Feeling Adrift

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My life has changed, it was not a change I looked for or wanted but sometimes things happen that leaves little choice in the matter. I am de facto carer for my husband, Alberto. Alberto has Alzheimer’s disease and as the disease progresses and becomes bigger in our lives so our choices become smaller. Alberto’s world becomes, frighteningly, about a shrinking brain and perceptions, mine about shrinking options.

My path to becoming and being an artist was a thorny one in our relationship. Also, as most artists know, it wasn’t and isn’t easy to find opportunities to get work shown or to sell it. I’ve had some success for my work in those areas, I’ve exhibited and sold but I’d still like to have much wider recognition, be in some public collections etc.

While being interviewed on a radio show recently I was asked why my work was ‘abstract?’ I replied that it just came about because I have a passion to explore the stuff of paint, to explore ideas, to connect with the inner ‘thing’ that drives me and connects us.

There have been many changes in the last two years, some indirectly and some directly linked to Alberto’s Alzheimer’s. We’ve moved home in the last year and I also had to move from my much loved rented studio. I am waiting for building to start on a new studio which will be in the garden of my new home.

When the new studio was planned it would have been possible for me to work in there while keeping a light eye out for Alberto, however now things have changed and I’m fairly sure I will have to have help in having someone with him while I’m in the studio even though it will be just yards away.

I have not had a studio where I can work for some months now and I find that very hard and frustrating. This has also coincided with Alberto needing more supervision, it’s now 24/7 and that is also hard. For a little respite for me and a change for him he has now attended a day care centre. Alberto attends the Centre for just one day a week from 10 until 3 o’clock. He has now been three times. It is this, my day ‘off’ that I find to be rather strange.

In theory I will have time to work in the studio when it is built on this day ‘off’.

On the first day I rushed around like a mad thing doing all the errands that are difficult to do when I have Alberto with me. The second day I met friends for coffee as well as doing all the errands.

The last day ‘off’ I spent the first hour trying to sort out Alberto’s medical appointment by having to actually go to the hospital. It was an appointment that arrived in the post the previous day and was for the one day where I have managed to organize home care for him so I can go with a friend to London to visit a gallery. I’d tried to change the appointment by phone which embroiled me in a Kafkaesque nightmare with the hospital’s automated phone system so it seemed simpler to just go to the hospital and rebook it.

After a couple of other errands I consciously gave the rest of the time to me to do as I wanted. That was when I realised how insidious the situation I’m in is. I realised I wasn’t sure what to do with my time. I couldn’t go to the studio as I don’t have a working studio yet. There wasn’t a lot of time before I’d have to collect Alberto from the Day Care centre.

I felt cut adrift. I guess that is the danger of being consumed by circumstance, it is so easily all consuming. It scares me because I still have ambition to work, to have my work recognised more widely, to feel satisfaction at the end of the day, yet here I am feeling adrift.

In the end I took myself off to a bookshop and did what I haven’t had time to do for a very long time and just mooched about in the shelves and sat looking at books I wouldn’t buy as well as a couple I did. I went for a Japanese noodle lunch then drove to Abington Park in Northampton and looked at the gorgeous autumn colours of the leaves on the trees, watched squirrels squabble then got out the new sketchbook and drawing pen I’d just bought and sat and drew.

Over the years I have had periods when I sketch/draw and other periods when I don’t. Sometimes I draw what I see from life. Sometimes the drawings please me and sometimes they don’t but that’s OK because I strive to capture something in the drawings and it isn’t always what is literal. I know that when I look at the drawing I did, whether I look in a day’s time or ten years’ time, I will be back in the time I was drawing, it’s a peculiar aspect of drawing that is just not the same as if I take a photo.

I’ve decided that as long as my energy holds up and especially until I have a working studio again I will draw, and it doesn’t matter what I draw. The drawing is for me, even if on occasion I share what I’ve drawn on social media. I hope the drawing will tether me from that feeling of being adrift.

Oddly after drawing yesterday I started thinking of another possible project, one of my occasional forays into installations. Maybe, maybe not.

Plato’s Cave Paintings

My new paintings ‘Plato’s Cave’ can be seen at 78 Derngate Northampton from 1 October until 18 December 2016.

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Plato’s Cave#1  70x102cm – Linda Sgoluppi – photogragh Steven Haddon

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Plato’s Cave#2  70x102cm – Linda Sgoluppi – photogragh Steven Haddon

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Plato’s Cave#3  70x102cm  – Linda Sgoluppi – photogragh Steven Haddon
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Plato’s Cave#13 40x10cm – Linda Sgoluppi – photogragh Steven Haddon

 

When I made the paintings called Plato’s Cave I was thinking about the Plato’s Cave analogy. The analogy appears in Plato’s The Republic.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of our perception of reality, how what is real for someone is not necessarily the same reality for someone else. Plato’s Cave a fascinating analogy for that idea.

