Artist Voice: ‘Any artist worth their salt thinks about death everyday’ – Maggi Hambling

Yesterday I watched Grayson Perry’s art club exhibition, it was a great programme. The authentic styles of all the people who had taken part in the challenge was so prominent. Everyone had a story to share, a feeling, their experiences and artwork valued with such care and compassion.

It took me back to summer this year, the lockdown, the fear, the desperate yearning, wanting to paint, but feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted by all that was going on in the world. I found myself fearful of doing anything, and yet, here were people finding ways to cope by being creative, making art, creativity seemed to soar during lockdown. So, my question to myself was, and still is, why didn’t I join in? I have a note book/journal full of ideas, inspiration, I wanted to be part of it, I wrote down a feeling or experience for everyday of the lockdown in the hope of painting it out, and yet nothing….

Maggi Hambling produced some work for the exhibition, and an exhibition of her own work during lockdown. I am a great fan of her work, it is so evocative and moving. On reflection, isn’t that what artists do? fly on the wings of themes, experiences and communicate the feeling of it through art? During the programme, she spoke about ‘art being the food of the soul’ and, that ‘any artist worth their salt thinks about death everyday’ and shared some of her experiences. I listened with a childlike curiosity, and somewhat relief, someone else thinks like that too, it really resonated with how I think and feel. It’s not that I think of death in a morbid way every day, but I do think about life, cycles, change, loss, transitions, memories, our place in this world.

Over the last ten years, been a counsellor working with grief and loss, sudden death and complex bereavements that leave people with so much pain. I came to the work as a counsellor through my work as a nurse, and yes, death was a theme there too. Walking alongside clients, and patients and relatives in their pain, while they share their story is a gift that I will always be humbled by. I, myself, have experienced grief and loss, tell me of someone who hasn’t, who has lived. It’s the price we pay for love. I digress! my point is, that Maggie is right, artists get underneath the surface layer of mortality, and connect with it on a feeling level through their art, endings, loss, pain, love. It’s all in there if you look. The relief I felt knowing that it’s okay to think this way was a turning point for me. Art can share feels and create connections between people that words may not.

The other comment that really stood out to me is one that Grayson said about someone once saying that ‘every painting is an artists’ self-portrait’, and it’s true. Maybe that’s why I feel so vulnerable painting, maybe that’s why I fear being an artist so much, because it shows who I am to the world, exposes me in a way that is subjective, left for interpretation. It does however, give me a voice, and that is what I am focusing on now, to try and get some movement and get paint to canvas.

If you get chance, take a moment to seek out Grayson’s art club, it’s well worth taking a peep.


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