On not making art, The Sound of Sleat and other Musings.

It has been a long time since I wrote anything to publish on my art related social media outlets. I am often reminded of that fact by the non-human masters of those sites. Automated messages can be so annoying, they remind us that we can feel guilty in the stasis the human condition can put us in.

Oddly though I haven’t felt guilty about not publishing, instead I seem to have been focused on looking inwards. I feel perplexed at what I see when I look inwards. I try to map the landscape being formed inside this mind from the seismic shift of loss caused by death, loss and dismantling of solidity from before death to the alien landscape of after.

It’s an odd place to be, in the gaps, the interstice of the place I was and the place I will be. Externally it must look as if I am still the landscape of before with just a few external changes, but the seismic shift and re-ordering of the internal landscape is huge even if it is hidden.

Oddly I get markers for my map every now and then. One of the latest markers is from a web site that allows it’s ‘members’ to ask questions and anyone signed up to the site is then invited to answer. I cannot recall how I ended up signed up to the site but that’s a different story. However, dropped into my email box was a question about what an artist does with all the paintings they have made and not sold as the artist reaches their later years and start to think about what happens to their lifetime works. I’ll come back to that later.

I’ve been without a physical studio for some time now. It is another transition that has landed me in the need to project manage something I never ever intended to project manage, but that is also a different story.
The content of my studio is in store and is accumulating dust, paintings are well wrapped up, but still their wrappings are gathering dust. The dusty content of my studio store, the tools of my trade, the stock of paintings, sometimes feels like a metaphor for what is happening to me.

I’ve recently been to Skye. For years I had wanted to go and the desire to go increased exponentially around the Millennium after I’d bought a used book titled The Sound of Sleat, An Artist’s Life. It was about the artist Jon Schueler (Sound in this context for those who may not know, is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord; or a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land.).

I recall that when I bought the book it had been more to do with the way the title played in my head, after all there is quite a distinct sound when it sleets and I loved the poetry of it.

When I’d taken the book home and showed it to my husband, Alberto, eventually mentioning to him I wanted to go to Sleat one day, he said he’d also like come with me.

It didn’t matter to me that the artist Schueler had lived on the mainland overlooking the Sound, he knew Skye and I wanted to see Sleat from Skye.
Years went by without a visit to Skye and eventually Alberto was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Any travel became difficult so I for him so the choice was made to take Alberto back to where he was born for the last time, where he had lived until he was eleven years old and where his sister still lived in Tuscany Italy. Alberto died in January 2018.

Suddenly from being Alberto’s full time carer (caregiver), there was only space: time seemed to take a shift sideways and I felt and still feel I’m a disconnected observer of a world where humans invest in so much dross, often seemingly without the realisation of the futile pathos of it.
At times I function very well, other times not so well. I am still passionate for what I think is right or against what I think is wrong so I must appear as I’ve always appeared but… there is a difference.

I wonder if the disconnect I’ve tried to describe is a permanent one? I’ve asked myself, is it purely the result of losing a lifetime companion or is it age? I’m officially old, 70 but am told I look more sixty (ha, seems I have some remnants of vanity!) yet there is a difference in my internal perception.

I’d like to have people queuing up to buy my paintings and maybe if I were to do more (or even anything) about marketing I might be able to make that happen but alas that is not where my interest is. My paintings are already in private collections in different Continents so at least I know that I won’t die without ever having sold anything. In the art world nothing is as romantic as the myths people like to imagine, poor Vincent and all that. His work did not suddenly become a must have after his death until an astute marketing campaign swung into action.

Whether I do or do not find people beating a path to my studio door (when I have a studio door to answer) their part in the proceedings is not the raison d’etre for my paintings. I make the paintings because each one is a voyage of discovery and is part of my making meaning. Externally that reason might seem futile but is only as futile as life itself. Making my own meaning works better for me than searching a lifetime for some supposed Nirvana.

Please do not misunderstand me, I love it when people see something in a painting I’ve made and want to buy. It means I have connected with another in some fundamental way, and it means I do not have to store the painting. That brings me back to the question about what an artist does with all the paintings they have made and not sold when the artist reaches their later years. There are many answers to that question, many of them inherently also full of pathos.

