Artists Ben Bell & Dan Bown created an exhibition in Studio 20, the private view was well attended as was the exhibition and happening the next day. They organised a group painting session, like musical chairs but less energetic. Of the painters in attendance 3 have exhibited with Imprudent Collective.
Long long ago I had a space in an open plan studio, I don’t think i made anything in there, it never felt comfortable. Turned out I have huge anxiety around making in front of other people, it’s almost as bad as being asked to read something aloud I’ve never read before. CRINGE. I see our city dotted with the talented open-air painters and I’m always blown away by how they do it, not the practicality of it, but taking up space and being seen?/Vulnerable? nope, not for me, I reckon I’d get s*at on by a massive gull or I’d pack up if random blokes (# not all men) tried to talk at me while I painted. 5 different types of nope.
I got well out of my comfort zone then found it again with teeth. It was great to be a guest, it wasn’t my exhibition soi didn’t have the organiser head-on- except definitely got restless and wanted to move on perhaps more quickly than anyone else. I’t was strange, to paint around and possibly over someone else’s marks, while we all sat around a table in the middle of an exhibition, listening to chilled out tunes and chatting about the power of getting out and seeing people for the maintenance of wellbeing.
3 years ago I was scared of drawing halos because they aren’t mine, so I leaned into that because the 6-year-old me who had to say a prayer at school every afternoon part of me decided I should. I love finding icons with their faces scratched out in corners of medieval churches on the various mini expeditions my most spiritual friend and I take to the holiest pilgrimage village in Norfolk. the defaced paintings showing the anger towards someone else’s ideas, we drive each other to do peculiar things, particularly in the name of our chosen gods. I love icon paintings because they are traditional and unchanged, stories about spectacular humans painted by humans. It was around this time I read FEMEN, I didn’t agree with some of what they did, the polarised thoughts around women covering their heads being oppressed(choice is key) but I learned about Oksana Shackko a Ukrainian artist; trained from a very early age in iconography, made a living from it by 12, left it alone for a while during her activist days but went back to it with new meaning before her death at the age of 31 last year. In fact a year ago on the 23 July, this week. That smarted a bit. artnet news
Recently there has been more ambiguity in the halo, it could indeed be a sun, with rays shining out of it, I’ve moved away from whole figures again and back to the pattern and shape making of body parts and the blurring of boundaries between physically internal and external.
When showing people these most recent images the response is often a coy mention of how they are so religious in appearance. I could get existential, talk about spirituality, energy, the big nothing and the end of the world. Humans are resilient and totally fragile, our lives are little blips in time. We want so much freedom as well as needing the comfort of containment. Mostly what I’m expressing is the human struggle, the utter fear of existing and the joy of just being. A whole bunch of feels is in here about the phrase ” babies having babies” usually a sad derogatory term for teenage pregnancy, honestly, though, no one is ever ready, it’s hard even if your life is quite easy, parenting is HARD, 100% not doing that whole baby thing again!
No one really knows what they are doing, and that’s ok.
#AngryFeminist, a glace, ignorant look at my studio, that’s what I’m putting out into the world. I paint scary things, things that might live in any woman, ready to mutilate anything that got close or threatened. Womb dwelling, one-eyed, sharp toothy monsters. I draw angry vaginas and maternal rage, sure, I align my thinking with what currently looks like intersectional feminism, it feels like just being aware of power dynamics, how to know one’s own, see others and register the miss use of it in different circumstances. I’ve known enough types of powerlessness to want to avoid it and avoid causing it, point it out for or to others. I know anger, but I’m not angry, not all the time. Recently I picked up and have almost fully eaten The Power Naomi Alderman. It’s heartbreaking, terrifying and intense. I balance my rage, mostly because, therapy. I’m responsible for my emotions because I learnt to have them relatively recently and I have to model that to a tween Dynoboy.
