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.)
I aim to have this sale of Angels and Fairies and fun things while also displaying the latest information about the A Graceful Death exhibition and film. The weekend is about having fun with all of you, with colour, fun, wit and humour, alongside the serious business of raising funds for the A Graceful Death exhibition and film.
As you all know, the A Graceful Death exhibition is about acknowledging the importance of the end of life. It is about what it means to die, and what it means to survive - this means both to survive the process of grief and bereavement and to survive the treatment of cancer or other life threatening illnesses. The A Graceful Death exhibition began with the death of my partner from cancer in November 2007. I painted the last few weeks and days of Steve's life, trying to capture how though his body was ravaged by the cancer, the life, the spirit that made him Steve, lived on in him to the end. The paintings are powerful and raw and full of love. The A Graceful Death exhibition has now evolved to include the stories and images of others at the ends of their lives too. It includes the images and words from those who are undergoing treatment for cancer, and those who have survived well past the five year mark. My colleague Neill Blume and I are now making a film of the exhibition and its effects. Neill will be there at the Angels, Fairies and Earrings Fund Raising Weekend, filming away - so come and be part of it.
A Graceful Death is a not for profit enterprise. All donations directly to the exhibition are gratefully received. I am very fortunate to continue with A Graceful Death through the kindness and love of those who support it both financially, and with time and practical help.
I make earrings with a passion too. Apart from having loads already made, I will have all the beads and baubles in piles for you to select and design your own. I will make them up for you then and there. Your own design and colour scheme. Go for it.
See you all there. A Bar is set up for all those who need more than a cuppa, and there will be cakes and sustenance to help you make your earrings, Angel and Fairy Painting and or print buying decisions.
What is it about bed that is so Heavenly? Here I am, as ever, in bed and thinking that you all need to know how exquisitely satisfying it is to be here. I have not been here all the time, no, I am not that ill/bad/clever. I get up and get dressed each morning, and have The Day. Having The Day means that going back to bed is even more of a treat than ever. What am I talking about? Let us recap.
I am a busy artist. I am called Artist Extraordinaire by my promotional literature. I am a mother of three extraordinarily tall and frightening children, all of whom are bigger than me, very emotional, opinionated and teen aged. And half Russian. They all have large heads and high cheekbones. Not one of them looks like me but being their Mum I know they are mine. Years ago, at Gatwick Airport, I was stopped from boarding a plane to America with my three blond Slavic children in tow. The youngest was 8 at the time. My children have a different surname to mine plus the most divine Russian first names. "Madam," a nice lady in a uniform said, "can you prove that these are your children?" And she was serious. I saw instantly the downside of having very different looking offspring with foreign sounding names. Of course I don't carry their birth certificates on me, and for some reason the passports didn't convince them. "Obviously made on the kitchen table this morning," they may have muttered into their walkie talkies. " Fancy trying to board a plane with large headed blond Slavic children, foreign names and all, and calling them her kids. And she so dark and swarthy herself. Get the shackles ready, and call social services." More security guards arrived and police and the army and the SAS. What saved me was my little 8 year old, who kept clinging onto me saying conversationally, "Mummy Mummy Mummy what do all these people want Mummy Mummy Mummy?" "Wouldn't do that if he was being kidnapped," said the lead Security Bloke. After a bit of a discussion amongst themselves, we were let off and allowed to travel. The crowds that had gathered around us dispersed, disappointed. They were my kids after all. No punch ups and fisticuffs as they were dragged away from me. No blood tests were needed, no truth serum for me in a darkened room and special games with the kids in controlled circumstances to make them slip up and give away that their real mother was an innocent Russian who had sent her kids to the corner shop one day in Moscow and I knicked them.
Back to Heavenly Bed and why I am here. My children are lovely but need much eyeball to eyeball time and tons and tons of food. We all love food in this house and because they are so large and tall and hungry and used to eating in my home, we can become like a non stop Viking Feast.
