legacy

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 175 – December 7th, 1991

Yes, it’s been a long time and yes, there are reasons but they’re uninteresting and irrelevant so let’s move on.

Jane Doe was found on the above date days after she was murdered. Unlike her fellow victims in Blink. her murderer was found and convicted of sexual battery. He was acquitted of her homicide. His name is Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr.

I have spent the past week painting her portrait. Her face, aged between 25 and 40 years old, is slightly perfect. The proportions, the bone structure, the lips – if it wasn’t for the grainy black and white photograph and the tight, papery quality of her skin I would swear she was just having a beauty nap. This is so difficult to write about, even more difficult to paint. I’ve had a crisis of faith of sorts in the past weeks, I lost something and it was with this and another portrait I completed this week that I forced myself to reclaim my passion.

There was no moment of clarity, no spark of inspiration I simply had to sit down and doggedly immerse myself in the work once again. I discovered that balance is impossible in Blink. I cannot delegate between the joys of daily life, of summer and then return to the immense pressure I have laid on myself with this endeavour. I am in or I am out. I’m painting 13 hours a day or 0 hours. There is no middle ground. Unhealthy, perhaps but unfortunately I have yet to find an alternative.

Every time I added another layer of paint to this canvas, every time I screwed up a section and had to restart, every time I wanted to give up I just kept repeating, ‘This woman was murdered.’ Not only was she murdered but no one has lain claim to her for almost 23 years.

Her case file tells us she had given birth to at least one child. How old is he/she? Did they know their mother? Are they still alive or do they have their own place in the unidentified persons database? The questions are endless and yet the facts surrounding her death seem quite clear.

Days after she was raped and murdered, a hiker came across her semi-naked body in the woods in Lake County, Florida. He first thought she was a mannequin. It’s possible that her brown hair with blonde tips camouflaged with the stack of tree limbs she had been temporarily buried beneath. The defence alleged the crime scene had been botched; incompetent investigators brushed debris out her multiple stab wounds after initially concluding that she’d been killed (and covered?) by a bear. Later however, after fully uncovering the posed corpse they discovered a glass bottle protruding from her neck, framed by strangulation marks. A stolen Land Rover was found nearby, the detectives working the case questioned it’s owner but later ruled him out.

Then something happened. Or more correctly, nothing happened for almost 4 years. The case lay dormant, along with Jane Doe’s identity.

February 1995 – a computer matches Joseph A. Rolle’s DNA with semen left on the victim. And suddenly Florida, and some argue, the nation was transported into the modern age of criminal justice.

Like many sex offenders, one victim was never going to be enough for Rolle. And Jane Doe probably wasn’t his first. With a charming demeanour, Rolle found no trouble in attracting women. But he had a reputation for diverging the anger of apparent ill’s in his life onto prostitutes. According to police, when things went wrong at home he picked up working girls and raped them. Of course, the case is the same now as it was then, the word of a street girl is never good enough. Perhaps if someone had listened, Jane Doe could have been spared the brutalisation she endured. In 1992, someone did listen but not to a prostitute. Holding a hacksaw to her throat to enforce compliance Rolle violently raped a woman in a friend’s home.

He was sentenced to a meagre 18 months in a state penitentiary. He served 6 months and was released to choke and forcibly rape another woman four times. He lured her with the promise of crack cocaine which indicates she may have been a sex worker and so instead of being arrested for sexual battery he was held on the lesser charge of violating his probation. A pattern has seemed to emerge in the convict’s ferocious violence. One victim reported a hacksaw being held at her throat whilst the other was choked. Meanwhile, Jane Doe gets the full package – she was strangled and stabbed in the neck with a glass bottle. Rolle had a record of other crimes ranging from drunk driving to burglary.

After his previous conviction Rolle’s genetic marker is submitted to what was then a state-wide computer database and hey presto the police have a match.

Rolle became one of the first people in the nation to be accused and convicted by a centralised DNA databank. The trial was predictable. The defence argued against the prosecution’s standard of evidence and investigation while the state attorney’s office needed little once the integrity of DNA evidence was explained to a jury who then would have known little on the subject.

The jury came back with a guilty verdict on the sexual battery but felt they could not be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he went on to kill the victim.

Thankfully, justice would have it’s day. Unlike so many sex crimes both then and today Rolle was not under sentenced. Judge G. Richard Singeltary went above and beyond the sentencing guidelines for Rolle’s crime which was set between 12 and 40 years.

Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr. was sentenced to life in prison where he still resides.

Once again, just as outlined in my previous post, the only reason I was able to recover this information was because the perpetrator’s identity was discovered and made public. Otherwise Jane Doe’s case would only be the sum of the parts of her case file. Justice was served and yet I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. There was no family, no friends sitting on the sidelines to support and remember their loved one while her alleged killer sat comfortably with his mother and sister at his back. The survivor of the first attack for which he was convicted sat solemnly at the sentencing hearing and gave a defiant fist pump to know that she could finally move on with her life.