My angry Vaginas live in the studio, they don’t go on show in our house because that’s what it is, ours. I wanted to be with this one for a while. In the exhibition it was in it I spent two days looking at it from the back of the canvas as it sat suspended in the window. I put her up in my bedroom and introduced it to Dynoboy who said she was the mother of the sea. which made me very happy. The figure is strange but kind, a goddess or a saint perhaps, who else could cradle a wave that’s a bit off, not a satisfying elegant curve. We can, I can, people can. I won over anger, stopped being afraid of exposing others darkness and learnt to nurture myself and those around me, courageously, wholeheartedly. I will get it wrong from time to time but is fully present and I wouldn’t ever want to go back, feeling is awesome, even when it hurts. Dissociation has its perks, but this, now, recovered, is glorious.
I think I’m finally out of my post exhibition comedown, planning my next steps. Mostly mumming, painting and catching up with life admin.
Did this make you recoil or shudder, too soon? yeah I feel that. This is just a gentle message to say anyone who didn’t get a print in the colour they wanted at #FAV18 I will be selling some in Norwich on the 10th November details
Today, World Suicide Prevention Day, The Guardian Printed An article to which I gladly contributed. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy allowed me to understand why I struggled with my mental health and how deeply trauma had effected how I process information and how little authentic confidence I had. While doing EMDR I drew and painted to further process the nightmares and violent thoughts that occurred during recovery. This was my Eyes, Teeth and Vagina’s phaase. I was understandably very angry, and needed to put it somewhere safely. By this point I had a working studio, where I could paint, then walk away. Ensuring my bile didn’t spill out at home. This was during one of the worst times of my life, except now not only was I dealing with what I was living through I was FEELING as it happened. I moved out of dissociation and started feeling and learning to name it. I was most disgruntled to be honest. Dissociation is has its perks.
Doing EMDR allowed me to turn and face my truth, to own that mess. It allowed me to feel confident and incontrol, of myself and life but as a parent, allowing my child to feel confident that he was contained and safe. It was during this period that I also used my voice to ask for help. It gave me the confidence to lean into the feeling that I was enough,to be cared for and supported. This is when and how I grew #MyVillage, because I was able to be honest and present. I learnt to say out loud some of the most vulnerable sentences that I thought I would never be able to say. By saying them I was able to understand how very wrong the “normal” I had been born into was. EMDR is how I found my voice, The Compass Outreach is how I learnt to use it. Which is why I create Finding a Voice exhibitions, a cellebration and a platform for these voices. The #FAV17 Finding A Voice 2017 was about my celebration of having done the work in therapy and no longer needing intensive involvement of services. This year #FAV18 is about celebrating those voices that “get it” and other “service users” who happen to mothers and artists too. Sometimes a voice isn’t verbal.
When I become a philanthropist ( we all need a dream) I would back and fund The Compass approach, because it works, and what I learnt has stopped the behavioural loop of intergenerational trauma, priceless.
Nameless, hairless, she floats in my bedroom. Blue fade of sea or sky and a yellow ark of thought and hope.This was a piece I made after an angry body (FAV17) of work and alongside a body of work I can’t face( yet to unwrap it, document it or write about it, it will take up so much energy I have been avoiding it for 2 years) This passive half figure is painted on a piece of marine ply, left over from a degree show, it sat outside for 5 years before I decided to prime it and paint on it. Circles are symbolic of many things, planets, moons, cycles, revolutions, behavioural loops. There is something comforting in their roundness, symmetry and completion.
My first attempt at painting figures was in a pink and blue phase, I restricted my pallet for a while because it felt comforting. Colour is weird, in all my art school education I never sat with a colour wheel and tubes of paint or ink to see how it worked. I have this overwhelming feeling of someone saying “Those colours don’t go. Flesh isn’t pink. You’re not a artist, why are you painting? You have no taste, your opinion is invalid, you’re wrong, you don’t belong.” Painting in colour has the weight of social anxiety, patriarchy, victim status and classism all rolled into one. The weight of my lack of confidence and a dick. I think I’ll feel that way until “the greats” and the “masters” are viewed through a lens of authentic accountability. Where we are taught about dismantling oppression and rape culture alongside the behaviour or actions of artists and their practice. It feels like it’s happening in cinema.
