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
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 was not 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!