I hope she thought of herself as sitting in hypothetical solidarity with Jane Doe and all of Rolle’s past and potential future victims too. Jane Doe, in unknowingly sacrificing her life ensured that no more women would fall prey to the barbarity of Rolle.

An earring found with the body of Jane Doe.

 

Day 100 – Without a Voice

It does not feel like 100 days have passed but if I look at what’s been achieved in that time it begins to sink in.

We have raised €700 that has been spent on paint, canvases and a daylight lightbulb which allows me to work well into the wee hours, I have the bones of 8 paintings done while the other 17 canvases hang around my walls baring the pencil-sketched faces I now live with and our small but significant efforts have been recognised by people such as Carol Morely, director of Dreams of a Life.

Since beginning Blink. I’ve been asking myself night after night: Why women? There are just as many if not more John Does out there so why is it that I focused solely on the women. I’m female – that’s one feeble excuse. I’m a feminist – but yet this isn’t a feminist issue. And as I questioned myself tirelessly trying to invent an answer if one did not inherently exist I thought perhaps I should not voice my concern and hope no one else noticed either.

Then, as I spent a dismal night painting and watching a documentary which I can no longer remember the details of I had an epiphany. It was a historical film set around the protesting against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and one of  the leading members of the movement had been asked how he got involved.

He replied: Well, you know, it’s like all things. I met a girl.

Suddenly, as if the haze of vanilla scented candles and distant sounds of cars scuttling through puddles ceased to exist, there it was – the reason why Blink. had to be about women. The faces that paper my walls as I write are the embodiment of the nameless woman but they are not the only ones.

On Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential figures throughout history only 3 women grace the well prepared list. 2 were queens and therefore, had a better chance than most.  But how many women in history have stood behind men, in the shadows and held them strong as they etched their names into the history books. They are the ones who are remembered, written about and exalted. Meanwhile, we will never know the names of the women who bore them upright, women throughout time who may have had more to say than their male counterparts but were simply never given the opportunity to explore their own vision as cognitive, unique, important human beings. How many potentially brilliant minds have been lost between the lines of historical texts. For centuries, half the population were considered sub-standard. They simply weren’t worth the time. In a way, I like to think the women of Blink. both stand for themselves but also represent the countless generations of voiceless women.

We have come so far and yet it’s disheartening how much is left to do. As of 2014, political representation for women is still far less than perfect in the US, UK and indeed, Ireland.

The simple logistical fact is that as long as 50% of the entire population is underrepresented in the country’s decision making – the wrong decisions are going to be made. As long as women don’t think that their voice matters, they will never fight to be heard. This isn’t some ‘feminazi propaganda’ as many would have you believe, it’s simple psychology.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union website has the largest grid for outlining female distribution among the world’s governments. Again we are faced with the harsh reality that the countries we condemn for being seemingly misogynistic or anti-feminist could teach us something.

Rwanda are world leaders in female political representation holding 51% of the seats across the lower and upper house. In third is the much maligned Cuba with 48.9%. Who else puts the “progressive” US, UK and Ireland to shame. Here’s to mention but a few: South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Uganda, Serbia, Guyana, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Singapore, China and Iraq. The UK rank 65th with 23% of seats held by women and the US 84th with 19%. In the meantime more countries pop up ahead of Ireland like Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ireland places 92nd with only 15.6% female representation.*

Hearing such statistics makes you want to bow your head and avert your eyes and ask how we ever fooled ourselves so much. The only female voices we hear are Nicky Minaj, Megan Fox and Kim Kardashian. Yes, feminism is about choice and if you choose to utilise your sexuality to achieve your ambitions who am I to judge? But this doesn’t mean we should not question and consider the motives behind these choices.

If we are so autonomous, so empowered why are so many of us still striving for the same goal of the sexual ideal? While young men are pressured to become economically successful women are just as influenced to strive for cosmetic success. If we say we are just as capable as men then why are we the backing dancers to a male government? Surely when a large percentage of us are making similar if not the same decisions we can’t call ourselves independent thinkers.

If I’m sounding judgmental that is certainly not my intention. I’m just genuinely confused because I succumb to the same pressures the vast majority of young women do. I’m still trying to find the perfect way to remove hair from their follicles, I have been of the mind that if you can’t wear a bikini there’s not much point going to the beach, I still search for the ideal foundation that is heavy duty but doesn’t sit in the natural pores of my face and I religiously subject my hair to chemicals whose names I could not dream of pronouncing.

Again, I cannot express enough how this is not the common man’s fault, they are as conditioned as we are.

