Category Archives: Compassion

P- Pablo Picasso: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my A-Z Challenge Series: Letters to Dead Artists. With my most sincere apologies to Australian artists Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor, I’ll be writing to Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, largely due to his work towards world peace, something we should never give up on.

If you are more familiar with Picasso’s cubist works, you might not have made the connection with how he used his art to promote peace and deplore war. In 1937, incensed by the inhumane German bombings on Guerica during the Spanish Civil War, he painted Guerica, which he displayed at the Paris Exhibition as a political statement. I’m not too proud to admit, I knew nothing about this, but at least I’m always willing to learn.

However, I was familiar with his Dove of Peace, but not the story or image behind it.

Guernica Pablo Picasso

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937.

Even if you are not familiar with Guerica, you’ll probably be familiar with Picasso’s very simple outline of a dove, which is still used today to represent peace. That design grew out  a lithograph of a fan-tailed pigeon (Matisse had given the bird to Picasso), which appeared on the poster for the inaugural World Peace Congress in Paris in 1949. When Picasso’s daughter was born on the eve of the Paris Peace Congress, he poignantly named her Paloma, the Spanish word for dove[1]. In 1950, when Picasso spoke at the Peace Congress in Sheffield, he recalled how his father had taught him to paint doves, and finished with the words: “I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war”.

Antonio Banderas, who will be playing Picasso in the National Geographic’s upcoming: Genius: Picasso, touched on Picasso’s activism:

“He was not only a man who was very capable painting, drawing the reality, but he put that at the service of the political and social context of his time, a guy who was a visionary and had a long sight for the future and, also, an introspection of himself, a reflection about life itself,” Banderas says. “That was very important.[2]

By the way, Banderas was born and raised in Picasso’s home town of Malaga, and used to walk past his house as a child:

“[It was] a time in Spain in which we didn’t have too many international heroes, so Picasso trespassed that barrier at a time in which we were pretty much isolated by the dictatorship with [General] Francisco Franco in power,” Banderas says.

“So I grew up with the projection of this huge artist who was capable of actually making the people all around the world fall in love with his art, and he was [from] my hometown, and I was able to just see the house where he was born. That was very important for me.”

Once upon a time, I could believe in peace. Peace at any cost. However, now I also understand that sometimes you need to get up and fight and that we as a nation might have to go to war. That we must defend our borders, and the universal principals we hold dear such as freedom, equality and justice. Unfortunately, the nature of modern day terrorism, has muddied the waters. Now, it’s much harder to recognize the enemy. It could be anyone, anywhere at any time. Yet, we still need to be inclusive. Love our neighbour as ourselves, and not let the terrorists win, by having the rest of us lock ourselves up in our self-made prisons. So, while Picasso created that dove of peace over 60 years ago, it still means as much to us now as it did then.

Picasso’s Blue Period 1901-1904

In addition to his peace work, I feel inexorably drawn towards the paintings of his Blue Period, which were heavily influenced by the suicide of his best friend and fellow Spanish artist, Casagemas. The works of this period are characterized by their blue palette, sombre subject matter, and destitute characters. His paintings feature begging mothers and fathers with small children and haggard old men and women with arms outstretched or huddled in despair. Picasso was heavily influenced by the Symbolist movement and a revival in interest in the art of 16th-century Spanish artist El Greco.

The Blue Room 1901

Picasso, The Blue Room.

Casagemas (1880-1901), the son of the American consul general in Barcelona, was a painter and poet, and accompanied Picasso to Paris to visit the World’s Fair in autumn 1900. There, he fell in love with Laure Gargallo, known as Germaine, who ultimately spurned his affections. In despair, Casagemas committed suicide, shooting himself at the Hippodrome Restaurant in Paris on February 17, 1901, after first attempting to kill Germaine. Picasso was in Barcelona at that time, but was deeply affected by the news, as anybody who loses a friend to suicide always is. However, two things I find quite intriguing here, is that when Picasso returned to Paris in May 1901, he took up residence in Casagemas’s former apartment and also began a liaison with Germaine. I find this very difficult to understand, and to me, it feels like he’s almost trying to step inside his dead friend’s skin. However, it also could have been, that the apartment was offered to him rent-free and it was more of a practical decision. Personally, I would’ve found it emotionally impossible to live in the home of a dead friend, and could well have left Paris entirely.

Old_guitarist_chicago

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, Art Gallery of Chicago.

