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Day 205 – Restless

Seeing as Blink. is my first real artistic endeavour a studio space never really factored into the equation. Plus running the menagerie that is my home takes up another large portion of my time. So when I say I’m living with my work, I really am.

For the first few weeks it was fine, working on one canvas at a time. Then the other 24 came. And then I sketched each face onto each canvas using charcoal pencil for dark spots so that once paint was applied the sketch would peep through better. Then I hung them all around the room, the size of which meant that these black and white morgue images wallpapered my living space. This was when I realised how daunting my task was.

But because I find them beautiful and not morbid as others did I continued living this way for the past few months. When friends would visit I was met with shock and discomfort, and understandably so. I shifted from sadness to familiarity with these women long ago and I forget that I too experienced that very same guttural response. Last week I removed them from the walls, just for a change.

The only word I can use to describe it is restlessness. Constantly, I feel the need to adjust my patterns, move my paint stand, manoeuvre the room into a different configuration. I just can’t settle. Every so often I must try, to the best of my ability, defamiliarise myself with the work so that I may approach each piece with an alternative eye. As I’ve mentioned before, with Blink. I’m either in or out. I’m either intensely and solely engaged with the work or I put it to one side and welcome life back in again. Currently, my family and I are preparing for a landmark occasion and I simply know that I cannot give these women the attention and solemnity that they are owed while my mind is elsewhere. Of course this approach has it’s downsides, the work has slowed down immensely. I feel guilty, like I’m shirking my responsibilities and yet I’m sure that it’s the right decision in the long run.

 

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Day 188 – January 30th, 1994

Unlike Jane Doe 1991, Jane Doe 1994 did not die under suspicious circumstances. Therefore, her case file is sparse yet leaves much to ponder. She was estimated to be between 60 and 75 years old, though judging by her photograph I would lean towards the latter.

Her face is striking and the contortion of her mouth is so that it appears as if she’s smiling, or even laughing. Just as striking is her black and gold patterned jumper. This was an interesting detail for me because hardly any of the morgue photos show the deceased’s clothing. Despite her senior age her skin is tight on her face and her cheeks are round yet prominent.

Jane Doe died in Philadelphia. Found inside an abandoned building, she was known to neighbours by sight only. They even conjectured that she may have been an alcoholic, or mentally ill, or both as they often saw her walking, bottle in hand, talking to herself.

She wore layers of clothing, presumably to escape the cold. She was found wearing 3 jumpers, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, a nightdress, trousers, stockings, two pairs of socks and steel toe cap boots. The boots surprised me, her photo is so ladylike, the friend or neighbour of my grandmother perhaps. How cold must she have been to wear all those clothes?

Questions swirl in an unsteady stream around my mind and I’m caught between trying to piece together the story of these women’s lives and recoiling from imagining for them a lie.

I suppose that’s where art comes in. I know that Jane Doe 1994 could be any of us and I know that people should recognise that but I don’t want to dishonour their lives by writing for them a story that never was. Truth is the central tenet of Blink. There are sketch artists out there who can make these women look like they may have in life, there are writers and directors who could re-imagine these women’s lives in far more convincing ways than I can. The best way I feel I can honour them is by giving them the time and the attention of a portrait. The images, many un-lifelike  are the only true life evidence we possess to represent them. I can only hope that these portraits do not isolate them further but it is my only response for what I see before me.

 

Illustration conceived while painting Jane Doe January 30th, 1994

Day 42 – Connections Part 2

The infrequency of my posts over the last few weeks has been ridiculous, but all in all there was little to report and I’d rather write nothing than to become monotonous and tiresome. There is less than three weeks left on the Fundit campaign and we still have the majority to raise yet if every reader gave 5 euro right now we could finish it today. Don’t wait because soon it will be over and those who have already contributed would have done so for nothing http://fundit.ie/project/blink .

As promised, today (8 days late I know) I am discussing the Blink. inspired painting I mentioned last time. It’s not what you’re used to from me, I know, I shelved precision and detail for texture and freedom. It took less then a day and honestly it was simply a way for me to break through the artist’s block I had been experiencing. There was no process, no forethought, no sketches. It was simply paint to canvas to deal with the relationships of some of these women. Mothers, daughters and brides. Gleaned from case files, many had been pregnant or given birth, one still wore a wedding ring and many had clearly been victims to the sex trade. So I will let the painting speak for itself and I would love to hear any thoughts you may have as there’s nothing worse than having unsupported thoughts and no dialogue when it comes to this kind of subject matter.

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Day 13/14/15 – Surrender

Of course painting is the mission here so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on over the last few days. And now, considering the lack of visual stimulation thus far here I’ve decided to take a small intermission from Blink. to share with you all the painting that really helped me come to this point.

It’s strange how television that isn’t even on the critical level of, let’s say, Breaking Bad or The Wire can inspire something powerful from a place of crippling fragility and insecurity. Around December I began binge watching Law & Order: SVU as I became bed bound for around six weeks and Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson reignited a resilience and strength I was all but sure no longer existed in me. This character is perhaps one of the only truly independent, autonomous females in television. She is neither the ball-busting man hater nor the wilting violet waiting to be rescued. She is a fine example of what it is to be a true woman and unfortunately, this breed is rare on our screens.

In reality, Hargitay is no less inspiring. She created the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organisation which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual abuse along with campaigning to reduce, if not end, this kind of violence and works with End The Backlog which aims to eradicate the terrifying number of untested rape kits across the US.

Her earth-splitting beauty was secondary to me, though impossible to ignore. Therefore when I decided I had to paint a portrait of her, instead of choosing a glamourous shot of her looking the conventional idea of beautiful I decided to take a still from the opening episode of SVU Season 15. Here, she has been kidnapped and tortured for four days by a serial rapist referred to as “The Beast.” In the still I chose she has just broken free of her restraints and incapacitated her assailant.

This, for me, was Hargitay at her most beautiful. She was raw, burnt, beaten and fatigued but her face, her eyes, her mouth emanated such intense yet subdued power, a power that stemmed from the most vulnerable of situations that in a way I was a little awe-struck.

It’s the longest I’ve ever spent on a painting, just a little over four weeks of 10 hour days (I have no idea where that time went) but I came out of it with a new perspective on art, beauty and myself. It’s an extremely personal piece that will forever hold a part of my life and as dramatic as it sounds, I’m not sure exactly where I’d be without it.

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Day 8 – Progress

Upon completion of 25 detailed sketches I opened my laptop to write, instead I fell asleep with a one-eyed kitten licking my face at 3am. I began yesterday with 5 and remembering the vow I made on day 7 managed to generate enough strength to work continuously through the day and night.

The deterioration of energy through the pages from morning to early hours is obvious, even to the visually challenged feline. My question now is how next to proceed. I don’t have the funds to order canvas yet but somehow I still don’t feel ready for that step. However, my application to FundIt is now submitted so hopefully any of you out there who have faith in the exposition will stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we endeavour together to memorialise these women.

So, over the next fortnight  I aim to study these faces, these files until my mind will allow no more and my eyes fail. To maintain passion, to maintain will and empathy as I wait to begin the real challenge is my goal. Hopefully, with all your help we can make this goal a reality and I will truly need all the support you can offer. We, a tiny group of individuals connected through cyber space, can furnish a tiny group of nameless, forgotten women with recognition, appreciation, love and most importantly a legacy that no one else is willing to provide.

But to do this will mean to encourage others, far and wide, to donate whatever little they can, no amount is too big or too small and each single euro is a step closer to remembering the people that everyone else has abandoned. I believe we can do this but it’s success solely depends on the efforts of the collective not the individual.