For two years or so I had been experimenting with and developing a different ‘painting’ technique from my usual one. These paintings are made with acrylic paint skins.

There are many interpretations of Plato’s Cave Analogy. I like the simplicity of the one from The British Museum’s website and have supplied it in the exhibition if you would like to read it.

Linda Sgoluppi

 

Wishing

I’ve been thinking about some of my wishing. Excluding the things I always wish for, that the world would be a kinder place, people would stop hurting each other etc., stuff that is so big that it’s almost too much to wish for. Those things are sort of separate from my more selfish wishing, the wishing that is specific to me.

I’m not naive enough to wish for what cannot be, such as that my husband would not have Alzheimer’s. He has Alzheimers and we cannot go back to him not having it. But what I do wish is that the burden of care for him would not sit so heavy on my shoulders. I so try to be patient but I am not a saint, when I’ve repeatedly answered the same question at least ten times I grow weary and find my teeth on edge. I look for strategies to counter this but sometimes it just doesn’t work and I feel like years are being hacked off my own life.

Supervising his dressing routines is something I never imagined would feature as a task I’d have to steal myself to get through. If it goes well, and is done and dusted in what seems a good time frame I’m relieved, only to discover five minutes later it’s all undone and has to start again. It still astonishes me how many times clothes can be changed in the period when I might be making breakfast or a cup of tea.

Slowly but inexorably my personal time is being eroded. It’s bad enough that much of my social life has gone but when the eroded time is taken away from studio time, then I feel like an alien presence has taken up residence in my body and I am losing free will.

Illness is a thug, it wants its own way, it wants to expand its theatre of control way past the sphere of its actual self to control much more of the territory in its vicinity. I have a son who has walked in the valley of the shadow, and I learned how much of an implacable enemy illness could be. That same son is my closest companion in the journey of his father’s Dementia, we see the early warnings of the spiraling deterioration long before others see it. We see it because we see, we cannot close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening. We cannot say ‘well he seems OK’, because we know that’s an illusion, it might seem that way for half an hour although even seeming alright for half an hour is getting more rare for anyone to see now.

Our household has become one where we retire early, it fits more with the natural cycle of day and night. I find myself longing for that time in the evening when it seems I might dare to let my breath out. Even then that’s not always possible if the dementia is especially short circuiting the synapses. Grazing has become common and night time grazing is of special concern. For someone who was a caterer all his life, either management or actually cooking, the kitchen is familiar ground but in reality it is no longer familiar; lighting a gas and forgetting it is lit is almost as bad as switching it on and not lighting it. In general anger is directed at me when I try to divert him away from the kitchen.

I did not ask for this job. There were cracks in the relationship way before this happened but still I am here. I don’t know how long it will be until the day when it can no longer be. Maybe he will outlive me, I hope not for that would be too cruel for our children, not because I would be gone but because to see this other parent become a shell with every vestige of who he was, is a truly terrible thing to see.

It only occurred to me very recently that the project I’ve been working on in the studio is so overlapped by what is happening at home, The project is called Plato’s Cave, (to be exhibited in 2016) essentially it’s about the notion of reality (I’m using a different technique for the paintings and have had a lot to learn – still have, it’s good to explore). I find my reality is changed so much but for sure not as much as my husband’s reality, Dementia steals a person’s reality, it’s no good saying it gives another reality if you can’t remember what reality you are living in.

I wish I didn’t have to sell my house. My house is a truly lovely place to live,  but it has to go, that is another consequence of the thuggery of illness. I wish had really good representation for my work, (this is of course what so many artists wish for, but hey this is my wish list). Reading about 94 year old Carmen Herrera gives me hope but honestly I don’t want to wait that long….

On a lighter note I wish the house could be lit up for Christmas like, well like a Christmas tree! I’m talking REALLY lit up to chase away those dark dark days of winter.

I wish I didn’t have to do Christmas day, I just don’t OK!

I wish I didn’t have to take the darned car to the garage to fix all the niggling bits that need doing, (I know, that’s just sheer lack of energy for such a boring thing, plus the cost!) it’s something he used to arrange.

I’m saying this carefully, I wish I had a cat. Do NOT get me a cat! My lovely cat died of old age and I was relieved he wouldn’t have the trauma of moving so for sure I won’t have another animal while life is in such a state of flux, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss having a cat for the first time in ever.

I guess I had better stop, I have other wishes but ……..