Anyway, my favourite from his blue period is The Old Guitarist, where the blind musician bends over his guitar in an attitude of exhaustion and hopelessness. Like the figures of El Greco’s paintings, the guitarist’s features are attenuated and angular.[3]” It reminds me of a poet I met in Paris whose lover had thrown his guitar into the River Seine in a jealous rage. I can’t even remember his name anymore, but he was from Brooklyn and I met him at the Shakespeare Bookshop, when I was preparing for my reading. Things clearly weren’t going well for him, as he gave me a swag of his poems, the way one does when you don’t need them anymore. Anyway, clearly ours was a very short story. Not even a Haiku.

picasso-annotated-poem

Picasso The Poet

Finally, I wanted to share with you a bit of Picasso’s poetry. This has been yet another one of my discoveries during this series, and I really am starting to feel like I knew nothing at all about these artists before I embarked upon this journey. In the case of Picasso, I wasn’t too keen on his later cubist works, but really empathized with his blue period and Dove of Peace. So, I guess that encourages me to look beyond those few iconic works the world portrays as “THE Artist” and see what else you can find. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time for that, but possibly through seeing more exhibitions and watching documentaries, we might be able to find our own view of an artist and, which might not be the so-called “greatest”, but become our own. After all, no one dictates which artists or their works we have to like or dislike. That’s our personal choice, but to fully capitalize on that we need to venture further afield away from the headlines and peer beyond the flow.

Anyway, back to Picasso’s poetry. He could very well be writing about my days in Paris when a deep and compassionate friendship became yet another victim of the male-female friendship debacle (which I’ll call the When Harry Met Sally Disease for all of you old enough to have that movie still etched in your heart like me!!) Quite aptly, it is called: Does She Know I Am There? I Doubt. –

You are beauty personified. You are charm solidified.
Without you, darling, it is a moonless night. I shall go to the ends of the world with or without a fight to seek you forever. Does it matter if the infinities crumble?
Does it matter if the worlds tear apart? You are the only one important to me, darling.

My entire being recognises and responds to you. I know it when you are close by. I can almost feel the sense of your cheeks on my lips. Your hair is my forest of ecstacy.

Your heartbeat is the only sound I’d give up everything for, love! Each time our eyes meet, my heart speeds, I only wish our hearts could join too.

Who said jealousy is green? It is fuming red. Each time I see you there, casting an occassional glance at me, my heart pumps sadness into my veins. I regret being unable to talk to you. How should I explain my love to you?

Each day I stand so far, hoping that someday, the distance would become a bond. Your countenance lacerates me. Why am I so heavy? Oh, right! Because. I am carrying someone else inside me, my heart that belongs to you

Perhaps, this is a great juncture to stop writing about the man, and start writing to Picasso instead.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

A Letter To Picasso

Dear Picasso,

Where were you when I needed you? I’ve only just found your poetry as a mature 40 something mother and wife, when I really could’ve used it when I was in Paris as a heartbroken 23 year old who lived and breathed poetry with every breath.

No one ever warned about the ugly side of Paris. How the “City of Lights” so easily become a sewer of darkness, horror and despair where the menacing gargoyles jump off the roof of Notre Dame and circle overhead. The pain was so excruciating and as a writer, there was only one way to get it out. I abandoned my room in the Henri IV Hotel with its twisting spiral staircase, and set up residence beside the River Seine next to Pont Neuf with my notebook and pen. I was writing, writing, writing raw pain dripping from my pen onto the page, hour after hour, oblivious to all danger and any thought of sleep. Heartbreak can consume your soul, all sense of the wider world and everything you have ever been or worked towards all disappears, and all that matters is their eyes. That love, compassion and connection which goes so much further than a physical connection ever could. I’ve been told: “Ro, you know how to find them!” Well, I also know how to lose them and how much that hurts.

However, that was a long time ago. Indeed, I now look upon that young, naive girl as someone else. For better or worse, I’ve grown so much stronger. Indeed, I’m made of steel. Moreover, like most parents, I carry the world on my shoulders and wouldn’t be the first parent who’s fantasized about a little getaway. Indeed, some days even walking down the end of the street to our local beach seems like trying reach the other side of the world. It doesn’t take much for the To Do List to build four walls around me Lego brick by tiny Lego brick and fence me in.

Anyway, as I’ve already made clear to some other artist in one of these letters, all this is about to change. I’m going to find my feet and start walking. You just ask my physio. She had grand plans. Actually, they’re not all that grand. She only wants me to find 30 minutes three times a week and a ten minute walk on other days. That isn’t much, is it? Especially when all you artists keep telling me that walking kept you sane or at least saner than you might have been.

Anyway, I just wanted to ask you about your thoughts of Paris?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Picasso

My Dear Rowena,

I am so sorry to hear that you too experienced that horrible heartache of Paris. As you know, my best friend Carlos, suffered the same fate. I should’ve seen it coming and wasn’t there for him. You know how it is you replay and replay and replay something in your mind and try to change what happened, but it’s pointless. You can only change things moving forward, not going backwards. That is one of life’s hardest lessons, my friend.

There’s not much I can tell you about Paris, except that it became my home.

Next time you’re there, might I suggest take The Travel Guide to Picasso’s Paris . Then you’ll know me a little better.

By the way, I have been reading some of your blog posts and you have such a heart to help ease even the suffering of people you’ve never met. Never give up and keep carrying that dove of peace in your heart. You might not be able to change the world, but one by one the numbers add up.

