Workshop at Ty Pawb Wrexham As part of ‘Aildanio’ Portraiture Using Collage
Many years ago or – BI – Before my illness, I was a primary school teacher, and I don’t think it’s something you ever lose – That buzzy brain and way of ‘explaining’ things. Though I have to say on being asked by DAC if I’d like to host a workshop, I was quite… scared. Teaching kids how to read is a bit different to teaching adults how to create something from collage.
The theme was ‘Aildanio’ or reignite – so rather than making it disability related I decided to concentrate on someone ‘famous’ who would appeal to the masses, and was very recognisable and would be an easy subject, and who had a ‘spark’ or Aildanio. I choose 2 subjects (Not Frida Kahlo for a change!) Dylan Thomas
and David Bowie, after some discussion with Ty Pawb we decided to use Bowie. I had to pick images that would ‘allow’ themselves to be good bases for collage – so I went to artist Edward Bell and the amazing cover he did for Bowie’s album ‘Scary Monsters’ – the stark clown face with a lot of white make up would be perfect for paint and collage.
With help from the lovely & Talented Gail Howard from Made In Roath and DAC, people who booked to take part in the workshop were sent a parcel of materials to use. I knew that I couldn’t use any photos or drawings of Bowie because of copyright, so in order to use his image, I would have to provide the Bowie template, which I really enjoyed doing. Producing 2 portraits of him – One shaded, one with room to ‘create’. I then wrote a simple ‘How to’ using photos which was included in the packs sent out to participants.
I was asked to talk a bit about collage, so instead of giving a potted history, I talked for about 10 minutes about how I use collage – Which I use a lot! I think in a lot of ways not having an ‘Arts education’ frees you up, so when I create something I never feel like I should or shouldn’t DO a certain thing because it’s ‘wrong’ – I just do it, and that applies to the collage I use. Several of my paintings have morphed into college.
The workshop was an hour long – and I now know it should have been at least 90 minutes. It was so enjoyable, and the ladies and gentlemen who took part all fed back to Ty Pawb and DAC that they enjoyed it oo! (Phew). Also quite importantly it was ALL online, done on zoom with a 2 camera set up (One pointing at my face, one downwards at the collage). Thanks to Dave Robinson for helping me with a 2-camera set up, sound and vision (Oh bit of a Bowie nudge there!). Thank you to Ceridwenpowellart for allowing me to show you the collage she produced at the session!
After a gap of two years, in November 2022 the DAC Arts Prize was back. Specifically, for ‘disabled’ artists this is an important Arts prize as it goes ‘On Tour’ around venues in Wales and is free to enter (unlike most Arts prizes).
The Theme or brief this time was ‘Aildanio’ which a loose translation is ‘Reignite’ in English. Artists were asked to create something to that theme. I had nothing that fit the bill so set about creating two pieces of work, both self-portraits.
The first – This (wheelchair) Wheel’s on Fire is painted on 350gm watercolour paper, in acrylics and has gold leaf ‘flames’.
I had the idea that I wanted to paint myself as I am, not a romanticised version of myself, but rather a ‘warts and all’ one, hair tied up, no make-up. Grotty clothes (who gets dressed in a pandemic?). Despite the dishevelled image, the main image I wanted to put forth was one of empowerment, of defiance, I wanted to stare, unflinchingly into your eyes. In April 2022 I found out I had uterine cancer and last year was taken up with endless hospital appointments (mostly cancelled), cancelled operations and worry. I wanted to put all that, into this painting, and to underline that I am a woman, and I’m still here, I grabbed my boob. Here’s the reference photo – which still makes me laugh!
This wasn’t to shock. Or even to be ‘funny’ – there’s no humour in this painting for me, it’s pure ‘Come on then, do your worst….’. This piece took months to complete, I invested so much of myself and my emotions in it and It’s one painting I’m proud of, to me, this unflinching portrait IS the epitome of… ‘me’. Here’s my entry: This (Wheelchair) Wheel’s on Fire LOOK into my eyes as I sit defiant (in my wheelchair)
YOU can NOT hold me back I am a TITAN I feel the power of Rhea, and Phoebe coursing through me. I’m not scared of you and your opinions, I’m Van Gogh, Maya Angelou, Alice Sheppard, Toulouse Lautrec, Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo rolled into one.
Can you feel my potency? I am at one with myself and the universe Nothing you say or do can sway me
My aim is true
Touch my breast, feel my heart beat with life, with inspiration, with creativity! My spark has set everything on fire, these flames spread around my wheelchair, around my head, and in my hair………… My soul is fire I am EMPOWERED A GODDESS An ARTIST
The second portrait is one based around me being trapped in the house through Covid, and like Alice in Wonderland when she takes the ‘Grow’ Pill, bursting out of my confinement. This is a larger work for me, I am very restricted space-wise (oh what a joy it must be to have a studio!) so did struggle with not only where to put this, but how to balance it on things to paint! On black 25ogm paper using acrylic paint, oil paint, liquid leaf, gold leaf, conte crayon, and soft pastels, this is 57.5 x 75.5 cms.