I have heard people say they would like this or that artwork but could not afford it. Value is a funny thing, we have many different ‘values’ in the many meanings of the word value. How do we value something? Cost? Or something precious such as a love of another person? A painting is a luxury item if we consider we can do without it in our lives. Is a car a luxury item or any of the other accoutrements of modern living, (I’d personally hate being without a car as it represents the freedom to when and where I want).

I’ve taken this from http://mentalfloss.com/article/82874/10-writers-and-artists-who-wanted-their-work-destroyed : ‘During his lifetime Kafka only published a handful of shorter works, which gained modest critical attention. Plagued by self-doubt, Kafka burned a huge amount of his own writing and, aware that his fragile health was failing, he asked his good friend Max Brod, who was to be his literary executor, to destroy any unfinished manuscripts on his death, unread. Kafka died from tuberculosis at the age of 41 in 1924, and Brod, feeling that Kafka’s writings deserved to be shared, went against his wishes. Thanks to Brod, Kafka’s most important works were published, including The Trial in 1925, The Castle in 1926, and Amerika in 1927.’
If you haven’t read The Trial by Kafka I recommend it for reading in the current crazy world we inhabit.
I also recommend the above web site to see what others have wished for their work.

I took my copy of the Sound of Sleat to Skye with me, it seemed the right thing to do It was a Pilgrimage.

Whether Jon Schuler is remembered for his paintings or for the book, or is not remembered is not relevant in this context. What was relevant for me is that a connection was made because of it. I had found reading his account rather depressing but it still touched me. We have the ability to be sad for lots of reasons. We also need to recognize the reasons to be happy.

A friend came on the journey too and we had many laughs, it was like having a sat-nav with built in bon mots for the poor driving mistakes we saw on too many occasions (she says we only see them, not make them!).

I don’t know what will happen to any work that survives me, let’s face it, I won’t know and won’t be in a position to care. It gives me huge satisfaction that some of my work is ‘out there’ and enjoyed by those who have it. It’s rather nice to have some recognition for the efforts one makes in life but it isn’t the thing that ends up bothering me too much. What bothers me that I need better storage and will continue to do so because I will be making more paintings! I want to go on with work that was interrupted when I had to leave my old studio.

Thank you for understanding

I am determined to smile, to laugh when something amuses me, I show photos of those times.

The other times are there but they aren’t the ones that are photographed, they are the times when sudden tears seem to come from nowhere even when I’m having a great day, the sudden feeling that I can’t cope even when everything I’m doing, is coping. There is fear, I’m so scared at times, the night anxieties and bad dreams even when I know I appear to be strong.

One thing I decided for this year is that I cannot ‘be there’ for everyone, I can only really be there for a very few and even that isn’t as much as I would like, I’m having a job to ‘be there’ for myself.

My psychic reservoir is so depleted so most of the time I’m running on empty. This does not mean I don’t care, or love, or want things to be better for the people I’m connected to, it just means I am running on empty.

I am so very grateful for all the care and love from people that have an understanding of how it is. At the same time I know there are some that want more from me, I’m sorry that I cannot give you what you want. I spent years caring for Alberto, then after he died I promised myself a year before I made any major decisions. Decisions such as do I want to stay living in this house (have to anyway until it’s finished to a degree that it could go on the market), or not?

I know I do want to continue working at my painting but even that has been thwarted for a while. I’ll get through, not around, not over, not under, just through. I guess I’m saying please don’t be too upset if you wanted something from me I couldn’t give. I’ve also had disappointments and have to square those away, life really is too short.

I’ll be 70 next month and like so many before me I think how the heck did I get to be that age?! I’m tired but there is a little energy rising and I sure need it and will need it as the days of this year roll inexorably by. Thank you for understanding.

Studio roof in the early morning sunlight.

Don’t push people into a corner, or be careful when you threaten Russia

We must be very careful about our actions, for they can produce consequences we did not intend.

I’m thinking of the bigger picture here with the UK threatening Russia about a chemical attack on two Russian  based in Salisbury, England.  However to illustrate how easy it is to get exactly what you don’t want when by making different decisions you might have got something closer to an outcome you wanted or one at least more acceptable to you.

We moved house. We moved from a house we adored. We had no choice but to move because of a set of circumstances created when we became victims of the fraudster Giovanni di Stefano.

By the time I realized our beloved home would have to be sold my husband was already suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. Our home included a studio that I’d used as my painting studio.