I am a very busy Artist. I am making the A Graceful Death exhibition so much bigger and better and more interactive. I am making a film with Neill my film maker colleage. Eileen Rafferty the photographer extraordinaire is creating a book on it. I am promoting the exhibition all round the country and doing absolutely everything myself. That is exhausting and very hands on. There is also my commission work that I will get back to next week (promise) and complete for my clients. (Promise). The A Graceful Death needs much publicity, much sponsorship and much time spent on it to make it work in the community. It is about how it is to die and what it means to face the end of life. I have many paintings to do for it, and I am working with some very inspirational people. For example, tomorrow Neill, Eileen and I are filming an interview and discussion in London, with a very beautiful lady who is mid chemo and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. She is very ill and very wonderful. I am also discussing with her what painting I will be doing of her for the A Graceful Death exhibition next in Birmingham. The word that came to mind when talking with her at first was Goddess. I want to paint her as a goddess. It will work. Eileen will be photographing her for me and for her book. Neill will be filming the whole thing.
I have a large house to run. It is a wonderful house, and it does not hoover itself. Goddamit. The garden is beginning to be the most exciting part of the house - the Cosmic Gardner is full of empathy for it and has made it into just what I want. Next week we go and buy roses. Blimey. He says I can have hollyhocks too and so my life is full. Last week we bought peonies and winter roses and honeysuckle and bleeding hearts (he says they are called bleeding hearts and I utterly believe him) and he planted them while I stood in my painting overalls watching, with a tear in my eye, as if they were teeny fluffy sweet little day old chicks and he was saving them from something and it was all very sentimental. "They're only plants M'Lady" he may have said in some embarrassment. "Oh but they are so sweeeeet" I may have sobbed in reply.
The final reason that I am and have been so tired, is that I am 50. An evening out is exhausting. I used to dance till late, come home, drink tea and sleep for about 4 hours. Up in the morning, kids, housework, bit of painting, lots of chatting, party again in the evening, and it would take ages before I had a melt down. Now, even the thought of having a night on the town and staying up beyond midnight makes me cry. I take my high heels with me in a sensible bag and change into them on the doorstep before ringing the bell. I keep tissues up my sleeve and in my pocket just in case. I have a nice spare pair of flat shoes with me at all times for walking more than 20 yards. I always carry a cardi in case I get chilly. And I simply don't undersand much of what my children say to me because I think they mumble, and they think I am deaf. They shout and still I don't understand. "Annunciate," I say to them clearly, "you are still mumbling." "Mumble mumble mumble", they bellow back and I have to give up. It is safer then to smile and say, "Goodness Me!" as if I had understood and approved of their sweet little ways. Even if they had said to me "Bye Mum I'm off to prison for three years" I would smile and nod and say, "Goodness Me!" and ask one of the other children to write it down for me. Then again there is always the possibility that they are not my children....
I lie here in my bed. My room is full of wonderful things. The large bed that I sit up in, is covered with exotic cushions in wonderful colours and twinkles. My duvet is white with red polka dots on it, and the cushion behind my back is cerise and hairy. Like me after one of those late night parties I hear you say. I jest. I am not cerise and hairy (often). I see the chair opposite the bed and remember that it was bought 22 years ago for me to sit and feed my newborn baby. Each child has sat with me during night feeds in that chair. It is red and slightly frayed (the chair, the chair) and had a Russian shawl over the back of it. My dressing table is a 1930s table, given to me by one of my mother's friends. I love it and I am very grateful to my mother's friend. On the dressing table are candles that smell divine when lit, little clusters of jewellery both inside and out of heart shaped and beaded boxes. A photo of my grand parents on their wedding day, a small red sponge duck that Steve got for me, an Indian pot a dear Indian friend bought me, and then died back in his country before I could show him how it was placed in my home. And littered in an orderly fashion around the floor and upon some lovely wicker hampers that were once Christmas presents from Fortnum and Masons from my dear cousin and his wife in the the USA, I have the fanciest collection of platformed wedge heeled sandles in polka dots, and stripes, and reds, and blues, and blacks. Oh boy.
