It is impossible to describe what it feels like to lose a child. Alice’s illness with a brain tumour was the dominant presence in my life all the way through my journey back to art school and establishing my practice. Her death had been approaching relentlessly for a decade and everything else in our lives happened around the edges of that. All my artworks, including the public artwork March For Optimism, and the ongoing distributive woodcut ‘I’m Glad You’re Alive!’ are all responses to the world that squeezed out round the edges of the fact of Alice’s illness.
Alice died in the Duchess of Kent Hospice, Reading on 6th June 2019. Over a year later Liz and I, and her brother Joe, carry the loss daily. It is like learning to live in a home with the back-wall blasted away. We are functioning and doing things day to day when they seem possible. I returned to my teaching job at Winchester School of Art last October and in my more lucid moments have probably contributed a little to my students’ recent degree successes. I’m immensely proud of all of them.
Artistic output dwindled to a trickle over the last couple of years, as the creative urge has been at a low ebb. But the stuff that squeezes out around the edges has included my book, A Walk For Stanley, published a month after Alice’s death and some paintings and drawings which have found appreciative audiences (buyers!)
During the Covid-19 Lockdown all teaching, tutorial and assessment activity was conducted online. I wanted to make something to encourage my students so I created this simple woodcut:
I made an edition of 110, giving them to my students as part of an art exchange and selling the excess for £15 each. I passed all the proceeds to two local charities: Reading Refugee Support Group and Sue Ryder, Duchess of Kent Hospice. Both charities are close to our hearts because Alice volunteered for RRSG and was cared for at DOK for the last six weeks of her life. The sales raised £480 each for the charities.
Another nationwide response to the Covid-19 crisis was #portraitsfornhsheroes, initiated by portrait painter Thomas Croft. Artists offered free portraits for NHS workers, who were putting their lives on the line daily to tackle the impact of the pandemic. I ended up doing two such portraits. Mine were made as woodcuts and I think the recipients were happy with the results. This one is Kerry, a trainee pharmacist (and Joy Division fan).
A third lockdown project came in the form of an online auction organised by ArtAgainstCovid in the North West. My friend the artist and curator Kezia Davies was involved in organising this and I was happy to donate a print. It was bought by a collector in New York who did well to get this for the bargain price of £70.
So Lockdown has seen me getting ‘back in the saddle’, getting back to the studio at OpenHand OpenSpace. I am making new work and developing plans for future projects – watch this space for more news about them soon.