I also rented a really large studio space in a Napoleonic complex in another village. There were several benefits to having the space in that complex and I loved it. It was also good to have a separate space when it came to selling the house, it meant that I still had my workspace and back then I couldn’t have known how drastic my husband’s deterioration would be and to what degree my life would be taken over with his care.

In Alzheimer’s there is a time when the sufferer can no longer be left alone. That time became apparent when my previously very capable husband was attempting a DIY job I didn’t know he was going to attempt. It was to put a finishing edge to a counter top but he left the trim edge to heat close to a gas hob then forgot about it. Fortunately I arrived home and realized the utility room was on fire. With the whole house smoke alarm screaming while hubs was saying the smoke alarm was faulty, and I knew it wasn’t I was just able to catch the fire and put it out before the time I’d have needed the fire brigade.

I had a buyer for our house so needed somewhere to move quickly. If it had become necessary I would have put the furniture in store and found temporary accommodation but that would have been unsettling for my husband. I wanted to stay in the same village that was familiar for hubs and also where we have family.

I bought a house that was not on the open market, it was and is in a lovely position with views across a field to the church. The field had just been changed from being the Glebe field to an extension to a public space. The garden had some leylandii trees and planting on the space I wanted to build the studio, so there was not much of a view for neighbours across it.

The house was much smaller than our old home and it did not have studio space but it did have space to build an extension and studio. I’d figured out that within the downsizing budget there would be enough to make the house very much ours and give me a studio. Then the studio became more urgent because I, along with others in the complex, was given notice to quit. It was problematic as I had nowhere to keep my studio contents and had to put them into store. I figured I could keep a close enough eye on hubs and still be able to work in a studio at home a few steps away from the kitchen but hadn’t wanted to leave the other studio until a new one was available.

I knew we’d need planning permission……..

I was very careful to find a good architect and worked with him on ideas. We went ahead with plans. There were some physical considerations that meant those plans had to be changed but we ended up with a design that was a good one… It had elements of contemporary design that we felt would fit in with the area but still be of its time. It was a design that in the house extension part very much allowed for hub’s likely deterioration and encompassed what his needs would be.

To cut a long story short. The planning process was painful. The outcome was that we got the permission for the studio then the house extension was refused but subsequently won on appeal.

When the architect had come up with the designs and especially with a copper roof I had loved the idea of that roof, but while not the main objection, the roof was to end up being one of the points the main objector seized on when the other objections were over-ruled or invalidated. The objector wanted a standard roof.

My comments to the architect at the beginning before the plans went in was that if it was to prove too expensive we could change the roof covering for something not so expensive. With a basic planning permission it wouldn’t have been difficult to do that.

What should have been a fairly straight forward process became a long drawn-out stressful one during which time my husband‘s condition deteriorated faster than we could have imagined. The last year that should at least have been free from the stresses the planning threw up was more than a little difficult. By now with help from my son I was full time carer. We had no outside help even when my husband became bed-bound.  We managed to convert a ground floor room into a bedroom and wet room which helped enormously but he only had the use of that for a few weeks. Four days before he died we had wonderful help but only for four days.

The costs involved in fighting the planning, the urgency to get hub’s wetroom/bedroom done, the overall care costs, even with me as carer, have depleted the building fund. The time factor alone has seen costs of materials spiral, the costs of a funeral at least three years before we expected it, and other considerations means I’m struggling to put the power and water to the studio and the finishes to the studio roof. And that’s without the house extension. But here’s the rub, maybe if someone hadn’t have seized on the roof type as the main thing that they felt could be a valid objection (remember it was overturned) then maybe I’d have just put tiles on, Now it would mean going back to more planning and the hassle of that is just too much.  So I guess I’m saying is don’t push people into a corner.

Like most things this will all become just so much water under the bridge. I’ve had condolence cards from the majority of my neighbours including the main objectors to the planning applications, and I welcomed those.

I had moved home to make things less stressful in my husband’s last years and ultimately if my decision wasn’t the right one then it’s down to me with a bit of fate thrown in. My point here is that you do not know what unintended results your actions might have, so think very carefully before you make a move. That’s advice the present Government might consider.

Do not assume, listen.

Do not assume you know how I am feeling.

Some synonyms for the word assume are: guess, speculate, presume, estimate, suspect, conclude. I would personally add the word ‘judge’ to the list.

