Monday, August 09, 2010

The Woman My Father Made

These are the worst of days.
My father's cancer has not responded to a range of different treatments. His doctors now talk of palliative care rather than recovery and are non-committal about its duration. There's nothing I can do but spend as much time as I can with him. He remains resolute, strong and dignified and whenever I'm around him, I've tried to be too. The rest of the time, I'm gutted with grief and fear.
Art is the only way I know to process any of it but I have no desire to share with anyone the notes and sketches I make each day. What my father's going through is too damn hard to be anything but private.
He is an unconventional man. He is often described as intense – and whether that's a compliment or criticism is, well, uncertain. We've had our differences, especially over the past few years, but when I was younger, he offered me boundless encouragement and support, both as an artist and as a woman. He taught me to be strong-willed, independent and unfazed by risk and instilled in me a healthy disregard for convention (even if I took it a little further than he'd intended). He turned me on to fierce, unyielding female role models, starting with comic-book super-heroines and villainesses and archetypal 'bad girls' like Vampirella.
My father loves my art most when it is, as he puts it, "in your face" – which is to say he loves it when it's big, bold, aggressive, and sexy (less so when it's frankly sexual).
When I first thought about the 'rock 'n' roll' art tour I'm planning for next year, it occurred to me that it might be a perfect opportunity to pay homage to the peripatetic, eccentric, yet ├╝ber-feminist upbringing that was my father's best gift to me. My mind was – still is – inundated with unrestrained scenes played out by the provocative, larger-than-life women he urged me to emulate even before I reached puberty. If he lives to see it, I think he will savour the exhibitions, even if there's an inevitable frisson of shock.
I've used myself as a model for my own works since I was in my twenties but for a long time, it was just role-playing. My father used to tell me that he thought it wasn't enough for me to paint these women, that I needed to become them. And over time, I have. My art's the better for it. No longer simply playing at dress-up, I've begun to delve deeper into what this transformation has wrought.
So what can one expect of the shows themselves?
It's too early to say but I'm leaving myself plenty of scope. A couple of years ago, I was upbraided by a well-known Australian art critic for coming up with exhibition titles that didn't communicate what he regarded as a 'proper' seriousness about my work. But fuck him. I'm calling next year's tour Fame, Sex, Money + Madness.
I'm sure my father would approve.

3 comments:

artistlauralynch said...

hazel, love the title for your upcoming work! go for it! and yes, spend as much time as you can with your father... talk with him about everything and say whatever you must that hasn't been said before while you have the time together! ... my father died in his sleep at 56 and i never got the chance to talk with him about the things i cared most about or tell him how much i loved him... i was young and didn't know shit... but i do know the man he was and the father he was to me has been a great influence in my life... in retrospect, if my father hadn't loved me as much as he did, i wouldn't know how to love my daughter as much as i do... peace out!

www.jessicaserran.com said...

hazel,
of course you need to do whatever you feel, but i personally always appreciate work that reveals the range of our experience as human beings. i feel like it allows us to know our experience of being human and being connected in such a profound way. there is a magical way that the deeply personal can connect us to the universal.... and it can make for some very moving art.

just weighing in...

jessica serran
www.jessicaserran.com

Georgiana said...

You can only be yourself as an artist. If you start bending to the whims of critics you lose your authenticity. Stick to your guns!