Back to Tuscany

Barn at Viaio -Anghiari 29 April 2015 - Linda Sgoluppi  (1) Barn at Viaio -Anghiari 29 April 2015 - Linda Sgoluppi  (2)

With one of my sons and a friend I took my husband to visit his family in Tuscany, Italy.

I don’t know if we’ll manage to do it again so it was important to me, and I believe to him, to have been to his roots before more of his memories fade.

I enjoy seeing the general landscape in Tuscany, it is as beautiful as its reputation suggests, however I also enjoy the particular, a yellow painted corrugated barn, a textured roof, a supermarket display of zucchini.

zucchini - Linda Sgoluppi

Roof - Viaio -Linda Sgoluppi April 2015

Albert (Bert) Irvin – Sargy Mann RIP

I’ve been preoccupied in the last two weeks, a few special days away then some rather painful treatment designed to alleviate pain in my hip, so it was with sadness I discovered that two painters had died. One was Albert (Bert) Irvin, the other Sargy Mann. I knew Bert Irvin I did not know Sargy Mann.

I met Bert when he came to Barcelona to lecture to us Winchester School of Art MA students.

We Barcelona/Winchester students had upped sticks and moved to Barcelona from the UK and other places including Iceland and Taiwan, so we were quite a mixed bunch. Bert was passionate about painting and enjoyed sharing his passion with us. More though, he was fun and he joined in the general merriment of people finding themselves in a great city with the additional bonus of having studios there, so there was a chance to eat drink and be merry, to talk through shared passions and to discover stories.

Bert was thrilled to discover I came from Northampton and lived in a village. He asked what village and then told me he had been at Towcester then had gone to Art school in Northampton. Bert had wanted to go to a London College but had been told they were to be evacuated to Northampton at the beginning of the war (WW11) I hadn’t known that London Colleges had been moved  to Northampton.  I wasn’t born until three years after the end of that war so I guess there’s no real reason I would know. Bert told me he had been in Northampton until he received his war time call up papers.

Bert and I got on to discussing Walter Hussey who I knew had offered Northampton some wonderful contemporary works of art but which Northampton refused. It is one of my bugbears that Northampton has so often proved to be Philistine in its actions. Right up to today we have the sorry story of the Northampton Sekhemka statue:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northampton_Sekhemka_statue  but that is a different story.

I was impressed that Bert had known Walter Hussey not least that in a way Hussey was an historical figure for me but knowing Bert had met him made me realise how recent it had all been.

Bert also told me he had met his wife Betty in Northampton, she was an art student included in the art school evacuation to Northampton.

The short time in Barcelona came to an end for Bert and later the longer time for us students.

Later on, and as a founder member of Northampton Arts Collective and the Fish Market Gallery I recalled Bert’s connection with the town and asked him about the possibility of showing his work at the Gallery. The Fish Market Gallery would have been eminently suitable as it was a huge space that would have taken his large paintings. He and I were enthusiastic but we both knew it would take a lot of organising and I knew the collective would need funds. Sadly it was never to happen, just as sadly the Fishmarket Gallery building no longer exist.

I ‘met’ Betty by phone before meeting her in person. Betty was as enthusiastic about her time in Northampton as Bert was. Eventually Bert and Betty came for a visit and I drove them around their old haunts, including to the Art College in St Georges Avenue. We had a merry dinner at my home in Bugbrooke whilst discussing frescos etc., my husband comes from Sansepolcro, the birthplace of Piero della Francesca so it was a lively conversation and we mentally roamed over Tuscan landscapes   before sallying fourth to see the Northampton landscapes and sites of their journey down memory lane.

I took a photograph of Bert and Betty outside their old College that day that day. I don’t recall the photo being digital and I would have to sort through far too many photographs to find them so for now it will stay waiting for me to find.

I’ve always looked forward to the lovely Bert Irvin print Christmas card I’ve received every year, it makes me sad that I won’t see Bert’s distinctive signature on a card this year.

In a phone call Betty some time ago told me that Bert continued to go to the studio but that he took a taxi to get there, that seems to have been his only concession to the passing years. RIP Bert.

Sargy Mann also died in April this year. I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t know Sargy. I came across a BBC News video of Sargy Mann talking about his blindness and still continuing to paint. I felt  moved that he overcame what has to be a painter’s worst nightmare, blindness. Yet his passion for painting overcame the hurdles that this presented him with and I found that a true inspiration:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9vHwCIaSwM

Sargy Mann was represented by Cadogan Contemporary : https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/

I’m alive and still painting

I’m still alive and still painting.

I’ll tell you why I’ve established that when I get to the end of what I’m writing.

