Summer’s End (with Hamster)

On This Day in History: The kids started school last year and I went up to Costa Mesa with my packed bags, planning to stay near Vernon as long as I needed to (which turned out to be eight days.) No matter what, I was NOT going to miss his death…at least, I hoped I wouldn’t, and  I wanted to make myself as available as possible.

This year, we have another week till the kids go back to school. They aren’t thrilled about it (though Maki has a better attitude than his sister this round—he wants to see his friends) and so far, I haven’t been thrilled about it either. It’s been a really great summer. I do love that late wake up time time without the morning rush. It’s been great having so much down time to ourselves …and with each other. This was the first summer in three years that we could be mostly home and relaxed in it. Granted, Maki and I went to Norway, and he stayed a few extra weeks. But even that gave me extra time with Justine to just cuddle and arrange play dates. I feel like we got some some equilibrium back between us. We aren’t so stressed. She’s not so nervous that I’m going to leave each day and not come back. Yes, I still work from home and she still wants my attention at the most inopportune times, but I feel like we’ve relaxed into it. I hope we can take this into the year. Whatever happens, I know we got through the last one..and the three before that. It can’t be any worse, can it?

I’m not sure if I have introduced out latest member of the family on this blog. Introducing Benson, the Hamster. Justine finally got him on her birthday in June after six months of plans and promises. He’s the smallest sort of starter-pet but now we can’t imagine life without him. He’s a total mental health pet for her…and if I’m honest, for me too. 🙂

 

So here we are…at almost a year, perhaps a little fragile, but also kind of empowered in the fact that we’ve almost made it a year. That has got be worth  a piece of cake at least, right?

 

 

 

From/For the Archives

I received a surprise email yesterday from an old student friend of Vernon’s, someone I’ve never heard from before.  I’ll share some of it here to keep it in the Vernon-archives. It’s pretty funny.

Dear Allison,

I hope that you don’t mind me writing to you, but I recently did a google search on a few people that I used to know and discovered the sad news regarding Vernon. It’s bought back a number of memories which I hope will be of interest.
He and I first met in 1986 when we both started the painting degree at Gloucestershire College of Art. I spotted him immediately as he and I were the only people dressed entirely in black – a rarity in those days as the standard indie kid uniform was jeans, plaid shirt, and Dr Marten shoes. At a later date I remember purchasing a pair of 1960’s style suede boots, only to turn up to the studio and find Vernon had bought exactly the same ones. I don’t know who was more embarrassed. Probably me, now, thinking about how ridiculous they almost certainly looked.
In our second year, I and a couple of students who had left the year before but were still living in the area decided to put on an exhibition of our work, and I asked Vernon if he wanted to be part of it.  At the time, he was painting flat grey canvases with small pasted on pieces of text; I was doing large charcoal nightmarish German Expressionist type drawings. The other two were Adam – a very talented sculptor who used toys and household items to create Fetisch-like creatures; and Simon, who painted large abstract canvasses a la Robert Motherwell and Sam Francis. A nice mix of work, I think. It was held at the Stroud Subscription Rooms, and was called ‘Batchelors of Unsavoury Art’ – a play on ‘Batchelors Savoury Rice’ – a terrible pun which, to my eternal shame, I came up with.

He and I produced the show catalogue together – a statement by each artist, plus some drawings. He typed it all up on his wonky typewriter, I formatted and xeroxed it, and we spent hours collating and folding it. The front cover was a joint effort, and the back was by Vernon: a picture of DuChamp’s ‘Fountain’ with the text – “He took a fountain and named it urinal”. I had a copy until a few years ago but, alas, I can no longer find it. Perhaps he kept his?  What I do still have is our 1989 degree show catalogue. If you don’t have a copy, let me know and I’ll scan you a copy of Vernon’s photo.