So sitting here in my perfect bed, the window open to my right, a breeze blowing in and ruffling the glorious curtains of magenta lining material and netting that another wonderful and creative cousin in Michigan made for this room, I feel very satisfied.
Heavenly, heavenly, all is heavenly. Now what is that tall blond child saying to me again?
The jobs list today actually starts with hair washing. Oh I hate washing my hair, I can't bear getting my head wet. But I can't be beautiful without doing it so I just have to get on with it.
Having washed my hair, having sat down, I have to get up again and go to my mother's birthday lunch in Petworth. Mother is 81 today and is cooking lunch for me and my three brothers. Mother's will is of iron, and this is what she wants. Lovely, I say. All I have to do is wash my hair, and turn up for lunch - in the scheme of things, not so very bad.
Having had lunch, my hair shining like an advert for L'Oreal, I am pottering round the corner from Mother's house to visit a friend who I grew up with, also visiting her mother (in Petworth. There should be a collective noun for those who have a Mother who Lives In Petworth). This friend has, in the last few years, married and had three children. What! I think of her as still 14. Today I shall meet her three tiny children for the first time, and I know I will go gaga over them. I am stupidly looking forward to meeting them. I had three children once, I shall say to her over my lorgnette. And it was tough. Well, she will reply, it doesn't seem to have affected your hair. It's so shiny and bright.
These days, I am trying to take life slowly. I have written before about my tiredness and extreme lack of energy. This is still true but I am able to rest more as it is Easter Holidays and there is no need to get 14 Year Old Son up for school. How wonderful are mornings off, when you are not used to them? I wake and when I am ready, go downstairs and make tea. I bring it back up to my bed and get back in under the duvet, plump up my cushions and decide then what to do. My options are
Drink tea and stare into space
Wash hair (sometimes)
Listen to radio 4 and get cross with people
Don't drink tea and stare into space
Plan my breakfast
I am very busy. We all know this. To spend mornings in bed thinking about nothing is pure sense. I have overdone things, my health has suffered, and it is time to take drastic measures. Drastic measures for a very busy person who carries on like a whirlygig gathering more and more momentum, not see the wood for the trees, and going nowhere fast, is to simply Stop. Just like that. Very hard to do. My body can stop much more easily than my mind; my mind goes on flapping about, fussing and galloping on into infinity with no hope of a resolution or common sense, which makes me realise how important it is for me to Get A Grip and sit down. Lie down. Go to bed. Rest.
And so, back to the hair washing. It has come to pass that the main problem with today is washing my hair. A while ago, it was The Work. The Fund Raising. The Portrait. The Film. The Book. There must be progress if it has narrowed down to hair washing.
Time is ticking on. The day needs someone to start it. "Oooh oooh oh pick me! pick me!" I say, back to my old self. "Ok", I say to my eager self, " go and wash your hair."
Bognor Glorious In Springtime, Artist Glorious In Bed
There have not been as many blogs as recently as I have been slowly getting more and more unwell. I believe I am on the mend. I believe I needed to slow down and stop being what they call a Busy Fool, which is someone who just whirls around being busy for the sake of it and not getting much done. There is also the fact that I am now 50, and very old. And then, there is the change in my working plans which have required much thought, preparation and starting at the beginning again.