By the way, I’ve also heard you keep all the paintings from your rainbow period shut away in a portfolio behind your closet. That should be a crime. How could you hide your art away? I want to see it framed and signed before the end of this series or I’ll set the gargoyles loose. Trust me, they know how to find you.

Best wishes,

Picasso.

References

[1] http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/picasso-peace-and-freedom/picasso-peace-and-freedom-explore-2

[2] https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/get-it-right-or-never-go-home-antonio-banderas-reveals-his-fear-of-picasso-20180413-h0yq1v.html

[3] http://www.artic.edu/collections/conservation/revealing-picasso-conservation-project/pablo-picasso-and-blue-period

 

M – Edvard Munch- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

My profuse apologies to Michelangelo, Monet, Matisse and Miro, who I’ve had to overlook today.

However, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has resonated with me for so long and in such an intimate way, that I could only write to him. For he was there holding me close, when I was stuck inside my constricting  inner labyrinth. To be honest, these storms began as a child, increased during the swirling vortex of pubescence, but blew their banks in my 20s when the pressure inside my head, reached a final climax. Not due to mental illness. Rather, I had undiagnosed hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and the storm was trying to get out.

Strangely, while I was consumed by this churning vortex of anguish, despair, heartbreak, or pure panic, I found myself curiously carried out of the abyss by the figure in Munch’s The Scream. In hindsight, it was a bit like somebody carrying the crucified body of Christ off the cross and washing my wounds and bringing me back to life. Isn’t it ironic, that a painting which is so graphic in its anguish, can also be soothing.

EXHI001000

I was about 12 years old when I was first introduced to Munch’s The Scream in art class at school. Its impact was immediate. I loved it. This was many years before I knew that this state of extreme stress and panic, was something called anxiety. Or, that I could, at least to some degree, choose how I responded to the things which happened to and around me. That the glass could either be half-full, or half empty. I could focus on what I have and what is working. Or, I could fixate on what was missing or wasn’t working, and fall into an abyss of anxiety, depression and despair. Of course, that’s a simplified way of looking at things.

However, that way of looking at things, later probably saved my life. When I found out I had 60% lung capacity, I could’ve sat in a chair and have everything done for me because I was sick. However, I thought about how singers and brass musicians have increased lung capacity. That gave me the idea that if I worked on the 60%, I did have instead of fixating on the 40% that was missing, , I might just have enough. So, how you respond to a situation can ultimately make a huge difference to you, as all those small steps and little decisions add up.

Anxiety

Edvard Munch: Anxiety.

Like virtually all the artists I have written to thus far, Edvard Munch had his battles, and it is no secret he lived with mental health challenges, most likely bipolar disorder. You immediate see these two extremes of mood when you put The Scream and his mural The Sun side by side:

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychosis is based on his own diary descriptions of visual and auditory hallucinations, a multiply documented instance of his travelling throughout Europe manifesting manic disrupted behavior that culminated in his shooting two joints off the ring finger of his left hand, and his psychiatric hospitalization in 1908 for an intensification of auditory hallucinations, depression, and suicidal urges. He also suffered from bouts of alcoholism. However, when you read about his extensive experience of familial death and grief, it also makes me wonder how much they contributed to his heightened state.

Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Löten, Norway, the second of five children. In 1864, Munch moved with his family to the city of Oslo, where his mother died in 1868 of tuberculosis, when Munch was only five years old.

“I find it difficult to imagine an afterlife, such as Christians, or at any rate many religious people, conceive it, believing that the conversations with relatives and friends interrupted here on earth will be continued in the hereafter”

Edvard Munch

This marked the beginning of a series of family tragedies, which would’ve given Munch a very intimate experience of deep, prolonged suffering. His sister, Sophie, also died of tuberculosis, in 1877 at the age of 15; another of his sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness; and his only brother died of pneumonia at age 30. Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, interpreted these tragedies as acts of divine punishment. This powerful matrix of chance, tragic events and their fatalistic interpretation left a lifelong impression on the young artist, and contributed decisively to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability[1].

Moreover, it would be interesting to look at parallels between Munch and author Roald Dahl, who was also Norwegian and experienced similar family losses and developed a dark, almost sinister current through his writing.

The Scream

which scream is best

“Painting picture by picture, I followed the impressions my eye took in at heightened moments. I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see. Hence the simplicity of the paintings, their emptiness.”

Edvard Munch

Essentially The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through the air while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. Munch recorded his initial conception in 1891: “I was walking along the road with two of my friends. Then, the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My  friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.[2]” (Heller RH: Edvard Munch: The Scream. New York, Viking Press, 1972, p. 109) [3]

There are actually five versions of The Scream. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910) and a pastel version from 1893. The fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction in 1912. Also in 1895, Munch created a lithograph stone of the image, which is my personal preference. It’s so graphic.