Listening is an art. I’ve known that for years and even though I have often failed it is still my desire to do it better.

I made a series of paintings called States of Listening.

This is an extract from what I wrote about them at the time:

‘In conversations between people the listening part is often done in a distracted way.  We the listener often do not really hear what is said, because in our head we might be preoccupied with planning what we are going to say, or even with what we are having for dinner.  External distractions can also occupy part of our attention.  The result is we might hear the other’s words, but not the deeper meaning and so experience the conversation as just so much white noise.  So listening is done at different rates and there are punctuated layers to listening.’

Since Alberto, my husband of 54 years died in January 2018 I’ve had many expressions of condolences and love, I’ve always believed that people are mostly fundamentally kind, and they have been.

I used to think that there was a cultural difficulty in expressing sorrow at a death and sympathy for the bereaved and maybe there is, however I think the difficulty is more than that. There is an impatience to listening. If we stop our own internal chatter long enough to listen to another person express how they are really feeling, it seems as if we might hear something we do not want to hear. Perhaps we are afraid that we are not up to helping with the sort of pain and sadness that is being described, perhaps we don’t want to be drawn in to their sadness. Sadness can be contagious and who really wants to be sad?

The response to the fear of being drawn in seems to be to quickly offer what is a shared experience, to tell your own story.

Think about it, if you fall down and scrape your knee, does someone telling you they did the same thing a week, a month, a year ago stop your knee from hurting? Does your knee stop hurting? Do you feel better at that moment knowing someone hurt their knee sometime in the past?  Or does that just compound the pain because now you have to show courage that you don’t feel and tell yourself, ‘now I know that, my knee isn’t hurting as much as it is’, or do you feel guilt that you weren’t there when they fell down, weren’t there to help pick them up?

To date the best condolences I’ve received are the simple expressions of love or straight forward telling of personal stories about Alberto. I’ve had people really, really listen. And I’m so grateful for that.

The worst are probably from those who only see from outside but assume they know what our lives were like.

Even without bereavement we all engage in this to some degree, I mean engage in assumptions. We see the externals of other people’s lives. Lives that may look the idyll or at least something we consider close to it, but there is an old adage for that; walk a mile in another’s shoes.

Some expressions of condolences have left me with my jaw dropped, or more colloquially, gob-smacked. It is hard to deal with those for I know that they are delivered with the best of intentions.

A youngish assistant Bank Manager started off OK with straight forward condolences but then went and ruined it by being as obsequious as only Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) could be in the Comedy Rising Damp. I know it was done with the best of intentions, it felt like it came straight out of Bank Management training school and half-way through in my head I was saying ‘shut the f**k up!

Steam was let off with that particular episode as we left the bank in silence when son #2 who was accompanying me said ‘Why didn’t he just ‘shut the f**k’ up! I laughed because it totally echoed the words that had been in my head. That sequence will be added to family tales.

The other difficult one was from someone I had a slight acquaintance with. This lady knew Alberto had suffered with Alzheimer’s and knew I’d been his carer. I know she has had tough times and I know she most certainly wouldn’t have wanted to cause any kind of hurt or extra sadness. In fact she wasn’t so far off how I thought I would feel after the trauma of seeing Alberto deteriorate over the previous four years, but thinking you know how you will feel and feeling how you feel are two different things. Firstly, she mentioned sad times and offered condolences which was fine but then I was floored to hear her say ‘I expect you’ve finished grieving’. I replied, no I haven’t.

We cannot know what another is experiencing, we can guess, speculate, presume, estimate, suspect, conclude, assume, but we cannot know.

We can listen, really listen and if we cannot do that well enough, if we feel the need to insert our own story prematurely, then I like to remind myself of the Wittgenstein quote I used in my long ago University Thesis:  “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

(0020) States of Listening #1- Acrylic on canvas - 122 x 153 cm (49 x 60 inches approx) Linda Sgoluppi

States of Listening #1 – Acrylic on canvas – 122 x 153 cm – Linda Sgoluppi

states-of-listening-1-detail-a_620x3000

States of Listening #1 – Detail – Acrylic on canvas – 122 x 153 cm – Linda Sgoluppi

 

(22) States of Listening #3 -Acrylic on canvas - 122 x 153 cm (49 x 60 inches approx) Linda Sgoluppi

States of Listening #3 – Acrylic on canvas – 122 x 153 cm – Linda Sgoluppistates-of-listening-4-detail Linda Sgoluppi-a_620x3000

States of Listening #3 –  Detail – Acrylic on canvas – 122 x 153 cm – Linda Sgoluppi

Will-o’-the-wisp

Sometimes plans are dreams, and letting go of our plans, our dreams is painful. We have small plans and we have big ones.