Would you like to know my symptoms? Thought so. When I tell you, you will all say," But that is us too! We are all ill with you!" And I will say," Come, get into my bed with me and we will drink tea and recover together." I have been increasingly tired. The tiredness was not cured by going to bed, nor sleeping, and was more akin to total exhaustion from having run a marathon. I have run a marathon, in 2004, so I know what that feels like. The exhaustion became so intense that I felt that I could only talk in small sentences, and could not think at all. I lost my vocabulary, I couldn't remember how to speak, I breathed in great sighs when I had to speak, or move from one room to another, because I just could not find enough breath to breathe. I began to get headaches and pains in my limbs which were uncomfortable, but not enough to shout Ow! Sleep seemed to make no impact on this tiredness, and I began to dread having to meet and talk to people. One of the most alarming things was that I went off tea, and the last time that kind of thing happened, I was pregnant. It certainly wasn't that though it felt like a 50 year old upside down version of pregnancy, a kind of addled parody of it. Menopause, I hear you say. Well possibly, I am Of That Age. And I want to add here that I am so glad that I will not be having babies any more, so so glad because it is and was bad for my health - I got fat, I got prematurely middle aged and blobby, labour hurts so much I think I will never find the words to describe it, I couldn't find ten consecutive minutes to sleep with tiny babies needing Stuff, and plenty more. So this possible menopausal parody of pregnancy serves to make me glad it won't actually end in labour and fifteen years of hard work (and the rest). My babies though, were and are wonderful. They were and are always a miracle, it is just that I felt so rotten with tiredness etc while they were young. I was a single mum too, so that made it a bit relentless. Good side to being a single mum was I could eat crisps and mountains of toast in bed in the early hours of the morning, and leave crispy, toasty crumbs and honey all over the mattress and not have to explain myself. I could sleep smugly on it all and simply brush myself down in the morning and carry on as normal.
The tiredness, the aches and the slowing down of Antonia Rolls made me think that this was serious. I have, I said to myself in my exhaustion, Leprosy. Aids. Cancer. I began to see the world as grey and difficult to deal with. There was and is too, a change of direction in my work. I do not spend much time painting these days, I spend all my time writing and promoting and asking for money to make the A Graceful Death exhibition and project pay its way. I spend so much time making proposals, doing research, following leads, asking for things - my studio has a painting in it of Rev Rachel Mann that I long to get back to. And, I have decided to write a book which is a bit exciting and quite a lot barmy. I have visions of being on top of all the Other Stuff and entering my studio to find it suffused with golden light, with the sound of distant angels singing, as I pause in my big paint-splattered boiler suit at the door. I find the exhaustion, the Not Pregnant But Maybe Weird Menopause syndrome, the Aids, the Leprosy, the Cancer all fall away from me as I pause open mouthed at the door. I say with passion ,"Yes," and step into the light. And lo, there on the table, is a tray of tea, made by Angels in my biggest spotty teapot. And all is right with the world, the proposals are successful, the money is pouring in, the book is writing itself, the world is saying Come To Me I Am Ready. I smile and say coyly, "OK then. If you insist," and the angels singing in the distance bring out the trumpets and kettle drums and thus, life moves up a notch.
Back to today and reality. I am not there yet. I am in bed as I write this, taking my extreme weariness seriously. I have cancelled many of my appointments this week and I will ride this out. There is a big check up at the doctors coming up, so there will be a sensible, fully trained scientific grown up looking at me. And, I have begun to tell everyone that I am not at the top of my tree at the moment. I am hanging on like a sleeping sloth three quarters of the way down. Hoping of course to stop being a sleeping sloth soon and become whatever it is that charges fully energised to the top of the tree and bangs its chest and roars with passion and wonder and excitement. Sounds a bit like a happy gorilla. Not sure I want to be a gorilla, but I do want to be back in charge, and well again.
The Cosmic Gardener has just arrived downstairs. I have arranged to go with him to buy plants for the garden, so I must leave this wonderful bed of mine, and slowly get dressed and interact with People. At least we know that I am on track to being a happy gorilla. More soon. Now I can do my writing from bed, I will let you all know how I get on. A rather Shakespearean happy gorilla, at the top of the tree painting away, with a heavenly chorus of angels singing, playing trumpets and banging kettle drums. Blimey. Better get well then.
Tea With Gertrude Has Been Postponed. In The Meantime -
Gertude phoned and asked if we could come another time, when she has more time. Her message went something like this
"There is not enough time and time is not being here; the being of time here is that there is not enough of it and there is not enough time."
I said OK Gertrude.