In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless being in the foreground, was inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch might’ve have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was buried in a fetal position with its hands alongside its face, had struck the imagination of Munch’s friend Paul Gauguin. Indeed, it stood as a model for figures in more than twenty of Gauguin’s paintings, among those the central figure in his painting, Human misery (Grape harvest at Arles) and for the old woman at the left in his painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?.

Letter to Edvard Munch

Dear Edvard,

There’s so much I could ask you, but beyond all else, I wanted to thank you for painting The Scream and giving it to the world as a way for all of us experiencing anguish and suffering, can potentially find release.

Did you find release from your personal inner labyrinth when you passed?

Or, were your own words prophetic:

“To die is as if one’s eyes had been put out and one cannot see anything any more. Perhaps it is like being shut in a cellar. One is abandoned by all. They have slammed the door and are gone. One does not see anything and notices only the damp smell of putrefaction.”

I’d love to hear from you and could you please send me a painting of where you are now.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter from Edvard Munch

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Gauguin is feeling rather left out now that I’ve received a letter as well as Van Gogh. Do you think maybe you could send him a letter anyway, even though it breaks the rules of this challenge? You’re such a compassionate soul and I’m sure you could bend the rules a little and just send him a few lines. I’d be mighty grateful. Even in heaven, he can get a bit moody and he and Vincent had another falling it when he tried to read his letter.

Anyway, you Australians are a positive, upbeat bunch. All that sunshine must do wonders for your outlook. I’ve met one of your former Prime Ministers up here…a Malcolm Fraser. He challenged all my gloomy thinking and said: Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it can be delightful.”

I’ve attached a print of a mural I did called “The Sun”. That’s a pretty close approximation of what it’s like here. Oh yes! Much to my surprise, I am able to have loads coffee and chats with my loved ones up here. It’s really very social.

Yours,

Edvard Munch.

sun

Edvard Munch, The Sun

References & Further Reading

[1] http://www.theartstory.org/artist-munch-edvard.htm

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge.

Phew! I somehow made it through the first week of the A-Z Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is: Letters to Dead Artists. This is a sequel to my 2016 theme: Letters to Dead Poets. This was inspired by the tradition of leaving letters on the graves of dead writers, musicians, artists in Paris’s Pere La Chaisse Cemetery which I visited with a group of friends in 1992 as a 22 year old Australian backpacker. We’d all just finished university and I was taking a year off to meander around Europe.

Much of the time, I lived with a family in Heidelberg Germany  who literally took me in off the street. This time in Europe forms the backbone of this series as I did something of an art museum crawl from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to the Alte National Gallerie in Berlin; the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin in Paris, the Uffizi and Accadmia Gallerie in Florence and the British Museum in London. There might’ve been more but that was over 25 years ago.

By the way, I should also mention that my History Honours thesis looked at the arrival of modernist art and literature in Australia and how it clashed with the established cultural elites and efforts to establish and maintain a uniquely Australian culture, which was associated with the bush at the time.

We don’t often have the luxury of reflecting back on the great minds which have influenced us, and helped to make us who we are. In addition to the minds, are the compassionate hearts who’ve taken us in when we’ve been engulfed by the vortex or haunted by horrific memories and nightmares which we can’t really put into words to share with our nearest and dearest. We need a hand and I swear some of these artists, especially Van Gogh, have swept me up and carried me in their arms through hard times and cried my tears.

Another factor influencing this series, is my undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. I was 27 years old when my neurologist finally discovered the harbour in my head, which was putting incredible pressure on just about every part of my brain. Even my sight was affected, as the pressure built up behind my eyes causing nystagmus. Despite this harbour in my head, I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History. I spent nine months overseas, although I was very troubled much of the time. I also wrote well and used to do performance poetry. I read at a number of events in Sydney, but the climax was doing a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin hung out in Paris. Indeed, its proprietor, George Whitman, was a character in his own right. However, by 1995, the hydrocephalus was starting to break its banks and a year later, the ground moved up and down as I walked, I was falling over a lot and my short term memory was shot. It was a huge descent straight into the abyss, especially for someone who’d always valued their brain. Was a thinker. It was a grief that had no sides, and yet my medical report promised a “full recovery”. It just took time.

In typical fashion, my thoughts have gone off on a bit of a wander. However, you stare deeply into Starry Night, Venus de Milo, the Little Dancer, On the Wallaby Track or The Harbour Bridge in Curve, and you’ll be seeing more than sunflowers.

Anyway, here’s a list of last week’s letters:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

When I spotted a world map printed on a cork board, a decided to plot where the artists were born and connect them with ythread of red wool, representing the Red Thread of Fate or Pinyan. Chinese mythology has it that the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. Often, in Japanese and Korean culture, it is thought to be tied around the little finger. According to Chinese legend, the deity in charge of “the red thread” is believed to be Yuè Xià Lǎorén (月下老人), often abbreviated to Yuè Lǎo (月老), the old lunar matchmaker god, who is in charge of marriages. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break. This myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmate or a destined flame.

