Over the last few years I have been a practicing artist specialising in portraying animals in a realist style against unusual or patterned backgrounds. These paintings were often commissioned and very intricate, taking many hours to complete. I have always loved painting and can lose myself in the whole process. I like to think that I inherited my creativity from my late father who attended art school, trained as an architect and was an accomplished watercolour painter.
Last year, my elderly mother fell ill and more of my time was spent helping her to adjust to living at home after being discharged from hospital. I also work part-time in education, so juggling visits and work was a challenge. Over time, she struggled to cope living on her own and was admitted to a care-home which she now very much enjoys living in.
However, this change in situation led to me needing to clear and sell her house. As an only child with sole responsibilities, this was quite a daunting prospect. This was my family home and as such, full of memories and possessions that had been collected over a very long period of time. I have tried my best to donate things to relevant charities who will put them to good use such the gardening equipment to Waste not, Want not, tools to Workaid and general bric-a-brac to the local church jumble sale. My father was also a prolific artist so I donated many of his beautiful local scenes to the Bushey Museum Trust so that they could be exhibited.
However, I soon discovered that my parents had not thrown anything away, so as you can imagine, it was also a time capsule. I discovered all manner of things in drawers, cupboards, the loft and sheds. It was a veritable treasure trove of memories. I even found my old school uniform and all my old toys.
So I decided to rent a lock up and store items such as antiques, old photo albums, stamp albums, my dad’s watercolour paintings, a large cigarette card collection, piano reels, a coin collection, antique furniture etc. However, there were also lots of smaller personal items and curios in drawers and boxes which I could not bring myself to throw away, so I kept them all safe.
Over the months of going through this tiring, yet fascinating process, I had abandoned my painting as I could not commit the time. I missed my art and began to feel a yearning to create but over a shorter time frame. I have always been drawn to vintage items and collage and it struck me that I could use my parent’s belongings not only as a form of collage but as a way of preserving the past and giving these hidden items a second and meaningful lease of life.
I gathered old photos, cigarette cards, broken jewellery, old books, wartime memorabilia, tickets, playing cards, coins, sewing items, letters, greetings cards, postcards, stamps and my dolls house accessories and started to combine them into collages. As an animal artist I also wanted to incorporate a meaningful animal. So I turned to my animal spirt guide cards to seek a deeper meaning and to guide my selection of objects. I would paint a chosen animal and then see which objects I was drawn to. For example, ‘The hare brings luck and prosperity’. For this collage I added, among other things, an old lucky wedding horseshoe, a playing card and coins to symbolise luck and prosperity.
My studio is only small so I have a limited workspace and even less so now that I am surrounded by boxes of found treasures. I generally sit on the floor with my glue gun in hand and let my chosen animal guide my selection of items. Creating these collages has defiantly been a form of therapy for me and helped me to come to terms with the whole process of clearing and selling my family home. I am now on the homeward stretch and the house is in the process of being sold. This is great timing as I am about to embark on a Masters in Art Therapy at the University of Herts.
This experience has definitely shown me the power of art in the healing process and how you can begin to create and communicate something in art that you may not have been able to express verbally.
Healing from loss of a loved one; a loss of a family home; the worry in wondering if the relocation of my mother brings with it calm and enjoyment as opposed to worry and fear. In essence, the process delivers a form of therapy embedded with closure. Closure to not only be able to move on but also to reflect on the new art work created and combine my past with my desire to create.
I will be exhibiting some of my collage artwork at the Barnet Guild of Artist annual exhibition in October.