Friday 26 April 2013

How to be busy, loopy and uninteresting all at the same time.

May is a good month.  Thanks to a dear friend, who is a colleague, Palliative Care Nurse and Soul Midwife all rolled into one, I shall be taking AGD to St Catherine's Hospice where for the first time, it will be shown in a Hospice.  This is to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week.  Not all of the paintings will be showing, I will leave behind the very challenging ones as I can understand that they will be too difficult for Hospice patients to see.  Please come and take part in the opening event, where I will be giving a small but exciting speech about the exhibition, and the details are below -

13 May, 4.30 - 6.30 at St Catherine's Hospice, Malthouse Road, Crawley RH10 6BH

The exhibition runs from 13 to 15 May, and the public are invited on the 15 May. 

 And there is more!  See below for the poster advertising a fund raising event for the exhibition in Chichester.  I am delighted to have the help of Mandy Preece, a very experienced and loving Soul Midwife, to come and talk about her work.  At this do, I am introducing the range of cards and thoughtful gifts called, now, Graceful Gifts.  I have moved on from last week's name of Graceful Goods, and with expert advice have rebranded the enterprise Graceful Gifts. I have been blessed with the support of Giant Boy who looked up some with sympathy quotes and came up with the following -

Losing a cat can be tough. Feel free to borrow my pain in the butt any time you want.

He has been sacked.


A Graceful Death Exhibition
Paintings from the End of Life by Artist and Soul Midwife Antonia Rolls

~ Fascinating, Moving, Loving and Inspiring ~

 This mini version of the A Graceful Death exhibition consists of portraits by local artist Antonia Rolls, of people at the end of their lives. The paintings are full of life, love, colour and truth. Alongside each portrait is an interview, which tells us who we are looking at, and who we are visiting. The exhibition aims to help start a conversation about what it means to face our mortality, and how normal the process is. And how, until we die, we are very much alive.
Antonia will speak about the work she does with people at the end of life through art. She will be speaking about the sitters in the portraits and the stories behind them. Soul Midwife, Mandy Preece, will also speak about the work she does as a compassionate companion to the dying and on the art of sitting in vigil with someone at the end their life’s journey. Antonia works with Mandy and other Soul Midwives and is delighted to have the help and experience of Soul Midwives within the exhibition.

A Graceful Death travels around the country and has had wonderful reactions from the public:

Thank you for inspiring and providing help through painful experiences for me and so many others. Never hold back because it is the truth in this art that makes it so beautiful.’

‘Extremely moving; extremely honest. This show must be seen by many people. Death and cancer are with us. It's unpleasant and frightening but this series of paintings helps us deal with those emotions in a positive and wholly honest way.’

‘Thank you - I have his picture permanently open on my computer and keep looking at it every two minutes. You have just caught his expression so well. I am overwhelmed.’
The Graceful Gifts range of cards and gifts will also be available for sale.

                                              2–4pm, 18 May 2013

The Studio, New Park Community Centre, New Park Road, Chichester PO19 7XY

£5 entrance fee. All proceeds will go towards funding the A Graceful Death project


 I have been working hard this week.  I am aiming to finish Julia's portrait within the next few days, and Mike's portrait by next week.  I am singularly uninteresting at the moment because I have been sitting for hours, and hours, and hours, in the studio breathing in white spirit, muttering to myself and feeling a bit loopy.  Most of the time I have been squinting at the canvas and worrying that Julia's arms look too much like those of an Aberdonian fisherman.  One of her arms was about twice as long as the other, with a huge hand at the end of it. I didn't see until I stood back and appraised it.  Thank Heavens I did.  Julia has enough to deal with, with her MND, without having one of her arms long enough to drag on the ground, if it fell off the cushion on which it rests.  One of the things I want to show with Julia is how her arms and hands rest on cushions, she is no longer able to move them.  The muscles have wasted and their shape has altered very subtly.  I want to get that right.  Julia has a lovely face and smile, and cannot move her upper body at all.  I want to capture how when you see Julia, you know that her arms won't move.  It is very poignant and very important.

Perhaps the most exciting thing this week is the selling of items from my garage on eBay.  Good Lord, I had no idea how exciting this is.  Someone called Mahmood came and bought my hose pipe, in a van, and I felt ridiculously grateful.  And I sold some copper pipes to a man called Mike, so actually, even though I have very little to say at the moment, life is as diverse as ever.  I am selling a bed to someone on Sunday, and am beginning to see everything in my house with a little price tag on it.  And I do not need to speak much for any of these transactions.  I can continue to be uninteresting.  I sold a large hedge trimmer to a very pregnant lady who when she came to collect it, told me that she was due to give birth in two days time.  "I am nesting!" she said with a jolly giggle, and I wondered what kind of nest she was building.  Do not, I remembered from my own experience of being pregnant, mess with a lady just about to go into labour who wants to own a big, sharp, electric hedge trimmer.  I wish her and all those around her, luck.  