So, this red thread is now drawing this disparate group of artists from across the world, through different times in history together and who knows what will emerge from that incredible crucible. I can’t wait to reach Z, let the dust settle and see what emerges.

I apologize in advance that these are length posts. However, as you could imagine, mowing down such Everists into a few paragraphs would be a daunting task for experts, let alone a minnow like myself. However, sometimes it takes a minnow to to go where big fish fear to tread.

I hope you enjoy this emerging series.

Here are a couple of links which stood out to me on my travels:

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series

Movie: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh Visits the Gallery | Vincent And The Doctor – YouTube

Dear Vincent – a novel by Mandy Hager (loved it!!)

I hope you learn as much as I am from this series and perhaps consider some of the artists, great and small, who have inspired you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.

If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night

It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.

“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?[1]

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh  Arles, 17 January 1889

Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.

Or, so the story goes…

Meeting Vincent

Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.

In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.

In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.

A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.

Vincent and I were growing closer…

Starry Night MOMA

Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His Paintings

When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.

After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris.  The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.

Van Gogh’s Last Days

Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.

Vincent was only 37 years old.

If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:

Maldives Postage Stamps

Letter to Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.

Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is,  unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).

Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.

Your loving friend,

Rowena

Van Gogh Crows In A Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, Crows in a Wheatfield, Van Gogh Museum.

Letter From Van Gogh

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed.  Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.

By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!

Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.

However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:

“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”

That’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?

Your friend,

Vincent

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

[1] http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/571.htm

http://blog.vangoghgallery.com/index.php/en/2012/07/29/van-gogh-and-gauguins-chairs/

The Yellow House, Arles

 

Further Reading

https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/videos/10159187334010597/

DVD: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

 

 

 

 

D- Edgar Degas…A-Z Challenge.

“And even this heart of mine has something artificial. The dancers have sewn it into a bag of pink satin, pink satin slightly faded, like their dancing shoes.”
― Edgar Degas

Welcome to Day Four of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may recall, my theme this year is “Letters to Dead Artists”. Today, I’ll be writing to so-called French impressionist, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and we will be focusing on his sculpture: the Little Dancer and to a lesser extent, his paintings of dancers.

“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

-Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas is one of those rare individuals who remain an enigma, no matter how far you delve inside their head, or process all the detritus they’ve left behind. While I was initially attracted to his dance works because they reminded me of my young daughter, as I came to learn more about the darker, seedy undertones and implicit prostitution, that all changed. Naturally, I also wanted to extricate my daughter from those associations immediately. That’s clearly not the life I want for her. Yet, that doesn’t change the beauty Degas has captured in these dancers. Moreover, it didn’t change the sense of awe I felt when my daughter performed her first ballet solo on stage recently either. How I saw her moving within that great tradition of ballet, ballerinas, tutus and dreams.

Amelia YIPA Photo

Our Little Dancer

Yet, there were other ways I came to relate to Degas, which were totally unexpected. You see, by 1870 at age of 36 Degas was going blind, which caused him a great deal of anguish. Moreover, he didn’t suffer in silence and his anguish was conveyed in numerous letters:

To Rouart (September 11): “I have In 1888 he wrote to Evariste De Valernes (October 26): “I was or I seemed to be hard with everyone through a sort of passion for brutality, which came from my uncertainty and my bad humour. I felt myself so badly made, so badly equipped, so weak, whereas it seemed to me, that my calculations on art were so right. I brooded against the whole world and against myself… I found in you again the same vigorous mind, the same vigorous and steady hand, and I envy you your eyes which will enable you to see everything until the last day. Mine will not give me this joy; I can scarcely read the papers a little and in the morning, when I reach my studio, if I have been stupid enough to linger somewhat over the deciphering, I can no longer get down to work.”

1891: Degas can no longer see well enough to read. He begins treatment under the famous Swiss ophthalmologist, Edmund Landolt.

1893, to Valernes (undated): “…I am dreading a stay in my room, without work, without being able to read, staring into space. My sight too is changing, for the worse. I am pitying myself, so that you may know that you are not the only unhappy person… With regard to writing, ah! my friends can scarcely count on me. Just imagine that to re-read, re-read what I write to you, would present such difficulty, even with the magnifying glass, that I should give it up after the first lines.”

Degas The Ballet Class Musee d'Orsay

Edgar Degas, The Ballet Class, Musee D’Orsay.

In an eerie coincidence, when I was also 36, my muscles started wasting away. However, it wasn’t until my diagnosis in August 2007 18 grueling months later, that I found out what was going on. By this point, I couldn’t dress myself, roll over in bed or even pull the doona over myself. Indeed, six weeks before my diagnosis, I fell at home and much to my horror, couldn’t get up again. I was lying face down on the floor alone with the kids and in so much pain. It was very tempting to give up, especially as I’d tripped over the broom my son had left on the floor and I was so angry. Hurt. Indeed, if ever there was a time I felt defeated, this was it. However, I guess the incredibility of the situation must have hit me. Why couldn’t I get myself up? Had I been snaffled up into a bad dream? Clearly not, so I’d just had to grab myself by the boot straps and get going. I managed to shuffle into the kitchen on my backside and much to my amazement, the cordless phone was in reach. I rang my husband at work, and he recommended I lever myself up with a chair. It worked and my day continued as usual. I didn’t even call the doctor. However, I did give a friend a key to my front door!