Many of us get knocked sideways at some point in our lives by events we didn’t plan or anticipate. Those unplanned, unanticipated events can have a devastating effect on what we perceived as our life’s path. Certainly that has happened to me and it has taken time for me to adjust to the shock of it.

The odd thing is that there was a perceived path in the first place and having been knocked off that particular path I’ve been living with the notion of getting back on it as if that path is my one true way through life.

I’ve been asking myself about my path, this mental construct that I’ve followed. How much of that mentally constructed paved path was constructed by me and how much by circumstance; or fate if you will.

When I look back to childhood I see events in my life that led to my making certain early decisions. They were conscious decisions based on an unconscious set of details and personal beliefs that propelled me through life. Eventually what was unconscious became conscious; perhaps that is the meaning of ‘know thyself’.  A pathway formed itself in my mind and I took steps to follow it. I did my part, but fate just teased and has not played according to my path’s blueprint.

Let me digress a little. Before I learned how to paint, I thought that being a painter was for me a dream, it isn’t a dream. Being an artist isn’t a sweet comfortable activity that many people think it is.  Much of the time it is like a relentless racing chariot driven almost to destruction by some mythical Greek God, the artist in the traces driven by unseen hands.

Many things have happened that I did not expect and did not want, yet many things have been as I wanted. However what did not figure in my path’s blueprint, but apparently in the one fate had for me is my husband’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.  It has been the cruellest blow among some others in my life. While it has been one of the most painful and difficult blows, it is also the one that has made me see that the path I’ve perceived as my life map, my blueprint,  is not laid out by me, rather it is a path I can make deviations on in small ways, but still it is just not the path I thought it was.

For more than a year after the diagnosis I found myself reeling and trying to deal with the grief of it while not recognizing that was what I was doing. I was suddenly a de facto a carer and equally suddenly had to take over reigns that I’d not had to previously hold. I have to find solutions to problems that hadn’t seemed like problems, some are a still problems for which solutions haven’t been found but that’s a different story.

I found ways to continue going to the studio, just not for as long as I had before. I used to spend long days in the studio. Even in the few hours I continued to be in the studio, inside my head and heart it was either a frozen wasteland or a boiling magma filled space, it was not a good place to be.

I know that some people were aware of my inner state and I am so very thankful for the true friends and loved ones I have. Even then many did not know, could not know I was functioning on a level that seemed OK but wasn’t.  I worked in the studio but the work seemed to me as sterile as my inner life.

I chatted, and even joked (I think) in posts on Facebook and Twitter but I was terrified. There is nothing more terrifying than night terrors, they attack relentlessly. I love the lyric in the Les Miserables song I Dreamed a Dream that says:  ‘… but the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder’. They are words that describe those nights so perfectly. Eventually I decided that I had to try to make inside my head a place to work again. I started with words, concepts, language. I could do that without being at the studio and eventually I had a list. I’m not going to talk more of my list; it is still too much a part of my way back.

Now in the studio I am doing what I love best, experimenting. I’m experimenting with a new technique for me. Working drives itself.  I put aside all previous thoughts and concepts and let the materials take me. I know that the thinking I’ve done through the long cold days of winter will inform and be there without me pushing them, I don’t need them consciously dictating the process of the materials.

It is scary, it is not sweet and it is not comfortable, and it may not work and I’ll have nothing to show for it because I will destroy it rather than settle for something I’m not willing to put my name to. That’s the nature of studio work and it is OK because at least I am working from my inner core again. I will have a solo exhibition late in 2016 and it is good to have something concrete to look forward to.

I know that life is not going to get easier.  I am my husband’s carer for as long as it’s possible to be that. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s so life will set out a path and I will tread it.

So, why did I say I am alive and still painting?  I was surfing the web and looked at an artist’s website. I am not going to say which artist. However the website – blog etc., had had no updates for quite a few years and I wondered if that artist was still alive. Then I thought of the problems I’ve had, including quite a big one with my website where I’ve not been able to update anything on it, it is one of those more minor problems I still have to deal with. Also I haven’t really posted anything on other sites so today I’m going to post this.

There are as many stories as there are artists, this is part of mine.  So often it’s a struggle just to go on being an artist but it is one thing I feel isn’t a choice, I am an artist,  I’m alive and I’m still painting.

Work in progress 20 March 2015 - Weedon Studio - Linda Sgoluppi  (12) - Copy Work in progress 20 March 2015 - Weedon Studio - Linda Sgoluppi  (2) Work in progress 20 March 2015 - acrylic paint skin making -Weedon Studio - Linda Sgoluppi  (10) Where the wind was born-bourne project work in progress painting#1 11 March 2015 (1)