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Dead: Paintings of singers and musicians who died tragically young. New exhibition in Hastings.

Why I decided to paint for the first time in 30 years

On Tuesday 12 June 2019 my first ever ‘art’ exhibition opened at the Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0BU. The show finishes on 23 June and features watercolours of artists who died tragically young. People such as: Amy Winehouse, George Michael, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Keith Flint, John Lennon and many others.

At the age of 56, this has been a long time coming. Given that I abandoned painting back in 1988 in favour of trying my luck with the written word it is as much a surprise to me that this is happening as I’m sure it is for anybody else who knows me.

I resumed painting in 01 January 2017. I decided to do so because I was taking a three-month sabbatical from alcohol and needed something to fill in the hours. My wife in the meantime, went out partying and clubbing with a much younger set of friends that she had suddenly commenced socialising with. I thought she was having a mid-life crisis and tried my best to be supportive.

Except that she didn’t got out with her new unblemished friends. Although she was occasionally to be found shaking her booty with her ‘hip’ young crowd what she was actually doing was having multiple affairs behind my back. I’m more than a little humiliated to admit that I simply didn’t have a clue this was going on. I feel stupid and foolish beyond words that I was so easily deceived. We’d been together for 18 years and I trusted her more than I trusted myself. I thought that were both going to grow old together. So did she – or so she frequently told me.

But everything exploded in my face in early July 2018 when I discovered – via Find My Phone of all things – that my betrothed wasn’t actually working abroad as she was supposed to be. She was in Hammersmith playing tonsil tennis in the grubby council flat of a 31-year-old Italian ex-soldier.

Four months later, after our once incredible, amazing relationship had at light speed devolved into something that went beyond toxic, I reluctantly left the woman I loved and moved to Hastings alone. There was no other option for me. I simply had to get as far away from the nightmare as I possibly could.

After almost two decades together it was took only four days for her to openly, brazenly and cynically parade her lover before me. He is 25 years younger than I. Impossible to compete with. Whatever I thought my reality was crashed and burned before the now distressingly alien and gloating eyes of the ‘love of my life’.

I moved out of my own house on 26 October 2018. It was without doubt the saddest day of my entire life. Worse than the death of any loved one that I had ever experienced. It was the death of everything I knew. I was lost. Abandoned. Betrayed. Hopelessly alone. Not so apparently for my wife, however, who, after 18 years during which we had spent almost every day together as partners, lovers, including 13 as man and wife, promptly took my shiny Latin replacement to meet her parents and my 15-year-old daughter in Brighton.

It took her less than 24 hours to do this. It was absolutely astonishing to me: heartbreaking, devastating, that the woman whom I thought I knew better than anyone on earth could be so callous, so cruel, so lacking in empathy. It was as if I had awoken to find myself in The Twilight Zone.

Evidently she’s now with this individual full-time. Her regular postings on social media reveal that they make a handsome if slightly incongruous couple. No amount of expensive cosmetic surgery or bottles of hair dye are, however, ever likely to conceal the fact that she is 17 years older than her youthful paramour. And with the onset of menopause looming ominously on the horizon one suspects that this yawning disparity in years will only become more apparent as time rolls on.

My deep, heartfelt love for my soon-to-be-ex-wife has turned into indescribable hatred. Particularly as I later learned that the Italian was just the tip of the iceberg. One of countless lovers consumed over a very long period. All happening in plain sight of me. At the same time as my wife and I continued to have an apparently ‘normal’ physical relationship. At the same time as she regularly assured me that I was the ‘love of her life’. Her ‘soulmate’. It still beggars belief that she could behave like this. It always will.

How could I have been so blind? So stupid? So completely deceived by the person I loved and trusted more than anyone in the whole world? It’s going to be very difficult for me to ever trust anyone again. I know that for sure.

In my new hometown of Hastings I had the worst Christmas imaginable. I spent the entire day in a deep, dark depression and ate precisely two slices of bread. Despite everything, still missing, yearning, craving for my estranged wife. Heartbroken over the loss of my beatific, fragile daughter. Needless to say there was no Christmas turkey for me that day. Although It has to be said that I imbibed more than my fair share of alcohol.