Having a condition which fluctuates, or gradually deteriorates, is very different to having a situation like an accident, for example, where you might have a clear cut change. It makes it very difficult to reach an ongoing point of acceptance, because the status quo is always changing.

So, I know that sense of fear. I know his desperation to find anything which might stop the inevitable. Yet, like Degas, I’ve also tried to make the most of what I’ve got and carpe diem seize the day. Indeed, living with something precious which is slipping away, really helps you savour every second. Degas kept painting and sculpting as long as he could, and once that was impossible he went on long walks around Paris, as if releasing that energy through his feet.

Indeed, not long before his death, he was filmed walking through Paris: Degas Walking Through Paris 1915

Now, before I actually write to Edgar Degas, I thought I’d better share a few details about The Little Dancer.

The Little Dancer

“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.”

Isadora Duncan

Perhaps, you have seen the statue of the Little Dancer in your travels. However, I would like to make it clear that the bronze statue that we see today, isn’t the same Little Dancer which Degas displayed at the 1881 Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. Rather, it is a bronze which was cast in 1920 after Degas’s death. In recent years, a controversial plaster cast of the Little Dancer has come to light, which according to Dr Gregory Hedberg, could be closer to the original sculpture.  I highly recommend you watch this lecture, which is very much like a forensic report. It blew me away.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pr3OYfY0zc&feature=youtu.be

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Edgar Degas:

My Letter to Degas

Dear Degas,

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you’ve back from the dead for the day so you can read this letter and give me some sort of reply. The bad news is that we have no money and so we’ll be “tumbleweeds” sleeping on the floor at the Shakespeare Bookshop. I don’t know if the requirements have changed since I gave a reading here, but I think we’ll have to help out in the bookshop and read a book while we’re here. You might even like to read Dr Gregory Hedberg’s book: Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The Earlier Version That Helped Spark the Birth of Modern Art. As for myself, I’m going to re-read Anais’s Nin’s Henry and June. I read it when I was last in Paris and let’s just say I wasn’t in a good way.

While we could talk at length about our respective medical struggles, I would much rather take you to the Musee D’orsay and ask you what you think of the Litter Dancer as she appears today? Is she your Little Dancer and does she bare any resemblance to the statute which appeared at the Impressionist Exhibition in 1881? I have my doubts. Also, as much as I’m pleased we can still enjoy a Little Dancer, I’m not sure about the ethics of putting her on public display without your consent. You are clearly a meticulous and precise man and from what I can gather, you weren’t happy with how she ended up. I don’t know if you kept trying to change her and touch her up and something went wrong, like someone who has had too much plastic surgery. The other concern I have is that was seemingly altered after you’d turned blind and weren’t working much at all. Perhaps, I’ve got that wrong. I’m trying to get my head around some pretty complex details on the fly, and I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out.

Anyway, could you please let me know what you think of the Little Dancer.

Meanwhile, I’m off for a walk. You’re not the only one who loves to walk the streets of Paris.

Warm regards,

Rowena

A Reply From Degas

Dear Rowena,

My time on earth was brief, but that wretched dancer is eternal. I’d locked her up. She was never meant to see the light of day. Now, all my mistakes are being portrayed as my greatest work. My inner world has been turned inside out, and is out on public display. There’s nothing left to call my own. Rowena, my only advice to upcoming artists, is to save yourself from the vultures. Light a match before you die.

Meet me Musee d’Orsay midnight. I’ve found a van.

Yours,

Degas

The Unbelievable Lightness of Being.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Today, our daughter performed a ballet solo for the very first time on stage.

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As a self-confessed thundering elephant, it is hard to believe that any child of mine could possibly move with grace, poise and become a ballerina, even if she is still just a Ballerina-in-Progress and she’s dancing with L plates. That said, when our Miss dances, she’s as light as a feather, almost lighter than air.

“I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living…. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”
― Martha Graham

It’s funny thinking of that because our home life is anything but “light” and she carries a huge emotional burden thanks to a devil of an auto-immune disease called dermatomyositis, which was triggered by her birth. So, all her life, I haven’t been well, although that said, we’ve re-calibrated “well” and have our own definition.

It is incredible to think of all that humans have achieved despite, or perhaps even because of, the great burden they carry. You hear endless stories of rugged survival, and yet too often we focus on the negative. That said, I don’t know how you go through a trauma and come out with post-traumatic growth, NOT post-traumatic stress. That intrigues me.