And now.  My days of going into labour with a hedge trimmer are over, my hosepipe has gone to another more needy family, my copper pipes have probably been sold on for a small fortune and so, probably, has my hose pipe.  Julia's arm and hand has been repainted to match the other one, and I shall go to sleep now dreaming of selling whole chunks of the house to people in vans, who do not need me to speak or to be interesting.  Good night my dears.  Do come to St Catherines, and do also come to the exciting AGD event in Chichester.  I will be unbelievably interesting by then, and you won't regret it.  Oh, and you can come with a measuring tape and measure Julia's arms in her portrait, to make sure they are no longer a cross between Popeye and Mr Tickle.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Fund Raising, AGD and a spot of Florentine Renaissance.

I am very sorry that I missed last week's blog. I thought of you all and sent a cheery wave and a little guilty grin to you via your Guardian Angels.  I went on a small holiday to Florence with my daughter, Fancy Girl, and my life went on hold. I love Florence, and adore Italian Renaissance paintings, so to take Fancy Girl around and tell her what I had learned years ago, was bliss.  I studied in Florence when I was at university, back in the early 1980s, and have always longed to be a Renaissance artist.  With my name, Antonia, I could have got at least part of the way there.  Antonia!  Artist-a! You one of us-a, you only seven hundred years-a too late-a but we dona minda!

Loving the door outside church in Florence
Here is a photo of me outside my favourite church, Santa Maria Novella.  I like this one because I posed for my daughter to take it, thinking I looked like I was hugging the door and loving the church.  Instead it looks as if I have been fired from a canon and have splatted against the door.  

Inspired by the Renaissance patronage and sponsorship system, the next step for Antonia! Renaissance artist-a seven hundred years-a too late-a! is -

Fund Raising for A Graceful Death.

All that I do from now on, will raise funds to create and maintain the A Graceful Death exhibition and project.  Thanks to the kindness of friends and supporters, I have raised enough money to paint Mike, the first of my four AGD paintings.  I have still to raise funds to paint the other three, and that will be my priority.  I am organising fund raising events in which I will be showing some of the paintings, giving talks on the work that I do and the stories behind the people in the paintings, selling the earrings that I make, selling the witty Every Day Angels and Fairies paintings, and if I can do so, selling cakes and tea. A great idea from Claire, who is helping so much and being painted for the exhibition, is to have a vintage jewellery, clothes, shoes and bags sale.  If you, dear reader, have any vintage things you don't want, please may I have them for the sale?  Turn out your drawers, look in your attics, go through your garages, ask your Aunty Norma, and contact me and, within reason, I will come and collect. Claire and I will sort it all out and let you know when we will do the sale.  If you live in the Carribbean and want us to come and collect your vintage stuff, you will have to pay for our plane fares and allow at least two weeks while we are with you, for us to make up our minds what to take. 


The 11 May will see a Life Board workshop here in West Sussex, in the Rose Green Centre of Art and Craft, 22-24 Rose Green Road, Bognor Regis PO21 3ET.  From 9.30 to 12.30, all materials provided, £30 per person.  Life Boards are a wonderful way to express yourself when words cannot be found.  It is a way to reconnect with yourself during times of loss or grief.  This is a quote from the Life Board literature -

"To create a LIFE BOARD, you sit at a table full of different papers, images, glitter, words, stick on jewels, butterflies, paint, hearts and so on.  You start to create, on the board, despite feeling that you have no idea where to start and what to do, a visual representation of who you are and what you are feeling right now"

You are all very welcome, come along and see what you can do. I have taken advice from the men who have done the workshops and have included Man Images too.  I was reminded that men generally don't want to stick pink hearts on their boards and cover it in glitter.  So I have some nice tough, strong stuff for the men in the workshops.  Quite right too, Life Boards are for everyone.  
From the 13 May to 15 May, I will be taking AGD to St Catherine's Hospice, Malthouse Road, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 6BH.  The open day for the public is the 15 May, and you are all so welcome to come and visit this wonderful Hospice.  I am here at St Catherine's through the goodness of a dear friend and fellow Soul Midwife, and palliative care nurse.  This will be a very special event, it is the first time the exhibition has gone to a Hospice.

On the 18 May I will be holding a fund raising talk and sale, in the New Park Community Centre, New Park Rd, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 7XY.   From 2pm to 4pm.  A dear friend and Soul Midwife Mandy Preece will be joining me to talk about the work she does and we are tying this event in with Dying Matters Awareness Week, which runs from the 13 - 19 May.  Mandy sits with those who are dying at the very end of their lives, and helps the families to vigil and stay present.  Her work is beautiful and profound.  I will entertain you with what I do and how I do it and I will sell you wonderful things that you will long to buy not only because they are wonderful, but you will be supporting the A Graceful Death project, and so will go to Heaven when you die. 

