Sketchbook, theme book and Francis Bacon exhibition

I’m getting things ready to post Assignment 4 off to Pat (my tutor) and want to record a couple of things before I forget. This post gets rather heavy towards the end, but I’m sure everyone knows how to click delete or back or whatever if it makes you uncomfortable.

In the OCA course we’re encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes a day working in our sketchbook. That turns out to be very challenging! Finding ten minutes of time, energy and an idea to work on is harder than you think – especially after a work day, or when absorbed in project work.

Early September I came up with a new strategy – each night plan sketchbook work for the next day, then each morning get up 30 minutes early to do the work. This is working pretty well (except when project work takes over), and that period of focus and purpose sets me up well for the day – a friend has likened it to her morning meditation ritual. Deciding what to work on remained a problem, then a couple of weeks ago I came up with the idea of combining it with my reading.

The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art: styles, schools & movements by Amy Dempsey was recommended to me by Pat in her feedback to my last assignment. It has over a hundred entries, each just a few pages including illustrations, going from Impressionism, Arts and Crafts and Chicago School to Destination Art, DesignArt and Art Photography. For a few weeks now I’ve been reading an entry each evening (I’m such a creature of habit!).

I’ve found before that making notes and quick sketches helps me take a bit more time and absorb a bit more information while reading. Under the new regime I read an art history entry, then either choose one of the book illustrations or search around on the internet for a related image. In the morning my sketchbook work is based on that. I’m not trying to reproduce anything, just focus and think a bit better. The first photo above was after reading about Expressionism and is based on Emile Nolde’s Candle Dancers. The one on the left is from a work in the Ashcan school – Cafferty by Robert Henri. Really nothing like the original!

This is a collage using an adjusted photo of a kettle designed by Peter Behrens (Deutscher Werkbund movement). I’ve been trying to vary my approach each day. It’s only been a week or two so far, but it feels that I’m getter better value from both my reading and sketching. All very pleasant and ordered and effective, until Friday when I came face to face with art that felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing.


The exhibition is Francis Bacon: Five Decades at the NSW Art Gallery. This link takes you to a slide show – the first image (when I just checked) is A study for a figure at the base of a crucifixion 1943-44, and is one … well, it’s actually a totally personal and individual response, because in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book.

So this is my sketchbook for Friday and Saturday:

Nancy is around 86. A few years ago, after years of pain that medical professionals have been unable to relieve, Nancy attempted suicide. She was put in a psychiatric ward, and has spent the last two and a half years in a high level care nursing home. Her pain has never been relieved. Any mental distress or disturbance she has been experiencing has not been addressed. She used to watch TV, and had a window through which she could see trees and the occasional bird. A few weeks ago Nancy had a medical incident – the family thinks perhaps another stroke, but Nancy is clear that she doesn’t want medical intervention. The last few times I’ve visited the television has been off and Nancy has been lying on her side, her back to the window. She is now totally bedridden and has bedsores on her back and her arms. I asked her what she thought about while she was lying there, hoping perhaps for some lovely memory or moment of redemption or meaning. “How sore my hand is” was the response. We used to chat about my family and hers – she was always interested in the kids. Now after a sentence or two Nancy just shuts her eyes. I feel like an intruder.

How can I express such pain in textiles? How can I shout to the world that this is wrong, that we have taken everything, all meaning, from this woman and condemned her to years of torment – all in the name of other people’s beliefs (not Nancy’s) and for fear of harming the vulnerable. Yes, Nancy is vulnerable – and anyone who could look at her and not acknowledge the harm being done to her right now, every moment we force her to continue, is … unspeakable. There is no redemption, there is no meaning, there is no dignity or respect for this individual, there is no hope except for an end.

Such a long and dreadful death should not define or dominate Nancy’s life, but neither should we look away and focus on the good and meaningful and loving parts and ignore what is going on. I think there could be another trap, thinking that somehow I could make Nancy’s experience meaningful by trying to use it in some way to promote change.

I can’t help Nancy. She is alone and abandoned and I can’t reach her. I’ll visit her this afternoon, as I do each Sunday – and I’ll try to chat or listen or leave early, whatever she wants. I’ll also keep working on my Ageing theme book. I know I won’t be able to express all I’d like to, but I hope I can find a way to express some part of it.

6 Responses to “Sketchbook, theme book and Francis Bacon exhibition”

  1. 1 Claire B November 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Years ago Philippe and I adopted an Australian ‘Mum & Dad’, Jim and Beryl. Jim passed away in September and Beryl is in hospital for the second time since then. She hates this particular hospital, it is unfamiliar, out of the ares she has always lived in and full of various nationalities who she finds hard to relate to.

    Yesterday we spent the afternoon with her. She has shrunk, she is much more frail than even a few weeks ago and she wanted to discuss her ‘options’ for when she is released and sent home – we hope.

    Some initial suggestions were put forward and now we wait. We wait to see how capable she will be, how confident she will be and how her children will respond.

    She squezzed my hand as we left. Frankly I was gutted and I feel I should be there every day because she was so terribly brave as we walked away.

    • 2 fibresofbeing November 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Hi Claire
      It’s so hard isn’t it. No answer is right for everyone, and then you get to the stage where there simply isn’t any good answer. You try to end up with least-bad.
      There are various services and forms of assistance available to help people remain in their own homes, so hopefully a package of support can be put together that suits Beryl and her family.
      This must be an incredibly hard time for Beryl, to be unwell in an unfamiliar place so soon after losing Jim. It’s good you and Philippe were able to spend that time with her. It never feels enough – we all just do the best we can.

  2. 3 Claire B December 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Judy,
    Beryl has been moved to a rehab hospital. Her case assessment is on Monday and I find her looking a little better but still frail. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately? I’m not sure) her mind is still as sharp as a tack and she is very aware of the slow demise of her body.
    At least now she is eating.
    Each time I face her I think of the future awaiting each of us. An aged care nurse friend once told me it is one of the few times when money doesn’t help as you are totally reliant on the care-givers. Just because you pay more doesn’t mean the carers perform better or have more empathy.

  1. 1 Project 10 Stage 2 « Fibres of Being Trackback on December 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm
  2. 2 Project 10: Reflection « Fibres of Being Trackback on February 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm
  3. 3 Vale “Nancy” | Fibres of Being Trackback on February 14, 2019 at 6:09 pm

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