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion. ”
― Martha Graham

Anyway, I find watching dance very cathartic, especially contemporary dance. In many ways, this isn’t surprising because the choreography is based on the contractions of childbirth…contract and release and this provides a great vehicle for dealing with any negative emotion as well. You scrunch it up tight like a ball of paper, and then you throw it across the room. Well, I couldn’t be entirely sure that’s exactly what choreographer, Martha Graham, had in mind but it seems cathartic to me.

When I was younger, I self-published an anthology of poetry called: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth. Fortunately, I haven’t been locked in there for the last thirty years, and escaped some time ago. Yet, watching dance also provides an outlet. Moreover, whenever I am lucky enough to dip my big toe into dancing at the adult classes, I also get to extend that further. Given my limited mobility and health issues, I appreciate the ability to move unimpeded so much more. My limbs don’t go into flights of fancy unless I’ve tripped over a crack in the footpath and crash landed.

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Getting back to my daughter’s performance today, it’s quite strange when you know this beautiful, elegant dancer off-stage and she’s just a kid. At least, she was just a kid. As I looked through the lens today, it was hard to see my girl through the tutu, the makeup, the hair and it was like she’d slipped inside a second skin and was playing dress ups. Well, that’s sort of true because I also know that the ballerina, is now a part of her and has somehow melted in.

Yet, as much as her performance exuded poise and elegance, there’s always behind the scenes. We couldn’t find her music CD and tore her room apart multiple times trying to find it and we didn’t. Teachers are a wonderful thing!

Another funny moment, was when she sat beside me in the theatre. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat next to someone wearing a tutu? They might look pretty, poised and elegant, but they also take up three seats and heaven help you if you sit on the tutu! Then, you could well meet Grumpy Ballerina.

I don’t know where any of this is heading and I try not to think too far ahead. The plan at the moment is to get some audition practice, which will stand her in good stead for whatever she ends up doing. These build up both your skills and resilience and also help get your mother (or whatever taxi you depend on) organized.

Do you enjoying dancing yourself? Or, are you more part of the audience? Or, perhaps dance feels rather foreign and is not your thing. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The featured image comes from the YIPA Facebook page.

 

 

“Speak even if your voice is shaking”…

The terrible thing is that for every person who takes their life, there are others just hanging on to the very edge of the abyss by the skin of their fingertips. Moreover, we often don’t find out who they are until it’s too late.

On January 3, 2018 a young Australian teenager “Dolly” Everett tragically took her life in response to cyber bullying.

At the time, I was quite surprised that this young woman would be a victim of any kind of bullying, let alone something bad enough that this was her only escape. She was a very attractive young woman, who had modeled for Akubra Hats. I don’t know. I guess it just goes to show that nobody’s immune to being bullied or its consequences.

In the days before she passed, Dolly drew a young dancer with the heading: “Speak even if your voice is shaking” and these words are now being used in a media campaign to tackle cyberbullying and bullying in general.

However, Dolly’s words came back to me today in a different context. That her advice doesn’t just apply to people experiencing bullying, but about also enduring other trials and bottling their feelings up.

After all, it’s not easy to find the words to express yourself when you’re stuck in a labyrinth. It’s not easy to reach out and say you’re not okay. To go beyond that socially acceptable “fine”, when someone asks you how you are, even when you’re feeling shattered.

I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
Because boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry…

The Cure

I don’t know whether we ourselves are holding it all in, or whether it’s what society expects. Turning back the clock a bit, there was that classic song by The CureBoys Don’t Cry However, while our society has encouraged men to be more emotional, I suspect it’s also pushed women to be more controlled and to adopt the stiff upper lip. What do you think? I certainly don’t want to break down and cry. No, I’ll soldier on. Keep smiling… sunny side up. I don’t know whether it’s a case of denial or acceptance, but there isn’t a manual for how to keep living year after year with a severe life-threatening medical condition either from my own point of view, or from that of my family. We just keep going, because we have to and because we want to. I don’t want to die before I’m dead!!

DSC_9074

Yet, through Dolly’s words, I’ve also realized that I’ve been silent. That I haven’t been speaking up, and we as a family haven’t spoken about the elephant in the room for quite awhile. After all, we’ve been living with it for 12 years now, and it’s starting to look like we’ve established some kind of mutual stand off. That it has its part of the house, while we have ours. Yet, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That it’s not here and sometimes moves so close that I can feel it’s breath against my skin. I start to scream. Feel my life slipping away. Then, somehow the storm has passed, and we’ve back to calm seas and endless blue skies.

Yet, as hard as it is to speak when your voice is shaking, it’s not always easy to write about it either. Indeed, for the past couple of nights, I’ve been typing randomly into my computer hoping to unravel the wound up spring inside. Work out what’s eating me alive, when everyone else is asleep. What’s wrong.

Rowena sun

Here I am at Railway Park, Byron Bay.

