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.