Monday, 14 August 2017

History of (Elephant ) Art - Pt 1 The Art of Growing Up

I am feeling somewhat red in the face...and it's not a hot flush ( for a change). This blog is subtitled as being about 'Art, Life and ME'  and you have heard me wittering about my medical ailments, I have introduced ME as the Diva in my life, chucking plates because the M&M's are not the colour she ordered. I have talked about life with disability: it's adaptions to this 'new normal'...and the things that help me to find peace and joy.

I am embarrassed to say that I have neglected to write much about the nuts and bolts of  me as an here goes...a whistle-stop tour to give you a flavour of the history and evolution of my art from pint-sized pachyderm to ...the (slightly) more wrinkled and definitely happier heffalump of today.  

So let's start with the tiny me, chubby crayon in chubby fist tongue slipping out in concentration. I cannot remember a time when I didn't draw. There was always a huge pile of scrap paper I would speed through. I remember the excitement of first lusting after, then receiving my own, my very own set of 40 glorious felt tips. The black was always the first to wear out, as I would use it to outline my drawings before filing them with colour. 

 At school we were made to sit in front of a series of ( frankly very dull) still lives ( I have never wanted to draw a cheese plant since), and I was constantly told off for my drawings not being 'life-like' enough. At age 18 I applied for a Foundation Course. I turned up with a folder of really interesting and original work I had created in my own time, which put all my A level work in the shade.

Life Drawing Class

Life Drawing Class

I went on to be incredibly lucky to have  a wonderful year with about 100 other students at Wimbledon College. At last- I got to spend all day doing what I loved: drawing! We did a tonne of life drawing and once I'd got over the shock of getting up close and personal with a completely nude stranger, I shone.
Life Drawing Class

Life Drawing Class

In the first term we were put through a rigorous and exhausting regime of drawing, textile design, theatre design, pottery ( when I created the first in a college career of elphant turds), fashion design, graphics, and product design ( in which I got the lowest mark of the whole year!) We did art history and it was an incredibly nurturing and creative environment.

 I also saw Paris for the first time, tried on theatre costumes for a fashion show ( the fairy must have been size zero, as I couldn't get the tutu up over my tiny bottom), and at the end of two terms, my folder full of illustration and drawings  and I was offered a place at Harrow College ( Westminster University). I was attracted by the Illustration Course with it's fine art and drawing bias...and an animation department, as I wanted to be a stop frame, animator.

 We were taken out to draw on the streets of London, then on a trip to Paris, to sit in Parisian markets and cemetaries,with huge drawing boards. In my spare time I filled numerous sketchbooks drawing around the clock. The hours were long...and I made yet another elephant turd ( this time decorated with inspiration taken from the British Museum), but I learnt so much. I made a couple of drawn animations- one set in nightclub with a Bee Gees track, and one quite abstract piece to a Sting song. Happy Days!!! 

Unfortunately, I had come from being a big fish in a small pond on Foundation, and now everyone on the Illustration course was really, really good! Add to this being away from home for the first time, realizing I was not destined for the world of animation, and being quite shy, my college years were not without difficulties. I found the criticism quite brutalizing and was quite lost creatively until year 3. 

College Project: Illustration for 'James and the Giant Peach' -the children's book by Roald Dahl

College Project: Illustration for 'James and the Giant Peach' -the children's book by Roald Dahl

A Book Cover Design as part of my final project for my Degree Show

I had already decided to work as a freelance illustrator, and after graduation began touting for work. Finding out the name of an art director, cold calling them to make an appointment and pitching up with a folder of artwork was the part of my new job I really didn't love. I got  some work, but life was about to throw me a curve-ball... and eventually lead me back to those felt tips!


Monday, 7 August 2017

The Twilight Zone

Some of you may be aware that for the first time a full length film has been made about the experience of living with ME, and how society and the medical profession see those patients with ME. I have not yet seen the full film, but the three times I have watched the trailer, I have had tears streaming down my face. It is heart-rending to see film of her before the illness- she is running around on home movie footage, scuba diving, and on her wedding day....then her words: ' I thought I would have longer..'

I have never seen 'my' story on a film before. It upset me more than I can say to see ME from the outside looking in. I thought I would have longer too...

The Jen Brea documentary 'Unrest' will be released in the UK in the Autumn. It has already been heaped with awards in a variety of film festivals in different countries. Jen was a Ph.d student at Harvard University when she became suddenly ill with a high fever and became bedridden. She was initially diagnosed with conversion disorder, and eventually with Myalgic encephalomyelitis. Her own treatment ( both in terms of the medical provision she received and how Drs treated her), prompted her to tell her own story..In 2013 she began making a documentary from bed about her experiences, and also to express the lives and thoughts of the friends with ME that she made via Skype.

As a gifted and exceptionally articulate young woman she has bought discussions about ME into the public arena and has been almost universally ( silently) applauded by ME patients worldwide.  Jen has a wonderful way of public speaking and of raising issues that have not been discussed ( ever) in such a high profile way. Her TED talk crashed the internet, and it is wonderfully expressed....and please remember- Brea is doing all this whilst feeling horrendously ill and exhausted. I urge you to watch this- people need to know how serious this illness is. That is the only way we will get the adequate funding that is needed for research that will discover the bio-marker and lead to effective treatments.

If you are reading this and you have any one of a number of chronic, but poorly researched and understood conditions, you will no doubt have your own horror stories about physicians. Doctors are not intellectually or emotionally prepared to fail at what they do, and it manages to be both shocking, yet not surprising, to see the attitude of medics change when it is understood that your ailments are not acute, but chronic.  We are the patients who have to have the news broken to us, that we are not going to get better- that is not why Doctors spend years training. They train in order to cure people- we make them crash up against their limitations.

Many conditions we now understand to be physical, were originally thought of as psychological: asthma, arthritis, MS, epilepsy...

Many who live with ME, exist in a twilight world of solitude, drawn curtains and no light at the end of a very long tunnel. With no treatment offered in the UK other than CBT and graded exercise ( almost guaranteed to cause patients to crash- and I speak from experience.) patients are assumed to have developed this illness to serve our own purposes...and are refusing to get well.

I hope I live long enough to see attitudes, research funds, and effective diagnosis available to patients with ME. In the meantime, watch the trailer and await, what sounds to be a very interesting film, made by a very courageous woman.