My upbringing is gritty, uncomfortable. After 5 different high schools I learnt I was safer as a social butterfly, being in art school taught me further how to quietly slink into situations and camouflage myself, heritage, lived experience, to become palatable. An accent that cannot be pinned down to a county and an uncanny ability to make others at ease, desirable, to fluff their ego gave me the power to be non threatening. Leaving the relative comfort of the institution left me with little to camouflage or slink into, I no longer had a framework. For countless other reasons, the final straw in a lifetime of abusive relationships, I fell down and it took an team professionals and my strong willingness to work it out to get back up.
So who the fuck am I?
It doesn’t matter because in a year I won’t be her anymore. It doesn’t matter what I am to you because I have to do me, I’m accountable to no one professionally which is scary, but it means I’m determined to make my actions match my intentions. Stepping out of behavioural loops to become a new kind of other, the evolution of post 30 magic. Using my super powers for good. Yeah fuck you ACEs! I’m writing because I’m in positions of powerlessness and that is something I find wholly disturbing. Summer holidays are frustrating, for many that’s true, the extra parenting alongside self regulation and containment without the usual vents and space to purge the sludge that builds up, it’s dangerous. Mum Mode can get ugly. The anxiety that grows isn’t dispelled so easily and I get that “lust to get shit faced” a yerning for escapism that I no longer use.
One of the places I love to go is currently out of bounds because the building work has caused a smell that I have to work through. The thing about PTSD is that, it’s brain damage, even now I’m totally on top and in control, I know how to stay safe but something that I haven’t touched, smelt, or seen since before having EMDR therapy can totally derail me for a moment. Someone can use a phrase that sends repulsion through my body but smells and textures are something else. So the distinctive smell of plasterboard and warm pine dust in the confined space of a loft in summer isn’t something I have encountered for a long time and I have to do a hell of a lot to stay grounded. To calm the 10 year old in me thats utterly alone and powerless.
There is a plant, I haven’t seen for perhaps 20 years, it’s delicate fussy tendrils thumped me right in the chest a few weeks ago, damn my love of house plants! I don’t stop to gets its name, it’s out there in the delightfully modern trendy places and I know it’s attached to a bad experience so long ago that all I can put my finger on is it felt like a whole lot of nope. But this is it. This is life after. This is the future. I recovered enough to responsibly push my own boundaries and stay in control. My recovery was learning to safely feel emotions, having left them for the comfort of dissociation reconnecting was tough but I had some good help. Finding I had a voice to speak about them, acknowledging my super powers, those delightful gifts left over from living in fight or flight, means I have to authority to brush aside the imposter syndrome and kick the ass of those doubtful feelings because what I’m doing now matters.
I recently got to listen to a seemingly kind man about how he felt design was more worthy than art, painting for oneself, about emotional response is selfish he thought, to take someone else’s idea and make something useful was far more virtuous and worthy of space in the world. Psht, yeah well in a capitalist, patriarchal, privilege kinda way I see why you might think that. By being hugely self indulgent and quite courageous I can tell my stories, voice my experience and make someone else a little less scared to talk, a little bolder in ideas of breaking behaviour loops, changing my family culture and coming forward post abyss, post abuse, saying words out loud is just good practice.
Why bother? Why bother being in a world that is full of boys clubs, full of cis white male depictions of female form? Why paint and exhibit? What’s the point? It’s very selfish, it’s my self care, my way to stay in control, I paint to talk and talk to paint. Exhibiting gives me a unique soap box to shout from. I have begun to talk without my work, describing recovery as a Family Mental Health Activist at conferences, but Im still focused on using the space I used to slink into to remove my camouflage and talk about the ugly, to use the art space to educate the professionals from government agencies alongside the public about domestic abuse and mental health recovery, BUT WHY? I’m not alone, unfortunately my experience isn’t unique, if I talk about my experience in order to educate those working in preventative or recovery fields, maybe it will shift the trajectory of other 10 year olds experiences. The more I talk the more I see I’m not alone, we start to band together to to support one another #survivorculture
Colour still feels weird though.
Who The fuck am I? Ask my paintings in 10 years, they might know.
#breastfeeding #familymentalhealth My cis experience of having breasts has been a strange one, I’m not alone, in order to help anyone with a similar experience Im sharing mine. I was writing about breastfeeding and some ideas came up that helped me see my experience a little bit clearer. How my body has been used and viewed in ways I hadn’t thought about in great detail. Content warning domestic abuse and not the average narcissistic mother.
