Half a Person

Half a woman.

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.

Oil on board 2016, Katherine Gilmartin

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.

💛Just.

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.

 

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