But I’m just a young woman, balancing precariously somewhere between apathy and fury all the while trying to convince myself I’m not insane for feeling this way. You just have to ask when is this going to end? The Women’s Movement never declared themselves finished and yet we all presume Feminism is a thing that happened not something that is still happening and perhaps more than ever needs to revitalised.

It has been living on the respirator for far too long.

When Will it be Enough

*Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union 

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.

DSCF8268

DSCF8242

 

DSCF8239

DSCF8270

 

DSCF8248

 

 

DSCF8281

DSCF8285

 

 

DSCF8275

DSCF8290

Day 34 – Connections

I have to recognise the recent infrequency in posting but the details are not too interesting and more importantly quite boring.There is little less than a month left on Fundit http://fundit.ie/project/blink and still 85% to raise so don’t wait, it takes less than 2 minutes. I’m currently working on a Blink. inspired painting that I hope to share in the next 24 hours but today  I feel the need to approach one of the central themes of the project – Connections.

I often wonder how many people the average person speaks to in their entire life. There’s no way of knowing and yet it must be somewhere in the many thousands. Your mother, your partner, the woman behind the deli, the bouncer on the door, your children, the people interviewing you for a job, your doctors in the final days. It’s endless. And how many people do these people talk to?

Isn’t it possible that every last one of us is in some distant way connected to any and all of the Jane Does across the world? Less possible, more probable. How many names do we learn in a lifetime? This number is significantly less. And further, How many names do we remember on our deathbed?

Every one of these women was somebody’s daughter, sister, aunt, friend, waitress, maid, patient, boss, partner. Some were even wives and mothers. Somewhere along the way these seemingly significant connections were severed or at least ignored.

So how do we decide which connections  are worth strengthening? Every single relationship starts as a thread in a web, a word, an introduction, but when do we cast these threads in silver, gold, iron and steel? We choose to do this. We choose who enriches our life moments. Blood is liquid and genes are microscopic but those people we decide to cherish beyond all else upon a chance encounter in one moment – this is the real miracle of life. No religion, no destiny, no fate just the miracle of coincidence.

These women once had these connections and maybe some were made of heavier stuff than thread but they still somehow disintegrated. Nothing is unbreakable and death is the greatest hammer. We may never be able to forge the truly permanent connection but it is our choice of who we decide to spend the strengthening moments with that makes all the difference.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dearest friend whose infinite ability to be my complete opposite has furnished me with some of my happiest memories and who I hope to spend countless life moments with to strengthen our relationship even more.

Day 28 – Blanche Taylor Moore

As promised, this is my portrait of Blanche Taylor Moore. Here’s a step by step process of how it came to be. First I started with sketching directly onto the canvas:

sketch

Then I painted a light grey wash over the whole canvas and just began to outline the darker points:

basic shading

Now, more detail is added and something is slowly beginning to emerge:

3.jpg

From here I take the painting in sections  (eyes, mouth, hair, etc.) so that I can see the true portrait developing. First I start with the eyes:

4.jpg

5.jpg

9.jpg

Next, I moved onto the general skin tone, mouth  and neck:

12.jpg

Now it’s time for hair, which I love despite being extremely tedious:

8.jpg

11.jpg

And there you have it, obviously this is a very sparse walk through but it’s nice to track a painting from blank canvas to complete work. Due to lighting and camera issues I hope to have a good quality photo of the complete painting tomorrow.

Remember to like, comment and share as we are now at the end of our fourth week and still have a long way to go on Fundit.

Day 19 – Fundit

It’s official. Blink. is now live on Fundit, the crowdfunding website. Here is the link: http://fundit.ie/project/blink

For any of you unfamiliar with the site, creating an account takes less then two minutes and then you can browse through many worthwhile, interesting projects. To achieve our goal, I will need many materials but I have put a reasonable goal on the website so as to strengthen our chances of reaching it.

I really believe in this project and I hope you all do too. I cannot thank you enough for your continued support and interest but now is the time when we must strive even harder to make Blink. a reality. This is an artistic project with a difference. Not only will you be supporting art, this is secondary, but you will truly be giving something back. You will be providing a small group of women with a basic right that no one should be denied – to be remembered.

The rewards for funding are extremely personal and will forever give you a reminder of what you’ve helped to achieve. This should be a collective effort for anyone out there who believes and feels the visceral draw to this that I do. If you believe that these women deserve to be loved, not to be lost and to have a legacy then fund it! And together, we can achieve something far greater than ourselves.

However much you give, you will be a part of Blink., an integral and irreplaceable link in the chain that holds us together as we stand for these women and as we advocate for them when no one else will. But without you, it’s impossible.

So like, share, comment, follow, fund and let’s see what we can create.

http://fundit.ie/project/blink

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.

Picture 1.jpg

Picture 4.jpg