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Saturday, 22 June 2013

On chatting to myself, and finding it a pleasure.

This week, we have a scoop!

Antonia Rolls, Artist Extraordinaire in her very early life as a fairy.  Note the expressive finger.
I am very lucky to have the chance to sit down and conduct an interview with myself.  It is not often that I can catch myself, I am so very busy rushing here and there, and it is often said of me, "... she's awfully busy, isn't she?"  Today, a stroke of luck has enabled me to catch up with the busy Artist Extraordinaire, and I am delighted to say that I have agreed to give myself an exclusive.  Thank you, Artist Extraordinaire.

Artist Extraordinaire - No, no, thank you!

Me -To begin with, I feel a vacuum in the blog world.  What happened to last week's blog?

AA - Oh did you notice?  How wonderful!  I went to Ireland for a week with Giant Boy.  We went to stay with friends in their cottage by the sea in Arklow, Co Wicklow, for a breath of fresh air to our hearts and souls.  My dear friends let me go every year to stay with them, and don't seem to mind that I follow them around like an adoring puppy until I feel great again, and go home.  This year, we were aware of the passing of time.  In the past, I have brought each of my children as they arrived, and introduced them to this wonderful family and their seaside cottage. As they got older, their friends and cousins began to join us.  Add to this my friend's children as they started to arrive, plus their friends and cousins, and you get the picture.  For the first time, this year, there was just me and Giant Boy, and my friend, her husband and their children. A tiny gathering (comparatively).  But it did mean that my dear friend and I could get on with our reading and lying around and eating.  This year too, there were wild horses around the cottage, and this is what I saw at 5am on my first morning.

A Horse.  "Morning", it said.  
We had very little internet coverage, so I just lay down on the sofa with a book, and let all thoughts of blogs, Facebook, emails and answering my phone the instant it rang, disappear into the mist and howling winds outside.  And so, there was no blog.

Me - Fascinating. And now that you are back, what are your plans for today?

AA - My plans for today!  And tomorrow!  And for ages and ages in the future are to rush about and do things!

Me - What, specifically, are you doing this weekend?

AA - Well, in a couple of hours, I am collecting my friend Claire for lunch and a catch up here.  Claire helps me with A Graceful Death, and is indeed being painted as we speak, to be part of the exhibition.  Then I am continuing to clear my Older Son's room out so that I can rent it to help pay my mortgage.  Tonight, Photographer Extraordinaire, Eileen Rafferty comes to stay for a week, so that she can rest.  Tomorrow, I am drumming in Eartham Woods with Sound Therapist and General Brilliant Person Sarah Weller.

Me - You have lodgers too don't you?  Is it possible for Eileen to rest in your house?

AA - Eileen is made of stern stuff.  She is used to resting here.  Alongside my 16 year old son Giant Boy who lives here with me, and my often visiting other son Older Boy, and my sometimes visiting daughter Fancy Girl and her boyfriend Mike, I do have lodgers. I have a Polish lady and a Sri Lankan man living in various parts of the house, and, I even have a silent Polish man living in my sitting room at the moment.

Me - You do?

AA - Yes, he flies in from time to time to work, and tends to stay on any floor space I have.  I could offer him the under stairs cupboard, and he would be happy, just as long as he doesn't have to talk to or see anyone.  As it happens, the sitting room was free so he has gone in there.  I know he is still here because I saw his change of clothes, a single teeshirt, on the sofa, and I hear the occasional noise in the dead of night as he creeps into the kitchen to microwave a single sausage for his dinner. He is self sufficient, and nice, and I call him the Silent Pole because he is so very elusive and invisible.

Me - What will you do with Eileen when she comes?

AA - I had considered giving Eileen the cupboard under the stairs, but Eileen would notice that it wasn't the sitting room.  The Silent Pole is in the room Eileen usually goes in.  So, I am making a lovely little space for her in Older Son's little side room.  He has a nice big bedroom and a little side room, which I am clearing out, as I have said, so I can rent his rooms in order to pay my mortgage.  He went to a party in Brighton last night so that made it easier.

Me - And Older Son, does he know?

AA - Possession is nine tenths of the law, and we are all very fond of Eileen, so waking up to find her in our side room, or our wardrobe, or in fact anywhere in the house, is considered a treat.  

Me - Tell me about your studio at the moment.

AA - Ah.  My studio is a place of struggle.  I love it, it is created to serve me in order to do my work, but it is a place of hard work and of making things happen.  It is a place of painting, of thinking, of writing, of planning, of gritting my teeth and getting on with things.  It is also a bolt hole, where I can hide.  I like nothing more than to have a painting on the go and to plug my earphones into You Tube to listen to hours of rain and thunder sounds.  I started with ten minutes, and like an addict, I have become more and more extreme.  I have even found twenty four hours worth of rain and splashing, but that seems a step too far.  I am afraid of listening to something so relentless.  I have only tried the ten hours sound track, and never finished it (my concentration span runs out after a couple of hours).  Only hard core hopeless cases go for the twenty four hours and find, to their horror, that after the twenty four hours of storm sounds, there is no thirty six hour sound track of thunder and lightening and cars swishing through puddles.  There is no place to go then.  I don't want to get that bad.

