Over the past few weeks, I have been fairly preoccupied with the effect that creativity - more specifically painting - has had on my life and wellbeing. I mentioned in a tweet recently how each of the pieces that I have produced have come together to quite literally document the changes that I have experienced, beginning with what I think was simply a search for mindfulness: a coping strategy under the immense stress of everyday life - almost a place in which to hide. Daily doodles became more detailed drawings, I experimented with charcoal, then watercolour and played with different types of paper, acrylics, and finally oil paint: probably now my favourite medium.
Early acrylics on wood panel were fairly small, but allowed me to become progressively expressive and abstract. This was very much an acknowledgment of where I was emotionally at that time: A monumental, turbulent jumble of supporting our two boys - physically and emotionally - fighting for support from children's services, long-distance family illness bringing childhood trauma back to the surface and the sheer exhaustion of post-viral fatigue. I would lay the paint down and then scrape it away, digging into the wood beneath. A physical landscape of weathering and resilience.
Survival has characterised most of my life and colour has rarely entered into it. During my late-20s I was referred to an art therapist, but was too traumatised to place a mark onto paper, so we just talked. Later on, he encouraged me to try writing: something I have found to be enormously rewarding, 'though less mindful than art. It takes energy and clarity of thought, which both tend to be in short supply. Painting, for me, has become almost entirely about instinct. I rarely plan, beyond starting with a sky, then I wait to see what emerges from the paint. I don't "know" when it's finished: it just feels right. I become immersed in the texture of the paint, the smell. And as my confidence has grown, so has my palette: Colour and light for me are now as important as texture and composition. One of my recent paintings: "L'Avenir, Mon Fils", was completed whilst our eldest son was struggling to see a future. I filled it with colour for him.
It has been equally fascinating observing over the years how creativity has helped our boys. Both have high functioning autism: Life is full of challenges for them, but they are extraordinary and it is a privilege to be part of their lives. When the younger one was small, at the end of a not so good day, I said let's draw a line under today, so he fetched his sketch pad, opened a new page and drew a line across it. Later, when he imagined there was a terrifying ghost in his room at night, I encouraged him to draw a picture of it and give it a name: then it became the friendly ghost. And art has remained an important part of his life, helping him through the lockdowns and giving him an enormous sense of achievement and self-confidence.
His older brother struggles more with expression, however he has developed a healthy obsession with photography, which we support and encourage in any way we can. One of the many children who could not cope with the return to school following the lockdowns, not knowing how to express himself through words has been a huge challenge, but when he is out with his camera, it is as if he slips into another world, where it is brighter, lighter and full of life. He loves the sound of the shutter and on a recent trip away with me took almost 1000 images over just a couple of days. Once home again, the first thing he did was download them all to his PC and begin to edit them, continually calling me over to look. Creativity has not only offered him a way out of a dark, isolated place, but furthermore instigated communication and an opportunity to share his creations and achievements. It is helping him to move forward.
Since I began painting last year, my world has changed beyond all recognition. The sense of community that it has brought with it; the friendships I have formed through it, have opened up an entirely new world to me and lit up my life. But more than that: For the first time in 50 years, it feels OK to be me. It has brought an enormous and profound sense of peace and acceptance, for which I shall be forever grateful.