By our third year, we shared a studio with two others – Bruce and Eric. Vernon and I shared a love of the same music, which I would describe as the sound of a crushed car being dragged over pebbles by epileptic horses. Whenever we put a record on, Eric would roll his eyes and stick his headphones in. Bruce would tut loudly and then start to endlessly complain. Bruce was a photorealistic artist who seemed to spend an eternity painting a rubber plant. Vernon and I got revenge for his – as we saw it – unreasonable whining by turning the plant container around so that he had to spend an age attempting to get it back in the exact place. When we tired of this we picked two of the leaves off and glued them back on at different angles.
About three times, we went to see bands in London. We stayed with our exhibition mate Adam, who was by now a postgrad student at the Royal Academy (his tutor was Eduardo Paolozzi). He took us to his studio, which was accessed from a back entrance and through a large room used for preparing art for display. I recall dozens of paintings laid out on the floor, and us having to step over them to get to Adam’s workspace – it was a collection of Caravaggios. Also on that trip, I bought along a book of crosswords (we used to do them together in the studio). Late at night, we lay in our sleeping bags, propped on our elbows like kids, giggling away as we attempted to fill puzzles in with as many offensive words as we could make fit.

Both Vernon and I had an active dislike of the college tutors, who were more interested in drinking in the student bar and chasing after the prettier girls. We quite often ended up in arguments with them, both separately and together. On one occasion, we were given an exercise: paint an object, accurately reproducing the colour and tone. Most people chose a predictable assortment of things – a piece of fruit; a vase, and so on. Vernon painted a cornflakes box flat grey, and then painted his canvass the same. The tutor was annoyed and attempted to humiliate Vernon by saying he hadn’t reproduced the colour correctly, at which point Vernon pulled out the can of house paint he’d used to do both objects. We really weren’t popular.

I’m trying to recall further detail regarding Vernon’s art. Now, there would be oceans of photographic evidence, but back then it would have meant carrying a camera around. These days, there are so many media devices that if you pick up a piece of fruit it takes a picture of you. I’m pretty sure that all his canvases were flat greys and done with cans of house paint. The typography thing is interesting because I remember him adding text to pretty much everything – sometimes cut from newspapers; sometimes done on an old typewriter. All his canvases were fairly small – ranging in size from paperback book to A3. Album sleeve would be the most prevalent.
You are welcome to have the degree show catalogue if you send me your address. I think you will appreciate it more than I do.
As a parting note: Vernon once asked me why I was at art college. When I asked what he meant, he referenced the fact that I’d also got into Cambridge University to study English (which possibly strikes you as absurd, given my atrocious grammar and spelling). There was a general consensus at the time that most art students were dimwits incapable of facing the correct way on a toilet. I gave some perfunctory, stuttering answer. I then asked him why he was at art college, to which he laughed and said he had no idea. Which, I told him made him the perfect art student.
Having said that most of our shared musical tastes were a melange of noise, some was more melodic. Here is a track that he particularly liked and played often – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bgfZfsFls5A
Best wishes—
John
Allison here: I’ve added a picture that Vernon made, adding some of his own font samples. He would have made this when we were still in England, I think. But it seems much in line with the what his friend described from art school days.  

The Gift of the North

The Norwegian trip last month was so healing and wonderful in so many ways, but one of the surprising gifts was the effect it had on my artwork. I came back from that light-filled expanse, not wanting to lose the surreal sense of space and grandeur. I thought I’d want to use the time I was away to write, but no words came. I just was present, drinking coffee and eating cheese and homemade bread, listening between languages, taking hikes, and realizing people survive in expanses without many other people, and have for ages. Something jarred me—in a good way. As it was, my brain needed some jarring, so I was open to the change.

Anyway, when I returned, even on the drive home from the airport, to be specific, I decided I’d try my hand at some abstract painting. I started by studying the abstract expressionist, Helen Frankenthaler, who had herself once been hugely inspired by a trip to Nova Scotia. Afterward, she said: “I had the landscape in my arms as I painted it. I had the landscape in my mind and shoulder and wrist.”

