When I came to Sri Lanka I thought I would be scanning a new horizon, that my focus would be new materials, new processes, fresh thinking. Inevitably perhaps, Bill has come with me on this journey (and he’s very welcome here). Most surprising for me is that I have returned to my very first mark-making.
As a child I drew incessantly, from the moment I could first hold a crayon. Mum was a radiographer; each X-ray film was sleeved in bright yellow paper and cream card, so my sister and I had a limitless supply. It was our favourite kind of play.
Drawings of imagined foreign lands, animals strange and familiar, horses, horses, horses. Later, fantasy clothing, scenes of violence, people kissing. I took O and A Level Art. It was both a delight and a refuge. I was allowed out of school on my own to sit in the local museum and draw stuffed owls, geological specimens, the Egyptian mummy.
And then I stopped.
Theatre consumed me – firstly performance, then later, making things. In my work with my brother, making giant figurative sculpture, I have used drawing from time to time as the means of communicating an idea. But I haven’t drawn for simple joy for over forty years.
I have been thinking about Bill and the paths I have walked since he died. I have been watching the nature of my grief, the rhythm of it, the unpredictable timing and force of its assaults, the physical effects of it (I find it very hard to sing without weeping, no matter what the song). I thought I would never be happy again.
And then, little by little, new shoots emerge. My beautiful niece married in pouring rain to her navy officer. Swimming horses in the sea at Marazion. Unearthing pale new potatoes with Di at our allotment. Jowan meeting his first donkey. A wild and windy cliff walk with Pete and Tom. Elation, hilarity, wonder, delight in the sweetness of the everyday. I have marked these as punctuation marks in the sentences of my sadness.
In so many ways, individually and collectively, Sri Lankans are expert in grief. The long years of civil war and the cataclysm of the Tsunami are deeply embedded in the narrative here. I was interested in how a community might make its way through the aftermath of such losses to find life again. So in the last weeks I have been having conversations with people who survived the wave, but lost friends, family members, livelihoods, homes. And also people who have suffered less dramatic but still life-changing losses and reversals. I have been drawing their stories, not so much what happened on the day, but more the moments in the following months and years when they felt they could imagine a happier future, a less clouded horizon.
And re-discovering drawing is giving me playful joy and a kind of peace.
Now I will paint these images onto the two hulls, themselves signifiers of the possibility of renewal, built by the community after the wave. I am joined in this project by the wonderful Pippa Taylor, among whose many talents is botanical drawing. She will paint the tangle of mangroves that will frame the little scenes. Mangroves protect the coast from erosion and can mitigate the effects of storm waves and tsunami. We are both well out of our respective comfort zones in this endeavour, but excited by the scale and craziness of the task.
Survivors’ stories and my drawings in the next blog…