BLAUGUSTINE / BACK TO ARCHIVE

September 26, 2013

SHOWING OFF: Part Five

In the days after that weekend I was in a state of permanent exhilaration. The coup which had me foudroyée was not (or not only) as some might think, the boringly well-documented phenomenon of transference:

"...the redirection of feelings and desires and especially those retained from childhood to a new object..."

Any phenomenon will always be given a label by some expert somewhere, a label which reduces it to that definition, neatly stored in a file endlessly consulted and expanded by other experts until the phenomenon itself becomes invisible.

Every tiny neuron in my brain was flashing like a hyperactive firefly but the side-effect was down to earth: I wanted to get into bed, or any other suitable location, with Z. Romantic extras were not required but it was absolutely imperative, essential to my very being, that a physical conjunction should take place, preferably immediately, but I was prepared to wait if necessary. It's hard to believe that a grown-up, cosmopolitan, professional artist with a marriage and other affairs behind her, could be in such naive and visceral thrall. But it's true.

The group therapy centre's brochure, which I meticulously studied after my dramatic introduction to that hitherto unknown world, was a seductive menu describing "life-changing" sessions led by top therapists of every persuasion. But I was only interested in one of them and was transfixed by a paragraph outlining a forthcoming project conceived and led by Z. It was called the Theatre of the Secret Self. The gist of it was that each participant in the six month- long project would be given time, space, insight and encouragement to mine their innermost self for creative ideas and expression, culminating in the group putting on a public performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To sign up, you had to commit to attending once or twice-weekly evening workshops, some weekends, and a week or so in Edinburgh the following summer.

I must have read that paragraph a hundred times. It was like staring into a dazzling shop-window displaying everything you had ever wanted for Christmas and realising that you could actually have it all. During those miraculous minutes that I had sobbed on my pseudo-mother's breast and carried my pseudo-father around the room, the cheeky child I once was had been given full permission to resurrect, liberated from a secret sorrow and an unexpressed burden.

The Theatre of the Secret Self!! Custom-made for me! A chance to show off every hidden dimension of the rediscovered Nathalie! With Z the metteur en scène of my dreams, the director who would make me the star I knew I was! (Not that I wanted to be an actor, but only to have my inner and perhaps even outer star-quality confirmed.) It was obvious: I had to sign up. The cost was fairly hefty but an idea popped up on how I could reduce it. The time comittment could be fitted into my normal activities - I was teaching printmaking part-time and working on NdA Press which had taken off very well.

But first of all I had to establish some kind of unique status: I didn't want to be merely one of the members of Z's group. Inspired by the cunning which comes as a bonus with love, I wrote him a carefully composed nonchalant note, enclosing one of my books as proof of talent, offering my services as artist-in-residence or graphic reporter at his workshops (I would sketch the people during the sessions). In return, I jokingly suggested, he could give me a discount on the fee for joining the Theatre of the Secret Self project. To my not-so-great surprise (destiny is not surprising) he agreed.

* * * *

I started these posts with the intention of slightly expanding a conversation about the differences and problems between creativity in solitude (eg the painter in her/his studio) and in collaboration (eg in a theatrical production) but I got carried away by a particular reminiscence which threatens to monopolise this space and my time. This is a problem because I must focus on current work and also because it's difficult for me to see the fine line where memoir becomes indiscretion. I was openly confessional in earlier parts of my autobio but as it moves forward chronologically, I have to learn to be more reticent, more indirect....more British! (Roderick's comment under Part Four got me thinking.)

I know it's mean of me to cut this short now but the full story is far too long and complex to reduce to a set of blog posts. My private journals and many of my artworks have documented it, both literally and symbolically, and maybe some day, in graphic novel or other form, I'll find a way to...what? Pin it down?

My secret self did indeed emerge from hiding during the years that followed that personally historical September 21 and the date has been celebrated ever since. They were years of turbulence, elation, inspiration, despair, fulfilment, gloomy darkness and brilliant light - everything you get from from being foudroyée over a long period.

For now I'll wind up Showing Off by showing you On the Fringe, oil pastel portraits (the full set in context is here ) which I drew of some spectators at performances of the Theatre of the Secret Self in Edinburgh in which I participated. Our group won an award for best float at the Fringe Festival's opening day parade.

Fringe7-b

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September 23, 2013

SHOWING OFF: Part Four

I went straight to the most beautiful woman in the room, a blonde in her twenties, not unlike my mother at that age. She was taller than me and as I stood in front of her, Z brought a cushion and placed it under my feet. I laid my head on her chest and stayed like that for a while, my heart pounding like a hammer. Z then asked people to lift the two of us up and lay us down gently on the floor. He and the whole group formed a silent, protective circle around us.