Here is my painting of Helen. And following are a few more that I made based somewhat on my Norwegian experience. There was something about clarity of reflections on the fjords that really jostled my soul. I imagined if I painted images and their reflections being somewhat wrong, somewhat off, it would also help me make sense of how my own world had been split in half in so many ways: Vernon’s old self/brain injured self, the me before the trauma/after the trauma, life/death, past/future, even Maki having parents on other sides of the world. There was so much clear dichotomy, so many fractures…but how to pull them back together into one place. I think that’s where I am…I am at the beginning of trying to pull these worlds together again. Also, reflections (and reflecting) can be deceptive—which image is more real? Can’t they both be?

This is the first one I did, or one of the first….It’s actually one painting (14×18″) but I’m not sure which way I meant to stand it up. I also like how it reminds me now of a heart monitor. But that’s not what I was thinking at the time.

Here is the next one (bigger at 24X36″), also based on reflections. There are a few things going on here that I had in mind, and though I think it might look unfinished, I have moved on, so therefore, it is finished.

Here’s another that I worked a while on. I’m calling it “The Midnight Sun.” Don’t know when I’ll get to be inspired again by that surreal light, but for me, I feel that this one managed to capture some of that strange double-dimention-ness. I also like that this was built up on an old board, primed by Vernon years ago, that he intended to use for himself. I have one more of those floating around, but nothing worth showing you on that one yet. (16×20″)

Here is one more…you’d never know that such an amateur-looking piece would actually be layers and layers of paint, pictures started over and over, all based on the landscape, sort of. I’m calling it ” The Moon is Down,” which is actually the name of a song that Maki wrote on his guitar (and, he discovered just this week, the name of a John Steinbeck book that happens to take place in Norway!) I wish I could express in words the things this one means to me. But I can’t, so I paint…and share.

So this is the ongoing gift of the North to me. I’ll continue this story in another post, as I share the next step of my painting journey. But that wouldn’t make sense without this. And that’s how things seem to go. One step leads us to the next. No matter how strange and new.

If you love any one of these paintings enough to buy one, please let me know. This is a way of supporting the family now. But it is a way to stay present in my life, no matter what gets thrown our way. And not just that, a way to throw something back! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondary Loss

 

“Anger surfaces once you are feeling safe enough to know you will probably survive whatever comes. At first, the fact you lived through the loss is probably surprising to you. Then more feelings hit, and anger is usually at the front of the line as feelings of sadness, panic, hurt and loneliness also appear. “—David Kessler

Who knows why the waves of grief set in when they do? Or why sometimes are more strong than others? This round, I’m sure, has been triggered by the time of year—it was last August that Vernon spent those twenty days from going into the hospital with an infection to breathing his last breath. It was the most traumatic part of the whole event, I suppose because before then, there had always been a smidgen of hope.  For most of this year, I just felt sorry for him, sorry for the kids, sad that we have to live without our person. This round, there was little space for feeling sad, for missing him. I’ve been angry. I felt abandoned. Fearful again of the worst case scenarios. I’m not saying it’s logical, but it’s been overwhelming. I also hear that year anniversaries are major triggers for grief. But even knowing that, one can’t really be prepared for how it will surface.

Yesterday, I came upon the phrase ‘secondary losses,’ which helped me a lot. Here is a little graph. It’s a different level of mourning—something that, until now, I haven’t begun to have a word for myself. Naming things is important. But ultimately, it’s all grief.

Here’s another chart that people might find helpful as they navigate their way through the stages of grief. 😛

The Cloud of Witnesses

I wanted to share a painting I recently made. I’m calling it “The Cloud of Witnesses” because it looks to me like so many souls who have gone before and are gathering to cheer us, the living, on. For anyone who has lost someone special, I hope you can find my small representation of your loved one in the mix of this picture. Whatever you are going through, I feel like they’d want you to push through because  even from their supernatural perspective, they believe in you. Take heart!

Hebrews 12:2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

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