 

It always seems to come back to this. I live with a neuro-muscular, autoimmune disease called Dermatomyositis, which has spread to my lungs causing fibrosis. I look perfectly fine most of the time on the outside. However, if my lungs were my face, you’d barely see my eyes through the scar tissue. Yet, I breathe. I walk. Play the violin and sometimes dance. I also love and hug my husband , my children, my Mum and Dad and the puppy dogs. I have a rich and beautiful life jam packed with love. More over, I am also able to give and care for those around me. Put my arms around the broken-hearted, and shelter them from life’s storms. Try to help them feel loved. Indeed, even in the face of all my health issues, I strongly feel that my time on the planet has only just begun, and couldn’t be about to end any time soon.

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But these are the words, the feelings, the fears, I carry on my shoulders like Atlas, because I don’t want anyone else to worry. I don’t want them to be afraid. I especially don’t want my kids growing up wondering when Mummy’s going to die. It’s much better to keep those thoughts to myself, although given my frequent coughing attacks, they must also have their doubts. I’ve been stuck gasping for air too many times and desperately holding onto that Ventolin for them not to be freaking out.

Yet, how long is a piece of string? No one knows. Not even those who think they know, get it right. Dying seems to be a very complex equation. Indeed, this week we saw death’s contrariness personified in the death of Stephen Hawking at 78 years of age, when he was supposed to die in his twenties.

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So, there is no crystal ball. You can’t predict when your number’s going to come up and to me, it’s all starting to look rather random.

So, what can we do?

I guess that’s where I thoroughly believe in Carpe Diem…Seize the Day. You need to be thankful for what’s going well and you do need to find an outlet, some way you can share those challenging days and emotions and know that your concerns will be taken seriously, respected and that someone will respond in exactly the way that is right for you…be it a hug, a bunch of flowers, a card, a poem.

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Now, I’m going to turn this around and throw the challenge back to you the bystander…”Speak even when your voice is shaking”. I have also been in the situation many times where someone I’m close to is sailing way too close to the wind.When  I know life is excruciatingly painful, and they could well pull the pin. Again, there seems to be no manual for what to say in this instance either. If you’re anything like me, you can get tied up in knots trying to think of the right thing to say. What to do. “I dunno!” Surely, something is better than nothing. A stutter or an awkward stumble, is better than silence.

In Australia, we have “R U OK Day”. This is a fantastic idea because it at least provides some kind of way to start that awkward conversation.

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That said, once we’ve asked the question, we need to be able to leave room for the consequences. Make sure we have enough time to listen. Moreover,  I believe most of us should have some basic understanding of how to handle a mental health crisis. Anyone of us could be that first responder and you’re not always in a position to call 000 or 911. I have been in this situation and I must admit that I had the peace of God around me at the time, because I am not a calm person.

As a parent of teenagers, this is a huge concern. Not just for me, but all parents of teens and all who love and care for them.

This takes me back to something Dolly Everitt’s Dad said:

“Be honest with your kids. If you can’t connect with them for whatever reason that may be, find someone that can. They’ll always have a mate they’ll always have a little buddy somewhere that knows more than mum and dad.”

– Tick Everitt

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So, I apologise that my thoughts have wandered but I don’t profess to have the answers. I just have the questions. Yet, I’m thinking. I’m trying to find a better way to handle my own hard yards, and also to reach out and be there for those within my sphere. After all, I’m only human. The rest is in God’s hands.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments, but if something is troubling you, I encourage you to turn to someone where you live who can truly be there for you.

Love and best wishes,

Rowena

PS You would think that by broadcasting my thoughts on the World Wide Web that those closest to me emotionally and also in proximity would also be the wiser. That they’d read my confessional on my blog and know what’s in my heart and mind. However, there is that cyber divide and my family rarely reads my blog. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if they knew a very different me, and for those of you who also blog extensively, that this is the same for you. This is important for us to keep in mind, just as it is for parents to be aware that they don’t know what they’re children are sharing online or how they’re being treated. There are two worlds.

More About the Photos

The photos which appear in this post were taken in August, 2011 in the Railway Park at Byron Bay, NSW. Byron Bay is a stunning coastal town with such amazing natural beauty, a striking lighthouse and since the 60s, it’s been a magnet for hippies and alternative lifestylers. People who are troubled, searching and potentially experiencing mental health issues go to Byron Bay to clear their head and yet their issues only follow.

We have taken our kids to the climbing tree whenever we’ve gone to Byron Bay to stay with Geoff’s sister and family. It is our home away from home. Or, at least it was when we could get away more often.

This climbing tree is rather special because it’s fallen on its side so kids can climb it easily and given the hippy vibe of the area, it’s not surprising that people tie scarves and ribbons in the tree. We’ve even found an empty milk crate suspended from a rope.

However, on two separate occasions many years apart, we met  a lady, Mama Dee who was painting the tables and chairs and decorating the tree as a tribute to local youth who had taken their lives. Indeed, her son had accidentally died in the park through an overdose of prescription drugs. She wanted to honour all these precious young people and also brighten up the park for children and make the place happy.

I hope her gift of love will also touch your hearts as it has moved mine.