Lying on top of my 'mother' I lost all sense of who or where I was. She stayed motionless, cool. At some point I lifted her shirt and put my face against her bare breast. It was then I began to cry. The sobbing came from somewhere so deep and powerful that I felt as if I was being torn apart and the more I cried, the deeper it went. I must have been returning to a moment in time of which I have no conscious memory, one which had so profoundly affected me that I had buried it beyond reach. But there were no thoughts, no words for what was happening, there was only this soul-shaking sobbing. I was the crying, nothing else.

How long it lasted I have no idea but suddenly the crying stopped and I was invaded by the most extraordinary peace and lightness. It seemed as if something really momentous had taken place, a kind of miracle.

Everyone in the group had felt it too but ordinary life was now restored and the Regression Weekend was over. In high spirits we all trooped out and headed for the Indian restaurant which had been booked for a farewell dinner. Z picked me up, put me on his shoulders, and carried me piggy- back down the street.

My life took a new turn from that day.

Part Five will follow soon.

Regressing, child and mother

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September 22, 2013

SHOWING OFF: Part Three

Throughout the weekend, each person in the group had their moment in the limelight and Z's full attention as observer, interpreter and motivator of each scenario. Nobody in the group seemed more than averagely troubled, none seriously neurotic and certainly not mentally ill but, by God, all those unresolved childhoods! So many early traumas hidden behind ordinary people's faces and perhaps never revealed until now. The simple technique of choosing two strangers who vaguely ressembled one's parents worked like magic. Having a supportive and absorbed audience for your mini-drama plus the charismatic presence of Z orchestrating it created an enveloping, secure ambiance where it was safe to unlock secrets and to show off whatever needed showing off.

I became totally mesmerised by each person's story, and by Z's stunning insights. I was picked to be 'mother' a few times, playing the role as my 'children' had experienced it, but you were supposed to decide when to 'work' (take centre stage) and I had almost forgotten that I had come for my own sake. It was only as the last session was winding up and the whole group was about to go out to dinner that I felt an irresistible urge to be heard. I got up and went to sit in front of Z and said: I want to work.

He looked at his watch.

Bingo!

Precisely the gesture my father often made when I was talking with him.

Z said: Do you always wait until the last minute to get attention? I nodded.

He said: Who's your father?

I said: You.

Z stood up, arms hanging loosely at his sides, head down.

He said: What do you want to do?

Without a moment's hesitation, I came to stand with my back to him, grabbed his arms and put them over my shoulders, bent down, hoisted him off the ground and walked around the room carrying him on my back.

Everyone laughed. I was (am) a petite 4'11". He was about 5'9" and solidly built. It was very funny.

Z said seriously: That's it. You're a carrier. Your parents jumped on your back when you were born and you've been carrying them ever since.

I am a carrier.

I drew the above cartoon when I got home so I would remember the scene forever. I also sent it to Z.

Then Z said: Who's your mother?

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SHOWING OFF: Part Two

I wrote a post some time ago about this experience but I can't find it in my blog archive so if anyone remembers reading it, my apologies for repetition. I want to try to finish this before midnight so that it's still the 21st but if I can't manage it, there'll have to be a Part Three tomorrow.

The place where the event which changed my life happened was an unremarkable house in a forgettable semi-suburban area of North London. It took a train, a bus and a walk to get there, a journey I was to become very familiar with. This was the heyday of encounter groups (the de-privatisation of psychotherapy) and a steady stream of well-known group therapists flowed in and out of London from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Big Sur, New York, Amsterdam and further afield and the house I entered on that autumn evening was the venue where most of them came to do their thing. I was not particularly interested in that scene but picked up the centre's brochure to read while waiting for the Regression group to begin. The room was large, carpeted and completely bare apart from a circle of about fifteen floor cushions, all but two of which were occupied - one was for me and one, presumably, for the psychologist. My new friend B had already arrived and we said hello silently. The atmosphere was very quiet and rather tense. I was reading the brochure and when I looked up, suddenly the leader was there on his cushion. I hadn't heard him come in. We were all barefoot so maybe that was why.

Talk about a coup de foudre: a thunder clap deafening you while a bolt of lightning strikes you should not by any stretch of language be translated as 'love at first sight'. Lust is nearer the mark because it blinds you but, in this case, inextricably woven into love and childhood and your entire life history, ressembling one of those sundaes when the hot chocolate sauce and the strawberry syrup filigree their way into the vanilla ice cream and who can tell which is lust and which is love in that delicious and stomach-churning mess?

So there he was, on the cushion, legs crossed in casual approximation of the lotus position. Think Picasso mixed with Brando in Last Tango in Paris with a dollop of Sinatra in Las Vegas and maybe a dash of Al Pacino and you'll get some idea of what I saw in that coup de foudre moment though none of this is an accurate description. He also looked like my father who absolutely did not look like any of those men and anyway I was not in love with my father and Freud was wrong.