I will be selling beautiful handmade earrings, bright fun and colourful paintings of Angels and Fairies, and cards from my studio.  I also will be selling a new range of items that are created specifically to go with the end of life theme.  I am making such things as arm bands, memorial jewellery and items, condolence cards, and beautiful angelic gifts both for yourself and for those who need something thoughtful and special as they remember someone who has died.  I have chosen the name Graceful Goods for this range of goods, as it ties in with the exhibition and the theme of the end of life.

Around the 1 June, and yet to be confirmed, I am holding a day's fund raising and information on the A Graceful Death project, here in Bognor.  I am hoping to do this in the Regis Centre, in the centre of Bognor by the sea.  I aim to exhibit some of the AGD paintings and to talk again on the work that I am doing.  I would love to have some of my Soul Midwife friends come and talk on the work they do too for the end of life.  My Graceful Goods range of thoughtful and beautiful items will be on sale, alongside the Angels, Fairies, cards and handmade earrings.  

Back to today.  Back to life in my Bognor house.  I will leave you with a vignette of life here in Casa Antonia.  I sit in the gathering darkness of the evening tapping away at my laptop.  No one has been able to go to the door to turn on the lights, and as the light fades, our faces are lit in a ghostly white light from our screens, our bodies in total darkness.  Opposite me, Boy Giant chats to all of his friends on Facebook on his laptop.  Next to him, Other Son has left his laptop on standby as he has popped out for a while.  We cannot remove our eyes from our computers and as the darkness slowly surrounds us, all that can be heard is the tapping of keyboards and the occasional giggle as someone messages Giant Boy something outrageous.  Unless I assert myself soon, we will be here in a computer warp all night and lose our minds and never be normal again.  They didn't have this problem in the Renaissance.  Fie! My sons, off with your computers!  I have a notion to fresco the sitting room!  Mix me my paints and let us begin!

Saturday 6 April 2013

Downing the Hoover, and Painting the Dying

This week, I have successfully downed my hoover, my mops and washing up cloths, and gone across the ricketty bridge (see last week's blog) to the studio.  I have firmly closed the door behind me, keeping it in place now with a sock instead of the old folded bit of newspaper.  The handle and the lock fell off a long time ago and the door will only stay closed with something to keep it wedged in place.  The newspaper had disintegrated in rain and so I have found an old sock to take its place.  I feel efficient.  I have four large canvases on which to paint my four people for this year's final intake of portraits for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and I have my easel up and ready.  Go, Boudicca, I said to myself, go and do that thing.  I have heard that in some circles one can channel a hero, or a god or goddess of some kind, and so when Boudicca popped into my mind I thought, well, perhaps that is a good idea to get me started. That is nice, let's channel some Boudicca.  She was not afraid of a challenge, but perhaps as she was a little bloodthirsty and argumentative, I'll stop after a few moments.  I don't want my A Graceful Death paintings to become aggressive.  I'll just channel, if I can, never having done this kind of thing before, her good points, such as her assertiveness and her ability to get a job done.  I'll stop if I feel I want to set fire to something.

I have begun to paint Mike.  Mike is one of my Motor Neuron Disease sitters.  I want to show Mike exactly as he is, unable to move, in his wheelchair.  I want to show how his body sits in his chair, how his feet cross over themselves a little, how it makes him tired to lift his head, and how his keyboard is placed just in front of his hands so that he can tap out his words with one finger.  I want to show Mike's energy, and his intelligence, which is all there in the mix, even though he cannot move.  Mike seems to me to be a challenge.  Here he is, in his chair, I can walk into and out of a room, Mike can't.  I can cross my legs and scratch my nose, Mike can't.  But you know Mike is no pushover, is in control of his mind, and doesn't miss a trick.  I want to capture some of this within Mike's paralysed body as it sits in his very fancy wheelchair.  Oh! The wheelchair!  I cannot for the life of me, see this wheelchair properly.  In order to paint something, I have to understand it.  I have to see it, work out how it is connected to all of its bits, how it all joins up together - this includes people - and then I can begin to paint it.  Mike's wheelchair is a marvel of engineering.  It has pipes and knobs and black metal bits obscuring other black metal bits, it has buttons, wheels (thank goodness) and wires.  I cannot for the life of me work it out. And so I have had to study some wheelchair designs to see if I can understand it.  I had a feeling this would happen, I wonder if I can paint Mike as realistically as I can and make his wheelchair entirely impressionistic.  I can hope that the mind, that can play tricks, will see a very detailed and fancy wheelchair from a mass of thick whirling brushstokes that suggest it, and it is only when someone points out that he, Mike, is sitting on some kind of whirling painty porridge, with wheels, that the minds snaps back into order and says, boy.  She (or Boudicca) had real trouble with that, didn't she?  Couldn't for the life of her work out that fancy wheelchair.  Or I can do a kind of Heath Robinson contraption and hope that no one notices that either.

