ANTONIA ROLLS ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE NEWS. An account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis. Worthwhile, but exhausting, so pour the tea and make yourself comfortable...(this painting is a family portrait, about 2'x 3', oil on wood. It is the Ross Family, each family member with items that describe them best. And at the front, on the grass on the right hand side, is a photo of Grandma, sadly missed.)
14 Year Old Son, he of the let's-settle-this-with-some-loving-fisticuffs philosophy of life, turned to me in the car recently. He looked as if he was wanting to tell me something important. "Mum." He said. Small powerful silence. I waited. "You may not be good at counting, or maths or anything." Yes? I said with my eyes, "you are not academic or anything and you don't understand things, but you are very nice." I smiled. "And?" my face tried to say - "and," he continued, "you cook well."
When I am gone, you can all say that I was very nice and that I cooked well. It made me think, what will I be remembered for? What will you be remembered for? 14 Year Old Son distilled all his love and passion for me into this declaration, and for him it meant a lot. "There," his dewy eyes seemed to say when he had finished, "beat that."
In my life story, the one that I write for myself often, the one that Desert Island Discs will use for when I go on and choose my eight discs, I am remembered for unbelievable brilliance, in all areas. "She was," say the historians of later years, "really something." Under the chapter headings of Academic-ness they will find my 14 Year Old Son, now in his seventies and living as a benign mobster in Amberly. "Who?" he will say, and then "Oh yes, she was very nice, and not terribly clever. Cooked well though. Wonderful woman." Under the chapter Cooking Well, they will contact my daughter, in her eighties and living in a pink apartment in Brighton designed to look like the inside of a cake. "Mother?" Daughter will bellow. "Fabulous scrambled eggs." And under the the chapter Understanding Things, they will call Furiously Independent Son's Agent to talk to Furiously Independent Son, both of whom are in their late seventies and living in a night club in Cairo. "My Mother," FIS will say slowly, "was slightly retarded but very well meaning." There will be a small pause before he continues sagely, "but she was very nice".
What will I be remembered for really? I don't know. I may be remembered for all sorts of things by those who met me, or knew me, and it may be For Wearing Red All The Goddam Time. It may be for not understanding mobile phones. It may be for not really knowing what I was doing while raising my children - and I really did not know what I was doing, any success they have is because they are fabulous themselves, not because of me. I may be remembered for doing an Anti Strip Tease in Aberdeen in the early 1980s where I started on the stage in my undies and people threw clothes strategically placed in the audience, at me, and I put them all on so that I fell over with the weight of them. And all to the manic sounds of a 45 record I found called Roger's Magic Bumblebee, a whacky interpretation of the Flight of the Bumblebee. I may be remembered for all the squatting I did in the eighties in London, and how I lost my way completely until my first child was born. My children were the making of me, they are the most wonderful gift I could ever have been allowed to have.
Back to the future then folks! I want, in my bio that I write in my head, that I mentioned earlier, to be remembered for Oh! Such exquisite Art! Lordy lordy, what a painter! And so witty too, it just isn't fair how clever and fabulous her work is! And that A Graceful Death. Oh. That exhibition changed my life. Oh. And did you see her Religious stuff? Oh what a Thinker! So profound, and yet so simple. How did she do it?
But let us not get carried away. Enough, I say. The reality is, that none of my art comes easily to me. None of the paintings just Happen. I work very hard to do all that I do, though I would love for you all to think that it was just tiddly pooh and done. Most of my time is spent on admin, marketing, PR, proposals, bill paying. When I do get into the studio, I often have to remember what to do.
So, in the end, perhaps it isn't really so bad for my tomb stone to say, "Mother. She was very Nice." And in teeny writing underneath it, "fabulous scrambled eggs and not very bright". Meanwhile, despite all, in London, my latest retrospective opens to a brass band playing Roger's Magic Bumblebee at Tate Modern and the latest reprint of Antonia Rolls's Mystic Mumblings is reviewed with passion in the Spectator.