In the meantime a very quick update on Art and Life in Bognor. I am busy and have found that much of my time is spent not painting. I have paintings to do and I have an invitation to design but I am so very full of creating and furthering the A Graceful Death exhibition and projects that I am compelled to do that instead. Monday was set aside to paint, last week. It was very difficult to do because I had to force myself to re-enter the world of making the art. My head is full of words and connections and ideas, there is not much space for painting and for images. I had to tear myself away from the computer and make myself focus my eyes on paint, easel, drawing. I lit a scented candle and made some tea. I put the heating on in the studio an hour before I went in to paint and I wore my old painting boiler suit. I did not turn on the computer in the office through which I have to pass to get to the studio. I am a painter, and it was hard to get back into that space.
I put this Monday aside too for painting. It was lovely, and I am aware that I must find a way to lay all the AGD stuff down and get back to these portraits. Once they are done, I will paint my new AGD portraits. I am very fortunate to work with a new sitter for AGD and she will be painted as a Goddess; she has survived two operations for cancer and is mid chemo treatment, and is present and living, she will be a beautiful portrait for the exhibition. I cannot wait to start painting her.
So what has been happening here? All the usual stuff - the house needs cleaning the food needs cooking. The children need beating and the car needs petrol. What has been occupying me has been my exhaustion. It is constant and it seems to come from my very bones. I don't like it, and it makes me feel that all my plans are slipping further from my grasp. I do have such plans. There was a time that I felt that I had energy but no real plans - this is a right old turnaround to have plans at last and no goddamn energy. I think that what is happening is that I have too much to do and cannot manage all of it to the level that I would like to achieve. So some if it gets done and some of it gets half done and some of it remains in my head, going round and round and not coming to any conclusion. I have found that it takes such a long time to make the next stage in any given project successful. And even then it may not be successful, but the time has to be spent and the risk taken, because if it is not, then nothing will happen. It would be so satisfying to have the idea and set aside a day to make it work, to spend that day putting everything in place with ease. By the evening it is all done and the project is up and running, everyone loves it, all the support is there and so, on to the next one.
Today, I am going to London again. I will see an old friend and then I will go to a book launch. Tomorrow I pick up 14 Year Old Son's new hearing aid, he managed to smash his first and now can't hear me say anything that isn't food related. He breaks up from school too tomorrow. Friday I go to an Elvis night, Saturday I go to a 50th dinner party in London and Sunday I gather my energies so that Monday, I paint. And stay put. Time to go back to the creative stuff. Time to finish Rocking Rev Rachel Mann's portrait. Tuesday I go with the Cosmic Gardner to buy plants for the garden, and Wednesday I paint. And Thursday and Friday. And until the portrait is finished I wear my boiler suit and stick a paintbrush behind my ear, so that no one (myself included) can mistake me for anything but a painter.
And tea with Gertrude Stein is still on the cards. This week I am the embodiment of tired and overwhelmed Artist, I am the living example of how exhausting doing something like painting, creating a loving but controversial exhibition, writing, having a large family (in that the kids are huge not that there are hundreds of them) and trying to be nice, is.
You may like to know that as I write this, I am in bed. 14 Year Old Visigoth Son suggested I not get up this morning, that he will get himself up and fed and off to school. And what is more, he will run a hot bath and leave it to get cool so that when I wake, it will be ready for me. How about that. And he did. What a wonder boy. And for Mothers Day he got his whole year to sign his card, so that I looked famous. Oh wow. I got hugs and kisses from 14 year old lads who I have never met nor know of, and they all have been checking with Son as to whether I liked the card or not. I do like it! It has cheered me up no end.
Oh well. Back to today. Once I get to London it will be fine. It is a two hour journey there, and a two hour journey back. Oh if only I had a private helicopter. If only I could feel less tired. If only everything I did worked the first time I did it, and everything was easy and straightforward. Perhaps it all is, I just need to change my thinking. Monday. Monday I will be back to my roots so to speak. Painting large oil portraits and loving it. Hiding from the world in the studio, and breathing again.