I have created 2 pieces along the lines of being ‘Trapped’ and also ‘mad’. Here’s my entry: Alice – ‘Who in the world am I? The White Rabbit – ‘Ah, that’s the great puzzle’.
Alice asks this question in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and comes to realise that not only does she not know where or what Wonderland is, but she can’t determine who she is in there. I am similar to Alice, we both wonder what our identities are in a world that actively challenges the perspectives and sense of self for the disabled. I am in a box. It is a house shaped box (so don’t complain at least you have a roof, and a bed and nice shiny walls, this isn’t a rabbit hole, it’s Wonderland). Ah but the life of a cripple is a lonely one. You lose friends as quickly as you lose the ability to stand, alone and wobbling, scared of dying, yet dying every day, inside the box with a roof and a bed with the nice shiny walls. DRINK ME says the label on the bottle, so I do, and instead of shrinking …I grow and grow and GROW… I don’t want to be trapped in a box anymore
Isolation has changed me. Alice and I understand that self-perception can’t remain fixed honest and true in a world that has drastically different rules for the disabled. Others give us a slippery grasp of identity. Ignored, disenfranchised, a pest, I lost my voice. Alice and I didn’t create our Wonderland’s, we fell down a rabbit/covid hole, and our quest to discover how we fit into this world is also a journey to in understanding how outside forces and our own inner feelings influence our own perception of ‘Identity’. Is it time? I feel my body move I’m waking up, my fingers unfurl, my hands stretch OPEN, slowly one eye opens and as the light hits me I ready myself to spit out the bile and ash of Isolation Confinement Constriction I wiggle my toes. YES, it’s time I can’t hold myself back HERE I COME I am BURSTING OUT of this box of mirrors!
I feel the warmth in my belly, the heat of excitement I turn to the caterpillar and say ‘It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then…’ I know who I am, and I rise unafraid.
To me both paintings were created absolutely in response to the theme of Aildanio. Neither got into the exhibition!
However, the third one – the afterthought, did.
DAC allow 3 entries and on the last day of submission (the other 2 had been entered a week ago) I decided to fill that 3rd space with ‘You’ll be the Death of me’
I am disabled, and those of you reading this who’ve applied for DLA (The old disability living allowance) or PIP (personal independence Payment) will know what a torturous thing it is to go through. The form itself is beyond difficult, long and so personal (‘Tell me, how do you wipe your bottom and what with…?), then there’s a medical, where a person you’ve never met before – like an ex Physio or ‘health practitioner’ makes decisions that affect your life – TOTALLY. MY PIP renewal came 14 months EARLY, effectively meaning that if there was a change of outcome, and variation, then I would lose 14 months of help. I was distraught, and without even thinking, began to draw drowning people and a sea of pip forms. Its without a doubt my most personal and most horrifying creation. I find it painful to look at. You’ll be the Death of me is a painting and collage, there’s nothing delicate about it, it was made in anger and it thick with glue, mediums and has paint and pain splattered all over it. I don’t often use canvas (mainly due to lack of storage space) but this needed to be supported and I knew that without really realising it.
On the wall you can see the drowned and drowning figures interspaced with writing – My ripped up genuine PIP form. But when held up to the light, the text is visible and horrible. Here’s my entry:
Being stuck ‘In’ for 28 months gives you time to contemplate your life, how you fit into society as a disabled person and if anything has changed for us after the devastating and continuing effects of Covid. During the pandemic people on Universal Credit were granted an ‘Uplift’ of £20 a week. This wasnot extended to anyone on disabled legacy benefits.
When winter comes I know I will not be able to heat my house, and possibly may not be able to charge my wheelchair.
The Maze of benefits, the constant need to PROVE you ARE DISABLED, and then the refusal, the reconsideration, the endless writing and phoning, always get you nowhere.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that in 2017-18 half of people in poverty were either disabled or lived with a disabled Person.
My own journey in navigating benefits has been responsible for a complete breakdown in my mental and physical health, since I became ill 16 years ago. Drowning in the paperwork we can’t cope with, dying because the DWP make it so difficult to claim, making the experience and medical so HORRIFIC that you will do anything to not go through it again. In 2016 I contemplated suicide when my migration from Disability Living Allowance to PIP was refused. The work is a plea, a mirror, a depiction of how it feels to be on benefits, and if one person sees this painting and gains some understanding – then this is my Aildanio.
I was amazed when this piece was chosen, and then picked to be in the final 3, coming second place.
