04 October, 2014

Pull up a chair.

I have recently had to give a few interviews and write a few profiles about myself for my increased exposure into the world of art. The questions have been similar: Have you always painted?What is your training? Did you paint and a child? When did you know you were a painter?   All these questions are really about the origin of self belief and identifying myself as a painter. When did you become a painter?

I knew in the moment I thought I was going to die. 

2008, Waikato Hospital.I had an illness that was proving difficult to diagnose, hence treat. Lying in a darkened room, machines beeping at me, medical staff hovering around me and my roaring temperature, infection taking over my systems, my head exploding , my heartbeat becoming more and more erratic, hallucinations becoming more and more frightening. In that moment,  I knew. 
I knew I was sad to leave my young children motherless, my husband a widower, my parents daughterless. But I was furious with myself. Incandescent with rage. I remember wailing and the nurse trying to calm me down, comfort me. I bellowed at her " I forgot to paint. I was supposed to paint". 

I laugh about it now, but at that moment, the idea that I had missed what I felt I was supposed to have done with my life , was beyond comprehension. Had I been so scared of failing at painting that I had not even tried? Better to not experience failure than to try? I was mad with myself. I remember shouting and (oh, that poor nurse) crying at the lost opportunity. I was bereft.

Sedation worked, I slept till the morning and was woken with the same nurse, face beaming. A diagnosis of my mysterious illness had been made and it was curable. I would survive. I lay there, frail and weak but my relief was immense. And I had a plan, a purpose.

It took me months to recover, both mentally and physically. I started painting. I devoured information about painting, painters, art. I painted and painted. I grew my family and painted and painted. I grew my spirit and painted and painted. I just did it. Because every time I painted a totally crap painting, it was still 100% better than not painting at all. And when I painted something that I felt was a sign of improvement and progression, my heart and soul swelled and I became the bravest person I knew. I was painting. 

Why do I paint? I paint because I just have to. I see the world totally differently to the way I saw it before my illness. I still fear failure, but then, don't we all? When I feel that fear ,I invite it into the studio, pull up a chair for it, park it and tell it to watch.I sometimes offer it a comfy pillow! And then I paint and , trust me, that seat is empty by the time I finish that painting.

Painting has become something profound to me. I don't paint pictures of places. I paint connection, affirmation, memory, emotion, recollection, faith, love and hope. It's all in the paintings.They are invitations to share.  I share them with you. 

Ps. The illness was Murine Typhus. I was the only person diagnosed and treated  with it in New Zealand for 2008. Go figure.


  1. Wow! That is a powerful story and one I might relate to the kids I work with...every day I spend time trying to get teenagers to see the things in life that make them passionate, that motivate them...the things that might make them want to succeed in what they are learning or the thing that will make it all not matter if they don't manage to do what school/parents/society want them to...how great it would be if they could discover it before they are faced with their own mortality...or maybe that's what it takes?

  2. Ps - Glad you got better! And really glad you started painting too!! I think that every time I spot my boys in your paintings on my wall and it makes me smile :)

  3. Em, I think the big thing for me was not questioning my passion, but questioning how I let fear dictate my path. If we got more kids to ask themselves the question "Does fear do the deciding for me?", it would be more helpful way to direct them to the things they feel are important to accomplish. If we allow fear (of failure, the shame of possibly failing etc) to make all the decisions, we are doomed.Keep that conversation going! The more we talk about it, the more we can accomplish! Your work with young people is vital.


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