I had my baby 12 years ago, shortly after my 21st birthday. I knew I had to breastfeed, I was poor and lacking any self esteem, I was scared of making my baby ill by messing up bottle prep. I never felt like I had a choice not to have my baby, I never felt like I had a choice not to breastfeed. My mother had been a part of the local breastfeeding support group 3 years previous with my youngest sibling. She talked about how an estranged aunt never got over her abortion and it definitely contributed to her mental health problems. Which came across as “ we don’t have abortions, mental illness is weakness” My baby was the one she wanted but was glad I was having. It meant she could do a degree instead of having another baby despite being in(out, in, out) of a ridiculous relationship. I was single and living with my mum, as a live in baby sitter for my younger siblings. Writing that makes me realise why it was easier for my mum for me to have this baby.
Breasts are so weird!
They Are theses lumps of fat and tissue, with nipples like cis men’s but that aren’t aloud out like theirs. They are often named the girls or my puppies or theses babies. Cooed at and fondled by the people who appreciate them most, that’s often not a baby. Boobs are there to feed babies and for the owner of love lumps to enjoy as part of a consensual sexual experience. I never enjoyed mine. I was blinded with delight if anyone enjoyed them or gave them positive attention. They were tiny. I had these puffy 50p size areola and nipples like chapel hat pegs. I was so ashamed I hid them in foam cupped bras so my nipple erections were never seen and loathe swimming because at the time, I didn’t know or couldn’t find swimsuits didn’t have this option. I hated my boobs, one was noticeably bigger than the other and I was mortified, offended when the girl at la senza handed me a bra with one foam filled of padding removed to even out their look. She noticed, she knew, it’s not just in my head, I felt so ashamed.
I heard that breastfeeding would even out my lopsided mini mounds.
Age 18 or 19 I’d got one nipple pierced in an attempt to be cool and distract anyone who saw them of their odd ness. Turns out that was a lot of people when I got drunk and flashed them and again when I got a back tattoo tried going braless by necessity. My boobs were never mine for me. While braving a maternity swim, in the changing room I hear a woman refer to her boobs as spaniels ears, small flaps of skin where tiny pert boobies used to be before she breast fed, thats what was going to happen to me. They will fill up with milk and deflate when it’s all dried up. I would become even less desirable, someone would make off my bra and be disappointed. There was this nagging feeling in my head as soon as I knew I had to use these to feed a baby. It was going to be gross.They had only ever been in someone else’s mouth as part of sex. Boobs were sex things. My boobs were there to hopefully entertain and occupy someone during sex. My body was for sex. For others. Primarily for adult men, often without consent and never for my pleasure.
So I had a baby, I was “off my tits”
and out of it, he latched on, fed, we went home. My milk came in, never had I known size and tenderness like it. My areola were stretched tight like canvas over doughnuts of full firm nutrience. The skin was tingly, itchy but I had boobs that looked how I was taught boobs should look. Everything hurt for 2 weeks so I don’t remember much. I remember getting a cream for my nipples because they were so chapped. Every time he latched on I had to do breathing exercises to breathe through the pain. The visiting midwife confirmed it was a good latch, I wasn’t doing it wrong. She looked at my blonde ginger hair and said it’s probably just sensitive skin and they’ll tough up. My tough tits did ok, my baby got fat and grew, I was congratulated on making good milk. I felt useful. There was a feeling of accomplishment and I think I felt thankful of my one breasts. I got one out any time, any where this little bundle of need needed. I wore ugly comfy bras and washable leak protection ( one turned up in my washing machine filter when he was 18 months, bag your small washables! ) and smelt of sweet, sour milk a lot. I often had a bra on, slept in it, but when I didn’t all it took was a cry from him and they would tingle & leak. I often got drenched as he fed from one side the other side made a fountain until I learnt to practically stick my finger in my boob through the nipple to stop it. Turns out I loved breastfeeding. Something I was good at, I fed him till he was one and I went back to uni.