Small ones might be just for the coming day, having coffee with a cherished friend, buying a new book, ticking something off a to-do list or just getting a few peaceful moments or being in the company of family.

Big plans are usually for the beyond-today-future’. A holiday, a special occasion, a home alteration, the list is endless. Sometimes those plans are solid, quite often some are not. We can have plans that are almost will-o’-the-wisp somethings, like a plan to make a plan, an ethereal idea we have in the back of our heads for some future time. Plans are our own inner head narrative, the story we map out for ourselves.

We need our plans, if we didn’t plan we would not function, we plan to get out of bed in the morning, or not, we plan to have breakfast, or not.

We invest so much in our personal plans, our personal dreams, we can feel triumph when they fit our narrative and we can feel great disappointment when they do not. There are external forces that have an impact on our plans, on our dreams.

Our plans often have some sort of nirvana element, as in when and if they are reached things will be as we want them to be. Look further than that though, and there is often an objective beyond our plan, so that if we reach that objective this or that will happen, we will be happy, we will have what we want. Sometimes that can happen, but often we aren’t that clear about what we want so the dream scoots further away.

Stuff happens, stuff that disappoints us, stuff that makes us feel we failed, stuff that breaks our hearts, stuff that does not fit our inner narrative.

It takes a lot to make new plans, new dreams, how do we let go of the old and start building new ones? What happens in the interstice, the time between the old and the time before the new? We seem to be in that empty space where even a rabbit in a headlight looks more comfortable that we feel. That is the toughest of times.

 

 

Until such time as my studio build can be finished my studio contents are in storage waiting for me to claim them.

Studio storage - Linda Sgoluppi

Crying on Cadar Idris

I’ve done some daft things in my life but this photo I took reminds me of what might have been the daftest and somewhat dangerous.

It is of Cader Idris in Snowdonia. I wanted to go to the top but never seemed to be with anyone that would go, and once tried but got the wrong place to start and ended up losing my specs and eventually gave up. So while staying alone in Wales I drove to the right base then set off up.

I know now there is an ‘easy’ route and a ‘harder’ route. Useful if you know about those but I didn’t so just took off. Turns out I didn’t take either of those routes and managed to find an almost impossible one but I was too far up the almost impossible before I got to a point of sitting down and crying. I was scared, going down can be a lot tougher than going up, and going up was getting more than difficult. I was in agony from a spinal problem and sitting on a tiny rock knowing that whatever I did, up or down, was beyond me.

I thought of the shame of being so stupid but even so I considered calling for mountain rescue help if my phone would work (old fashioned phone and also no guarantee of signal), I thought of the waste of resources for the rescue team, so I just sat there, exhausted. Then the little voice inside started to berate me telling me ‘you started so you finish blah blah blah’. I took painkillers with a drop of water and after a while I started up again.

Where I emerged through a crevice, two guys were on the path from the ‘easy’ path. They looked at me, then at each other then back at me and one said ‘F*****g hell you didn’t just come up that way??’ I said ‘yep I did’. Their reply ‘You must be mad!’ Yep, again.I didn’t let on what an ordeal it had been. I didn’t let on how relieved I was, or more to the point the sense of achievement I felt. Not in having actually done it, and alone, but in having overcome my fear and difficulties.

I went down the ‘easy’ way which as it happens should be easier now than then because the National Parks people were making the paths better, but in the process helicopters had dropped rocks at strategic points that blocked the path and left people to scramble over them!

I didn’t pass anyone on the way down and also ran out of water and was pretty thirsty by the time I got near the bottom. Then on the flat, managed to slip and fall on my rear end on some loose gravel and that brought me down to earth in a very physical way.

I know I shouldn’t have gone up alone, I know I should have checked the route blabby, blabby blah, but I didn’t and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I know I will never go to the top of Cader Idris again (unless a helicopter takes me there, now that would be nice!).

However after the years of caring for my husband, Alberto, and now his death I have another mountain to climb so I’m reminding myself of Cader Idris.