I am starting to paint Julia too.  Julia also has MND and has deteriorated in a year almost to the point where Mike is after ten years.  Julia's energy is gentle and compassionate.  What I want to capture with Julia is, as with Mike, that her limbs that no longer move and how, for example, her arm looks as if it can't move.  How her muscles no longer give her arms and hands the same form as, for example, mine.  Julia has large eyes and she has a look in them that says something of who she is.  When I work on her eyes, I will try to understand what that is.  Since we last spoke, Julia has had a PEG, a feeding tube fitted, and I know she was not looking forward to that.  Her MND is swift and unrelenting.

Both Mike and Julia's families are intimately involved with their care. Mike's wife, Michelle, is very much involved with his care, and is, according to Mike, wonderful.  And Julia's husband Barry, is also, according to Julia, wonderful too.  Having met both Michelle and Barry, and not really knowing them, I raise my hat to them both for their dedication, patience and love.  

Kate Granger is also one of my portraits.  Kate is a very successful doctor who at 31 is dying of cancer, and making her dying as public as she can to educate and help the medical profession, and all of us, the public, understand how it feels.  Kate is not paralysed, and looks really healthy and pretty.  I will enjoy painting Kate, and I think what I want to capture with Kate is her deep intelligence and her girl next door looks.  There is nothing visible at all to link her with her terminal cancer.  Kate's portrait will be very important, it will show that not all dying is visible.  It will show that dying can look like a person who is dressed, smiling, sitting on her sofa and planning another day's work at the hospital tomorrow. Kate is still working hard as a doctor and still helping to change policy within NHS to enable the process of dying to be more understood.  She is a huge fan of, and will be on when her time comes, the Liverpool Care Pathway.  Kate has written two books of her experiences, and is a powerful communicator now within the media, to educate, explain and help to make better, the process of dying.  You will see her on the television, in the newspapers, and hear her on the radio.  She is modest, unassuming and deeply committed to medicine and helping people.  Kate's books are The Other Side, and The Bright Side.  Please buy them and read them.  All proceeds from Kate's books and other fund raising works, go to the Yorkshire Cancer Centre.  She has already raised thousands and thousands of pounds for them.  Kate also blogs - follow her here

And finally, Claire.  Claire is so important. Claire recovered from her cancer, against the odds, and can speak with such insight and compassion about how it is to receive Hospice treatment, and how it is to be so ill, that she wanted to die.  And then, how she didn't die.  I am painting Claire's vulnerability and her strength.  All in one go.  And she is very beautiful, I am painting that.  Clair has hair now, she has make up, she can live again, and has been to a place that not many of us have been to, and come back.  She is so grateful for each day as it comes, and we can learn much from how she is dealing with her new life. Her body is not the same as it was, there are real scars from her cancer and the treatment she needed to have.  Claire lives just round the corner to me too.  I first met Claire in the Hospice where I volunteer.  Neither of us could ever have imagined that she would go home, get better, or even that we lived so near to each other in Bognor.  And because the AGD exhibition is entirely separate from and never mentioned in any Hospice of end of life work that I do, Claire had no idea at all, that I have this exhibition.  Life really is a funny old thing.

I want to introduce to you now, the new A Graceful Death Channel, on Youtube.  This has been set up to hold the interviews that Eileen Rafferty films.  Eileen, as you all know, is the AGD photographer and film maker extraordinaire, and is one of my dearest, oldest friends.  She has begun to record interviews with people I am painting, and we aim to bring the films, the paintings, and the writings together for the exhibition.  So far, we have three separate and fascinating interviews that Eileen filmed, with Claire, and her friend Jacky, on the AGD Channel.  By the end of the month, we should have Kate's interview, and so we shall add interviews as we do them.  Please look now at Claire and Jackie.

Time now to channel a hero that gets out of bed, and gets on with the day.  I am, of course, writing this from my lovely bed full of duvets and cushions, and Boudicca is saved for the studio.  I shall just lie here until I can think of a suitable hero to connect with, and in the meantime, to help me think, I will just lie down and close my eyes.  I may be here for some time.  I hope that a morning off will not enrage Boudicca in the studio, I hope that she does not go and find a hero/god/goddess herself, for me to channel, to get me out of bed.  I can imagine I won't have an easy time of it if that happens, and I will be cowering under my lovely duvets trying to convince Thor that I am not here, I am somewhere else working hard and that someone else probably needs to channel him a lot more than I do.  Until then, I will just lie back down and have a think.