So a lesson learnt from this last DAC prize is – even if you follow the brief, what’s in YOUR head as ‘right’ may not be in the JUDGES heads! You can NOT ‘know’ what people will like, approve of, or pick! Different judges look for different things, perhaps they unconsciously mirror their own work? Maybe they just like things on certain days depending on their mood. But the ‘theme’ of this post is – You can’t guess, or know!
Huge thanks to Roy Barry for his Ty Pawb Aildanio Photos!
Social media can cause all sorts of problems can’t it? But it can also allow you to reach out to people you’d never meet in real life (especially when you’re disabled), and vice versa. Prea Kaur is a Phd student at Keele Uni and a few months ago I saw her call out for ‘bodies’ to be photographed for her exhibition. I couldn’t take part as with shielding from Covid and distance made it very difficult, but a few days later Prea contacted me as she saw some of my art on instagram.
I don’t share some of the art I create. Not because it’s personal and I want to keep it hidden, it’s more to do with the ‘Medusa Problem‘ – that seeing it, might offend or upset you so much, you could turn to stone.
Prea wanted all of my ‘hidden art’ for her show.
I think this is a subject I’ll come back to time and time again, women, bodies, expectations, perfection, ideals. Fat, thin. Mental health. Disability – Because it’s my lived experience.
The Body and I exhibition examines and explores body negativity and positivity as well as the minds relationship to bodies and food. The accumulation of voices helps address the concerns faced by many people who find they are at war with their bodies, because they do not look like the models and personalities that saturate social media, advertisements, and glossy magazines.
This exhibition encompasses mixed media, including photography, art and the written word. It marks the celebration of diverse bodies, acknowledges insecurities and focuses on power over fear.
Curated by Prea G Kaur an Indian British poet undertaking her PhD in Creative Writing at Keele University. She is currently exploring generational trauma and the Indian diaspora in England. Like many others, the pandemic made Prea realise that she was far from being content. Prea believes that if there had been more awareness surrounding our bodies while growing up, and a better understanding of the fact that our minds can hurt just as much, and if not more, than any open wound, perhaps she wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder, or would have recovered sooner.
The Body and I is an exhibition that shares stories of struggle, resilience, and power against our own darkest thoughts. Prea worked alongside the photographer Adina Lawrence. Adina is a Black British portrait photographer who enjoys implementing a fantasy-like feel to create flamboyant, conspicuous, and stimulating images.
Madness Reigns In The Hall of the Cripple Queen
acrylic and pastel
Acrylic paint on round canvas
11.7 x 16.5 cms
300g Watercolour paper
Open to Whatever the Day Brings
Ink & Pencil painting
On 300g watercolour paper
I live in a small Welsh Village, the type of place where everyone knows all the people who reside there, most are inter-related, and it goes back generations.
Walking through the village one day, holding the hand of my then 8 year old son I heard someone shout from across the road. At first I thought it wasn’t directed at me until I heard the word ‘Fat’……
‘I said… YOU’RE fat aren’t you’? He said out of his rolled down window.
He was parked in the bus stop across the road. I froze. My son pulled my hand.
‘You fat fucking cunt. You ugly fat bitch, you’re so fucking fat, you pig’
I couldn’t look at my son, the shame and embarrassment I felt for him, the horror of knowing everyone could hear him shout these words at me.
‘I can’t believe how fucking fat you are’, He laughed.
I can’t remember walking across that road, dragging my son behind me. I DO remember knocking on his hastily wound-up window while he, white-faced, looked ahead.
I felt utterly humiliated, but for the first time really, REALLY, fucking angry. WHAT gave him the right to ridicule me in the middle of a village?
He wouldn’t look at me, I stared at him, continue to bang his window and Shouting ‘FAT CUNT’ at me…… he drove off (Named and shamed Robin Nash from North View, Rhosywaun).
This is a normal occurrence for fat people, it’s been happening to me since I was 6 years old. A lot of people think it’s their ‘right’ to take the piss and be cruel, offensive and hateful to fat people.
One of the biggest challenges I think fat people face is not just the abusive, dismissive behaviour we experience, but the fact that it’s considered normal, funny even
Fatphobia is so ingrained, so widespread, common and pervasive that many of us don’t even realise we have these beliefs. Most of the Doctors I’ve been unfortunate to see have utter distaste for us and, along with a lot of other people, believe we are lazy, deserve less respect, dignity, and love. We are poor, we smell bad, we are stupid, we are OUT OF CONTROL, and we need to diet. Because, as a health care worker at my local GPs told me; ‘It’s you that stuff’s the food into your mouth you just need to stop it’. I suspect she would tell someone who had an anorexic eating disorder to eat more cake.