Over a decade later
I have learnt a lot about my body, my relationship with it and where I have had difficulties and why. Learning how to put them right, to feel worthy, to appreciate my mind and the meat sack that it inhabits. I’m learning to have and understand autonomy. This year I have focused more on a single breast in my painting, rather than a pair or set, I’m mindful of their appearance, a boob with stretch marks and nipple hair, why lie? It’s real, normalise bodies and it takes the power away from self loathing and bullying. I’m bored of looking at other women’s bodies painted, captured or airbrushed be cis men, so I make my own, my way, I look for those who are doing the same. Im enjoying my boob and wave phase, but will probably go back to vaginas, teeth and eyeballs at some point because I did a lot of healing doing the last phase I had.
The thing about recovery and therapy is that you talk or work on a thing till you are board of it. Im a long way into recovery, I have healed so much, some things are still tricky. My work and concepts deal with taboo subjects like motherectomys, Mental health, domestic abuse, child abuse, and CSE/E (yep Im still uncomfortable with writing those wordswhole). I’ve learnt to talk not just draw, so now I do both.
Confrence talks and workshops booked aroud Norfolk August, September & October.
I’ll share events when there’s pubilcations to share. Free the nipple already!
I have anger, it is rarely seen or heard but it’s there and valid.
Often my anger comes from pain, it comes in waves. Just like watching the sea roll onto the shore, periodically there is a bigger wave that rolls in and if you’re not aware, you don’t know till you’re feet are wet.
I sit watching my life sometimes, I’m so greatful. Sometimes it’s shitty and unfair, but I can only control what I can control and I love how freeing that is.
I can’t hold an ocean.
I tried to hold a wave.
The only thing I can contain is myself and my babe.
That’s all, that’s enough.
Work in progress, oil on canvas, pretty big, 1×1.5m playing with layers.It will be finished by October because I want to put it in a pop up solo show.
It sounds totally selfish and egotistical but I think I love talking.
Which is the new branch of thinking and I’m not totally convinced. Having been a mumbler with no authentic confidence to talk about or even think about what I believed in for years, talking feels really new. I’m in the position where I get to talk about quite intimate concepts, talking about loneliness and isolation, family mental health, about trauma, domestic abuse and adding the kind of shenanigans I get up to in the studio, I have this growing world of speaking and listening. Though often I have an overwhelming sense sometimes that I’m going to get into trouble for talking and one day I might.
I’m not looking or asking for trouble but I realise that my initial plan wasn’t a good plan. My initial plan gave me no responsibility. I started drawing how I felt when I was about ten and got bruttally ignored. Mostly durnig crisis, throughout my teens and 20s avidly when I hit 30 I ranted and splurged. I wrote and drew but no one ever saw it, no one knew it existed because my idea, my initial plan was I would give it to somebody else. Either when I died (yes, I planned this one several differnet ways over the years) or when anyone who would be cross with me was no longer around.
Neither of those things have happened and yet I’m talking, Im out of the secret note books and off the canvas.
The first talks and conference I did I had my work to back me up and a colleague I trusted. We didn’t plan for it we just showed the work and we talked about it and ask the audience questions and it worked.
The second time I did it I didn’t have my work to back me up, no visual distraction, there was no power Point, there was no pop-up exhibition it was just me and the microphone and I was way out of my comfort zone. You can listen to that in the link above, also I’ve got a few more dates pencilled in for upcoming conferences too.
So I might get in trouble for talking, I suspect it won’t be the trouble that I’m anticipating
I deal with a few taboos and my lived experience runs parallel to those who I grew up around it’s important that I bear in mind. I don’t have a right to tell other stories. Right now I give contexts but no details which is interesting when talking about family mental health. I realised a couple years ago that no one will ever understand my entire story which is kind of freeing.
Sometimes I say the context of relationships for example parent and child relationships have expected dialogue and then there’s the unexpected truth of those experiences.
Part of my experience is my son’s mental health and that can be very tricky, it’s part of a loop, I want to hold all of the responsibility for that. There’s learnt behaviours there that I’m just not responsible for and it’s unpicking that and showcasing the outcomes of behaviour and behavioral loops as examples of intergenerational trauma that I feel I can talk about safely and responsibly without overstepping, oversharing and disrespecting my son and our relationship.
