studio, I have done time in there, and produced work, I have done art in it. But I cannot for the life of me explain to you how it happens or why it happens. I was wildly artistic when I was very young. Those were the years in which I discovered that I was a true fairy. I was bullied at school when I was little, the girls telling me that only those born in 1959 or 1961 were real fairies. Since I was born in 1960, I was just a pretender. After much painful discussion with a tree in which the fairy queen, Esmerelda, lived, I had a moment of cosmic revelation. I, Antonia Rolls, was the True Fairy, and the others were just fibbing. I never looked back. My middle years were spent raising children (possibly the ultimate creative act, having babies) and doubt and worry set in. Being an artist became too unreal. The world got in the way, life got in the way, and I tumbled into making ends meet and trying to be a mother. I lost sight of myself, and the True Fairy that I am, went into hibernation.
Now that I am in my fifties, my babies are grown and I am able to think a bit more clearly. And I still cannot work out what it is that makes me do what I do but now, I respect it more, accept it more, and firmly believe that though this creating lark is me, it is not mine to control. It comes from somewhere outside of me, it is bigger than me, and is beamed into me when I ask for it to come. This creativity never lessens, never increases, it is divine, wonderful, beautiful, glorious, and always there. I can tap into it and tap out of it. I can feel it has left me, I can feel it has overwhelmed me, I can feel any number of things, but it is never about this ocean of creativity leaving nor overwhelming me, it is about me diving into it myself, and walking away from it by choice. I have never found painting easy, it is too serious and amazing to be easy, for me. But I have found it totally fulfilling. When I am painting, creating, writing, thinking, I am really who I was meant to be. And of course, the studio will not melt, the bridge won't break. I will always be able to paint, always be able to create, always be able to do things, because the ocean of creativity is not about a building, not about a single person, it is available for ever, for the asking, wherever and whatever we are, it is just there, waiting to be summoned.
The True Fairy is in her element, and all is right with the world. Except for the goddam spiders.
|The studio. No spiders. Just art. Phew.|