I am a fat woman. I was a fat kid and have never been slim, thin or svelte.
I call myself fat, not as self-punishment but as a truth. I am aware of myself, I am overweight, obese, fat. If I were offered a Magic pill right now that would make those kilos fall away, I’d take it.
To stop that look of disgust I get from a lot of people.
If people accepted that being fat isn’t as simple as stuffing your face (therein lies another 20 pages) perhaps this abusive behaviour would be seen as wrong?
How do YOU feel when you see an overweight person? Does a well of bile rise in your throat?
Do you feel compelled to yell ‘FAT TWAT’ at them?
Oh but they’re just words…. So, you must shout ‘MONG’! at anyone with Down’s syndrome? RETARD at someone with special educational needs and ‘SPAZZ’ at anyone in a wheelchair?
Right? Are you stifling a giggle right now at those 70s names?
I suspect you’d reign yourself in because those words are bad, abusive and you’d probably get arrested for a hate crime. They are not ‘just words’
All the words in the artwork have been directed at me over the years, I don’t wear them as a badge of pride, it makes me profoundly sad that some people can’t see who I am.
Let’s talk briefly about the making of ‘Some unkind words I’ve been called’.
These paintings are ‘practice’ at a planned BIGGER piece for a future project. Whether of to paint or collage the words.
I have made 2 pieces, one all drawn the other including collage made from printed Adjectives such as; FAT, CUNT, SLAG, TWAT, WHORE… need I go on? Yep – SHREW, PIG…. all the names over the years I’ve been called.
I’ve drawn, then painted in acrylic, myself as a ‘wild woman’ a beastly female, out of control, ripping and tearing the words until they bleed. Swallowing them whole, taking it inside my organs, making them a part of my very being. Thick blood flows from my mouth and down onto the words. I think collage works for the words. Paint and medium for the blood, but do I make myself more monstrous? No, I need to make myself more FAT.
Tina (Fat, woman, Size 28, 20 stone, BA Hons History. Bsc Hons Science. P.G.C.E, Artist, nice person, disabled, showers daily and wearer of Coco Chanel and deodorant).
What I create is always tied into my past (and sometimes present). Even the fantastical paintings have links to my childhood. This particular drawing is of two family members. My Grandmother Isobel’s Mum, Blind Granny Maclean, and my grandmother’s half sister, Gleeda.
I don’t know Granny Mac’s Christian name, and there’s no one left to ask. They’re both lost to time, dead and buried locally and I have no idea where or when they passed. But I do have memories of them both. As a small child standing in front of Granny Mac, my own grandmother Isobel looked very much like her, and I get a distant ‘feeling’ of thinking she looked even older than MY Gran (who at that time would have been only 48). I have several memories of Gleeda, all either puzzling or terrifying. If you look closely at the drawing you’ll notice Gleeda is different.
What do I mean by that?
As a disabled person myself labelling others as ‘terrifying’ is cruel and unnecessary, but in my defence the way Gleeda looked, her dark sunken eyes and large hands, did frighten me, as I was only 5 years old and didn’t understand why she was different. Why this big grown up person carried a dolly with her everywhere, wouldn’t share that dolly and would spit at you if you went near her. Today Gleeda would have probably been to school and then a specialist college, she would have learned to live independently and would have been cared for.
In one way she was lucky because she remained at home at a time where people with special needs, who could be challenging, were institutionalised. It was around 1969/1970 that Granny Mac Passed, leaving Gleeda alone in the house. Her brothers and sisters couldn’t care for her complex needs. Which of course gave the family.y only one option, an institution. I do recall the last time I saw her. We drove for what seemed like hours, My dad and Isobel, until we got to a hospital-type building, and there on a huge ward filled with beds (and in each bed a person) was Gleeda. Still clutching her Dolly. Her eyes darker now and her body thinner.
I can remember the horrific smell more than anything, and I remember crying in fear. I don’t know how long we were there, I don’t remember anything of my Dad or Gran, but I do remember Gleeda thrusting her book at me to look at, Aesops Fables. On leaving being told to give to her back, she pressed it back into my hand and she looked so sad. Every single time I saw Gleeda she would scream at the threat I posed to her dolly, I was terrified of her dark eyes, and finally the most throat gagging smell from where she ended her days.
Gleeda didn’t last long after Her mum died and she was put ‘away’. I often wonder how different her life would be if she’d been born 20 years later. This photo belongs to my uncle, the only survivor of Isobel’s four sons. Looking at it as an adult Its very upsetting to think I was so very scared Of Gleeda, that no one took the time to explain to me that she wasn’t someone to be feared, that she wasn’t a monster out of a book, but that she was just a bit different. I look into HER eyes in this photo and see HER fear.
This drawing is a memorial to Granny, but mostly to Gleeda.