I still feel like I’m right at the beginning of something huge and I don’t know what it’s going to look like but I like how it looking right now. I just know that I want to keep talking so that I can help all the versions of me that ot me here, the voiceless, lonely, unsafe child, the unregulated recless teen, a young single mum and the woman that had a mother ectomy. Somehow I can empower some one enough not to get into crisis, or to get back on their feet, I can empower change in how they access care, how care is accessible, pushing for a successful recovery model.
My Village is the thing that holds me together, it is my chosen family, community, places and all the different support that’s needed for me and Dynoboy to be ok. I first plotted it out when we really weren’t ok. I talked indepth about finding it and leaning into it, as an example of recovery. I took this forward as a simple workshop task.
Work Shop – Your Village
Post talk, in the pre lunch break out session I had a table that I filled with paper, glue, stickers, pompoms, crayons and markerpens. I had invited those who listened to the talk to plot out there village.
The audience was brave(though one of their other options was scaling a climbing wall, which takes a different kind of braveness) The interaction among the group was really interesting and valuable. There was lots of bravery and sharing
at the table and advice was given on where to access support in the area for different points I had covered.
One awesome lady said thanks for sharing my recent coping method to avoid PTSD dream hangover all day, hitting voice record and sending them to a trusted friend in order to avoid a full blown, debilitating PTSD replay loop.
There were people who were engaging in services,some that were no longer in need of services,private therapists, mothers with children like Dynoboy and a couple of young people who I thought were brilliant for being there, lots of talk about SEND education, how to navigate a Mother-ectomy. It was so good to see other people use an idea that helped me workout where I was in the world and a concept that keeps me going today.
Being in her part of the map the lovely Lizzy (seen herein the middle) a very talented artist and friend came to give me a bit of suport and went away with more to think about. Mz Cowell will also be exhibiting in Finding a Voice18, Anteros, Norwich, October 2018.
Two women separately asked how I got into the position to do what i’m doing. Which was tricky to answer, as it’s been one big strange new step after the other. I think a lot of why I got to the point where I’m invited to speak at events has a lot to do with how passionately I believe in the Compass approach, it was within that that I found my voice and was willing to do things like go to anawards bid and do a short presentation on my experience with The Compass Outreach Team. Once I had a film crew in my living room recording an interview about our experience with Compass to help promote with in the wider team how their work made a difference. Having a arts background and putting on an exhibition to celebrate no longer needing the full support of the service in 2017 meant I had a focus and somewhere to find out where to go next. Which right now is here, learning how to use my cruddy experiences to promote good practice with in services and make people feel less alone with their struggle.
Nicky Murnin & Tod Sullivan about the effect on the body that ACEs have and how they affect our behaviour and our bodies. It was so interesting to dig further into a subject I find fascinating anyway because my score is high and it’s the kind of stuff that helped me process my experiences through therapy. What struck me most is acknowledging the community responsibility to stay connected. I was nodding and smiling a lot throughout Nickys talk.
I joined in discussion later as the event was quieting down, which I wouldn’t have done a few years ago. Thankfully Nicky can talk for days about his subject of the day but the thing that hit me, full on in the gut, was when he turned his example of a real “hello, How are you?” with eye contact. It totally freaked me out. I shuddered and stated that it did and we continued in depth all kinds of human behaviour, autonomic and parasympathetic nervous system, we were literally chatting shit. Very enjoyable all in all.
Clicking into place
In the lead up to my 2015 crisis I was speaking more than I ever had before, I had one friend from my teens that would know when I wasn’t ok and she would ask me till I broke and talked. She was traveling the world and I hated skype, so I had to learn to talk to other people. I started to hear myself answer questions I never asked myself before, stuff was spilling out of my head with no correlation to my feelings until I heard the words. I had planned and read aloud my talk a few times, but saying it all out loud to an audience changed my bigger perspective on some things. Linking that to what I was hearing throughout the day I realised and understood in more depth the part of my family relationships that made it easy for intimate relationships to become abusive even down to being primed to be financially manipulated and dominated. Not all things can be verbalised, sometimes it’s not safe to in some moments, but it’s definatly part of what I’ve needed to take big recovery steps.
Keep an ear and an eye out for more to come from me and the FeedBack Team !