As January arrived the weather was cold, wet and bleakly appropriate. I trudged the streets in a shell-shocked stupor. Then, for a reason I simply will never be able to understand or explain, I decided to contact the Hastings Arts Forum on the seafront and show them my paintings. Silly little watercolours of nothing in particular. To my very great surprise they agreed to an exhibition later in the year.

By February, however, I was beginning to grow increasingly concerned. By that time I was regularly visiting a trauma therapist, taking anti-depressants, suffering from severe depression as well as a condition known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress, not to mention self-medicating with gallons of alcohol and a colourful assortment of recreational drugs. In attempting to dull the pain through whatever means necessary I had completed a grand total of zero paintings.

In a cold sweat I began to paint. I had no choice really. The clock was already at two minutes to midnight. Dead people. People as dead as I felt inside. People as lost as I. People as hurt. People with nowhere to go but down. I’m not going to attempt to play the melodrama card and claim that painting these people saved my life. It didn’t. Nothing is ever as simple as that. Indeed, whether that will ever happen remains to be seen.

What it did give me, however, was a sense of purpose brought on by nothing more than fear of failure. Me and my hangover began getting up early each morning – not that sleep was really possible – and painting until I was too exhausted to continue. A pleasure it was not. By the time that June arrived, however, I had somehow managed to produce 32 watercolours, some quite large in scale. Given that the gallery had only requested that I produce 25 paintings I actually had the luxury of choosing only the less rubbish ones.

I’m not going to claim that they are any good. I’m not qualified to make such judgements. I am certainly more artisan than artist. Craftsman rather than creative. Moreover, I can’t even be sure if I will ever paint again. What point is there in painting stupid little pictures on pieces of paper when your life has been ripped to shreds? But at least they exist. They’re out there for people to look at. To like or to not like. To ignore if they want to. If I’m honest, I’m not particularly bothered either way.

I’ve a long way to go yet. I doubt that I’ll ever be the person I once was. The pain of betrayal strikes me on an almost hourly basis. The agony of losing my daughter is even worse. I feel physically sick most of the time. It’s simply impossible for me to enjoy even a single minute of the day. Recovery, if it is ever to happen, seems a very, very long way away.

This Friday. Tomorrow. 14 June 2019. There is a sort of posh-ish opening in the gallery on the seafront. Wine and all that. Banter, one assumes. Chatter. People talking about things such as ‘composition’ and ‘colour’ and ‘hue’. Meaningless words. It would be great, however, if anyone living in Hastings who happens to stumble across this aimless little blog could come and help make a pretty broken man feel just a tad better about himself. So do drop in and have a look at this old duffer’s daubings. It would be a shame if you’re in the area and can’t spare a couple of minutes. At the very least there’s a glass of cheap plonk in it for you.

In the meantime here are a few of the daubings in question. Please be kind.

Thanks,

Ian

 

 

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‘Dead’: Exhibition of Paintings, Hastings Arts Forum, 11-24 June 2019

On 11 June I will be having my very first exhibition of paintings. Entitled ‘Dead’, the theme of the work is singers or musicians who have all died tragically young. All of the work has been painted in watercolour over a three-month period.

There will be an opening night even at 6:00 pm Friday on 14 June at the Hastings Arts Forum. Being quite nervous about something I’ve never done before I’d appreciate as much moral support as possible.

It would be really good if you could Tweet this page or put it up on other forms of social media, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. I need as much support as I can get.

Below are a few examples of my work.

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Letter to my 12-year-old self

After a very traumatic last 9 months I recently started seeing a therapist who specialises in CBT. I’ve also been undergoing EMDR which, I think,  is beginning to help.

My therapist likes to give me homework assignments. Last week she suggested I write a letter to my 12-year-old self. This is it:

 

Dear me,

First the good news: as I write this letter to you the year is 2019. It follows, therefore, that you and I are still very much alive. We’re not dead yet. Even though we smoke, drink and take far too many drugs for our own good we’re still breathing in and out. Now the bad news: quite apart from the fact that I’m afraid you’re doomed to lose your hair at a very young age, it is my duty to tell you that you’re in for a pretty tough time in the coming decades. But then not many people exactly have it easy – if that’s any consolation at all for you.