He asked us to say something about ourselves and why we had chosen to participate in this group. It took a while for my turn to come round and I sat there, panicking, unable to think of any words at all. Finally I managed to blurt out something like: I keep stopping myself from doing what I want to do. He said: Are you successful at this? Startled, I said: Yes, very successful. He smiled. The coup became even more foudroyant for me as the evening and the weekend progressed but there's only one part that I need to describe because it leads to the theme of this post.

The psychologist...let's call him Z...explained the structure of the work: each of us was to choose two people from the group who in some way, however distantly, reminded us of our parents. Then we were to re-enact a scene from our childhood which was significant for us and which encapsulated our rapport with father and mother; it could be without words, simply with body language. There was much more to it but I'm abbreviating because the clock above my desk says ten minutes to midnight. Five minutes to midnight.

Okay, it's midnight. So I'll finish this tomorrow. And there'll be a drawing as well.

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September 21, 2013

SHOWING OFF: Part One

A few days ago I wrote a comment at Clive Hicks-Jenkins' amazing Artlog, asking him a question. He answered it so fully and thoughtfully that it has sent me back in time to my own experiences in the realm of public, in contrast to private creativity.

Why title this rumination Showing Off ? Well, first of all, please forget the accusing, guilt-inducing, mocking connotations of those two words when spoken about or to someone, usually accompanied by an ever so slightly green (with envy) facial expression. Would this blog exist, or yours or yours or yours, or the internet itself and all its social media, if we were not all show-offs of some kind? Some quietly diffident, some so modest as to be nearly invisible, some hesitant, some bold, some brash, some altruistic, some egotistic - whatever the mode, a desire to invite others in, and to be invited, is a powerful stimulus and motivator. Even those who, like myself, feel at home with solitude and consider it an indispensable ingredient to creativity are sometimes propelled into a communal or collaborative endeavor in which we can shine (show off) and find it invigorating, challenging and, on some levels, disturbing.

The following reminiscence really belongs in the autobiography and I'll move it there at some point but anyway. It was in London, after times I've written about and some times as yet unwritten. I was stuck. Restless. Annoyed with myself. Nothing was very wrong nor very right with my life. One day I was reading the classified personal ads in the London Review of Books, as one does. Now here's a funny thing: I cannot remember whether an ad caught my eye and I answered it, or whether it was I who inserted a Would-Like-To-Meet ad which was answered. Either way, it was via the LRB personal ads that I met B, who was not the message but the messenger. Chemistry, no, but we liked each other and he asked if I wanted to go to a group therapy weekend, led by a highly regarded psychologist whose regression (to childhood) groups were said to be extraordinary. I was intrigued and said yes. It was the 21st of September, in the evening.

It's now 1:35 am and I want to sleep so I'll continue later today but will post this snippet now.

September 8, 2013

LESS OPINIONS, MORE WORK

It's hard not to voice an opinion on the crisis in Syria and the world powers' current stance concerning it but I'm resisting the temptation to add to the debates, at least online, though in conversation with friends I can't help saying what I think. I'm aware that my knowledge of the complex factors involved in the situation, being based only on what I read in the media, is so limited that any words I can say on the subject are about as much use to the problem as the meowing of a cat or the tweeting of birds and Tweeters. Therefore I'm posting more artwork to distract your attention from more serious matters, if only for a minute or two.

Here's another of the rough black & white sketches for the book, with one stage of the cut block lying on the table. The vinyl tile is about 2mm thick and quite bendy so the block is fragile because of its large open areas. But after it's been textured with gesso, I glue it to a second vinyl block which acts as backing and brings it up to the right height for eventual printing. The vinyl is quite resistant and cutting blocks with a scalpel requires a lot of effort - I wear a thin leather glove so as not to get sore between thumb and index finger where the handle of the knife rests. Stanley or other chunky knives are not suitable for intricate cuts. The second photo below shows the block upright.

Page 8, sketch and cut block

Close-up of cut block, P.8

And now for some entirely different artwork. I did the little painting below a few months ago, working fast and loose as a break from slow, concentrated effort. As sometimes happens, such exhalations can turn out surprisingly well - this one's going into my Apple Series.

A happy Apple, oil

A Happy Apple NdA 2013. Oil on canvas board. 25 x 30cms (10" x 12")

Another artwork, this one from a very long time ago: a portrait of my late ex-husband Reg which I painted in San Miguel Allende, Mexico where I first met him, when I was an art student and he was a teacher at the Instituto Allende (see this part of my autobiography). The portrait will soon be going to Vancouver where some of his grown-up children and grand-children live. It was painted in Duco, the industrial paint which was used at the art school and by many of the Mexican muralists. I like this painting, it captures Reg's personality, the sunny time and the enthusiasm I felt.

Reg in San Miguel, Mexico

Reg in San Miguel, Mexico  NdA. Duco on hardboard. 24" x 36"

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