Me - What have you done recently in there?

AA - I have just finished two paintings of a dear friend's two mothers.  Gail Martin Stevens, Managing Funeral Director of Elizabeth Way Family Funeral Services, has a birth mother and an adoptive mother.  I have painted portraits of both mothers when they were young, and have just finished painting them when they were much older.  Gail is a Buddhist, and I have painted the images in black, brown and white (sepia effect) and added what I thought were Buddhist shades of blue and pink to each portrait.  The lotus flower links the images to Buddhism, and the white lotus flower represents "the state of spiritual perfection and total mental purity".  I am very taken with the sadness, the love and the vulnerability of both these ladies, and the choices that they made.  They are no longer with us, and Gail has been given life by her birth mother, and a future by her adoptive mother.  Both these mothers are done with this world, both have lived and learned, and have left their legacies in Gail, who is now a grandmother. It is good to honour and remember them.

Two mothers when young 

The same two mothers when old
Me - What is happening with the A Graceful Death exhibition and project?

AA - I am constantly painting and planning and organising shows and talks.  I have nearly finished the portrait of Kate Granger, the 31 year old doctor who is dying of cancer, and is using her illness to educate us all in the process of dying.  The painting is actually very good, I will finish it and get Kate's approval before making the image public.  I am beginning to paint the amazing Claire too, who I met when she was in a Hospice dying from cancer.  Claire did not die, and is a remarkable woman with a remarkable story to tell.  

But holding together all the strands of the exhibition, painting the portraits, filming and writing about the people, holding the relationships formed, understanding the experiences of being with the people I work with, is very hard to do.  I hold the whole exhibition in my head, and sometimes I don't know what to do with it all.  It feels such a monumentally important piece of work, it carries so many hearts and souls, it is full of the knowledge of life and death and it is built on love, honesty, very hard work, and kindness.  

So, I have the office part of my studio where I plan my events.  And I have the painting part of the studio where I paint.  Each is separate and each is linked.  Sometimes I feel it is too big for me, other times, I feel that I am carried along by its bigness, and it does not matter.

Me - You seem to feel the responsibility very strongly.  Can you cope?

AA - I do feel the responsibility.  I started the project.  I lost Steve, and out of that experience came the A Graceful Death exhibition and the feeling that I could, and should, work with those who are dying.   I ask deeply personal questions of my sitters about their life and death, I make them public by painting them, and I take the time I spend with each of my sitters to heart and sometimes feel overwhelmed by their strength, their vulnerability, and their kindness in joining the exhibition.  I can cope, but I am constantly made aware of my own mortality.  I do have a network of good friends who work with the end of life, who keep me grounded and wise.  It is exciting too, that the exhibition, and the raising of awareness of end of life issues, now includes new working projects in collaboration with these excellent people that keep me grounded and wise.

For example, I am co-hosting the showing of a film called "I Am Breathing" http://www.iambreathingfilm.com/  about a young father and his struggle to live and actually breathe, with his Motor Neruon Disease.  The MND Association as asked for as many people as possible to host this film to raise both funds and awareness of the disease, and my Sound Therapist friend Sarah and I are making an evening of it on the 6 July here in Bognor (in the under stairs cupboard if I am not careful).  We will offer the film, some food and a discussion for £10 per person.  All proceeds go to the MND Association.  Contact me on antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com if you would like to come.

Me - It seems that your life is not all about painting then.

AA - I have found in all my work as an artist, that 70% of my time is spent organising, emailing, talking, travelling, doing all things connected to painting, while only 30% is spent painting.  Before starting a painting, I spend time working out what would look best, and much time talking to the sitters.  And when I am actually painting, I spend huge amounts of time gazing out of the window and thinking.  In fact, I would say, that the hardest thing I ever do, is paint.  I am absolutely compelled to do it, I have set my life up around doing it, but it is not easy.  Sometimes it physically hurts me.  But it is what I am here for, and I would die half a person, quarter of a person, if I did not do it.

Me - I see the time ticking away.  I believe you have to and collect Claire, and to prepare Eileen's room and do a hundred and one other things.  Thank you for stopping to talk to us.  This really has been a scoop!

AA - No no, thank you!  Before I go, I want to post a little photo of the bracelet that I made while staying with my dear friend in Ireland.  She is so creative and talented, she is inspirational.  Her latest thing is to create metal stamped jewellery, and she taught me how to do it.  I made a limited edition, puffing and panting, of Affirmation Bracelets. Most of my efforts to do this ended up with wrong spellings and sentences like Yes Plose instead of Yes Please.  That is why they are a limited edition, only a few of the bracelets ended up making sense.


And now, it is time to rush off and collect Claire.  Lunch Claire?  Oh, yes plose.