I wish there was some way that I could change things for the better for you. But we know all about time and the nature of paradoxes don’t we? If I was able to improve your future and, therefore, my own past there would be no need for me to write this letter would there? And if there was no need to write this letter then I wouldn’t be able to improve your future and my own past. Make any sense to you? Watch the movie ‘Back to The Future’ when it comes out in 1985 and maybe you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to say.

Although I can’t radically change things for you, however, what I am able to do is to give you a little advice and perhaps a few warnings. Before I do so, however, let me reassure you that you’ll grow up to be a pretty OK person: kind, generous, intelligent, good looking, tall, clever, empathetic, sensitive, interesting, funny, witty, strong, modest, loving, talented and decent are just some of the words that others will use to describe you in the coming years. Naturally, there will be plenty of negative words too, but let’s not try to spoil the mood.

At my therapist’s request (Yes! The older version of you has a therapist!) I write to you, my 12-year-old self, because something is about to happen to you that will have far reaching implications and repercussions for you for the rest of your life. I say this from the standpoint of a middle-aged man who himself is only just beginning to realise that one can never escape from one’s past. That however much one tries to brush past events under the carpet they will always remain there. And occasionally you may find yourself tripping over that bump in the carpet, more often than not at the worst possible time. 

I’m not going to go into detail about what will shortly happen to you but I can tell you that it will involve the most important person in your life at the moment. This person is going to manipulate you into doing things that will make you feel ashamed of yourself. In time, however, you will find within yourself the strength to stop this person doing what they are doing and emerge from this experience with a great sense of relief. As the years go by you will even be able to process your wholly understandable shame – a shame borne of corruption, cowardice and complicity – and turn this negative experience into something more positive. Indeed, you will eventually grow to trivialise this traumatic event to such a degree that you will genuinely believe that there will have been no lasting scars. You should feel a sense of pride for being strong enough to do this but I’m afraid I have to warn you that the scars will never go away. They may fade in the light of years but these wounds, you will learn at your cost, are liable to split open at any time.

You and I are both aware that you are currently living in what can only be described as a war zone. I can still remember our cruel, domineering father and all the terrible things that he did to us and to our poor sister on an almost daily basis. I remember the public tears and the private tears that you shed; the fear, the terror, the painful and irrational insecurities that made you tremble in bed, the notion that somehow you deserved every cruel deed that was inflicted upon you; the desperate need to make him proud of you, to make yourself feel that deep down, despite everything, he loved you as a father should love a son. Experience is now able to let me reveal to you that in a strange, confused way he almost certainly did love you. As much as a person so damaged as he was able to experience love. 

I can only offer my apologies to you that you are currently experiencing in real-time the memories that I have successfully managed to file away somewhere in the back of my mind. If I could change places with you I would set you free and bear the physical and emotional manifestations of our father’s pain and misery on my own shoulders. But then that’s what we do, you and I. So often we carry other people’s burdens in an effort, one assumes, to reconstruct our own eroded sense of self-worth. Either that, or we simply want nothing more than to do good for others – surely there can be nothing wrong with that? Perhaps you can help me decide on this one because in truth I’ve never been entirely sure.

This is another annoying quality that you will come to recognise in yourself: so often you will seek assistance from the very person you are trying to help. And this, perhaps, might be the real reason that you and I are so desperate to be seen to give of ourselves to others: in offering ourselves are we are not able to take from others without the guilt that we undoubtedly feel from an unsolicited gesture of kindness, of friendship, of intimacy? Or maybe I succumb to psychobabble. 

My words tie themselves in knots as they are often prone to do. They are not helping you, my younger self, in the context of a voice of wisdom from your future, a voice that is subtly trying to point you in a certain direction while taking care not to reveal too much of the life that awaits you. For without giving too much away: what will happen to you will happen. I can no more change the path on which you are destined to walk than I can change my own past. You will do what you have to do to get where you are going. And nothing and nobody can stop you. 

Of course, there will plenty of wrong turns along the way, blind alleyways, cul de sacs. Why would there not be? There is nothing special or unusual about you. But as well as such failures and hiccups I’m happy to tell you that you will also be fortunate enough to enjoy more than your fair share of success on your journey. Indeed, there will be many who will envy your achievements in life. And while these milestones might not often bring you the financial rewards that we all crave, the sense of creating something worthwhile, of doing the ’right’ thing with you life, will often more than compensate. 

I know you as well as I know myself. And even though all too often you are easily manipulated by those who seek to control you, nobody will ever be able to stop you from doing what you are about to do. Your stubbornness is both a blessing and a curse; it is an essential part of who you are; something you should be forever proud of. As I write this letter to the person I once was  I am able to look behind me at the footprints I have made in the snow. We are both powerless, you and I, to change their direction. Nor should we ever try.

Destiny neither of us can change. But perhaps, just perhaps, we can alter the colour of that destiny. Its flavour. Its smell. In a minor but crucially important way. 

In exactly 44 years time you will sit at the exact same table at which I am currently seated and write the exact same words that I am now writing. And if you have learned the lessons that I have recently been forced to learn in what was the most brutal, heartless, callous, cruelest manner imaginable you may be able to reach the unhappy conclusion that nothing we experience in life comes without repercussions. That when you bury something that is still alive it will eventually dig its way through the cold earth and find a pathway back into your soul. And when it does so you will find yourself an unwitting slave to those patterns of unhappiness you were sure had been consigned history waste basket. 

So keep your eyes open, my 12-year-old self. Look around you and never stop looking. Be vigilant. Learn to recognise those whom you have met so many times before and will again. Be ready for what they do and be prepared for what they seek. For such people carry their own scars and will do what it takes to keep them hidden from view. To be able to recognise the good in others is indeed an admirable quality. To recognise the good in others when that good does not exist is, however, the essence of a fool.  See with your eyes, not with your heart.

Above all, look towards yourself. Look inside yourself. Recognise that in order to evolve it is necessary to take time to heal. Do not dig a hole for your past and walk away without looking back. Keep your past with you at all times. Not as a dull, nagging ache that constricts your movement and deadens your mind. But as an essential and ever-present part of who and what you are. Because only by understanding that it is your past experiences – both negative and positive – that have moulded you into the person you are will you ever truly be able to live as a free man.

Latest watercolour

Might be included in my upcoming exhibition in Hastings 11-23 June.

A tale of two cities

In September 2018 I was invited to accompany boxer Larry Ekundayo to Lagos in Nigeria. This is the story of an incredible 8 days. originally published in Boxing News

Self-portrait with blood and spots

First painting in three months.

 

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A letter to Karen

Dear Karen,

Beautiful Karen, I only knew you for a short while and that will always remain a regret to me. Yet even though our friendship was measured in years rather than decades the qualities that made you who you are shone forth like a dazzling beacon.

Those eyes. My word, those eyes. Anyone who had to the pleasure and the thrill to look into them could never forget those eyes. And the laughter: even though so often in the last few years you had scant reason to smile, the sound of your laughter is forevermore carved into my memory.

Your kindness and grace. Those qualities poured from your soul to leave an indelible mark on anyone who knew you. Even when your own troubles weighed you down you could never stop giving to other people.

Your intelligence and wit. For as I told you many times, you were an old soul. You had lived before. When we sat together in that hospital waiting room and you spoke about the universe, about how both of us were there for a reason, a greater reason, it would have been easy to scoff at those words. But I believed you. And I still believe you.

I sit here thousands of miles away from you today and I’m trying to hold back the tears. I will not be there for you tomorrow. Unfortunately I cannot be. But rest assured I will be thinking of you: tomorrow and for always. And part of me understands that you will probably be happy that I am not bowing my head in sadness with all of your many friends tomorrow. You would rather that I lived my life. You would rather that everyone lived their lives. As you did.

I will always love you Karen.

Ian xxx