For reasons far too mundane to go into here, the next couple of months are going to be among the busiest and most frenetic for quite a while, and hence I will have far less time than usual to devote to these posts – at least in written form. Thus, for most, if not all of the next half-dozen or so offerings, I will revert to primarily presenting series of images, hopefully, linked by some kind of theme.
In keeping with this temporary minimalist expedience, I present here a series of my old line drawings, ranging roughly across a couple of decades, from about 1976 to the mid 90’s.
A tutor at Harrow School of Art once told me that “the line is the foundation stone of picture making…master the line and everything else will follow. She added that “artists who fail in this are like musicians attempting to compose tunes without being able to read music…”.
It was a simple message, and all the more powerful for that, and one which stuck with me ever since – its truthfulness being self-evident. Then, when I taught for a while myself, I would begin every class with at least an hour of line drawing exercises, to the point where it drove some of my students to distraction. However, they would invariably tell me when we met up years later, how much they now appreciated, ironically, the freedom and confidence this grounding had given them to develop their artistic styles, however figurative or abstract.
But, apart from anything else, and continuing the musical analogy, the simple line drawing, when done well, offers so much in and of itself in a way similar to how a piano sonata, or a string quartet, may express a deep intimacy and subtle power, lacking in a massive orchestral work. And, hopefully, the selection of doodles here give some idea of what I’m talking about – all very much “quiet, solo instrumental pieces”…
As I pressed the “Publish” button for this post, exactly ten years ago to the day, the hour and the minute, my mother Hannah died. Knowing the exact moment of a loved-one’s death well before it happens is a dubious privilege, which until very recently in human history was the sole preserve of the relatives and friends of those on death row. However, in recent times this situation changed when, in a handful of places in the world, the laws on assisted dying were liberalised.
One such place was the country of Switzerland, which in addition to permitting assisted dying to its own citizens, allowed the setting up of Dignitas, a unique facility, on the outskirts of the city of Zurich, for the use of foreigners.
My mother was diagnosed with terminal stage-4 lung cancer in 2008, and was “given” about two-and-a-half years to live. After her first round of chemotherapy, she contacted the organisation Dignity in Dying to discuss her options for placing the end her life within her own control. Ultimately, as a British citizen, her only option when the time came, was to travel to Zurich.
And the time came in September 2010: The cancer was now spreading throughout her body and she was facing about six months of a slow and increasingly painful death. Rather than take the normal option for her compatriots, of moving into a hospice and relying on palliative care with ever-increasing doses of drugs – or, as mum regarded it, surrendering to the cancer – she decided to “take control away from the cancer, and put it into [her] own hands”.
So, on the 6th of September, accompanied by a companion, but crucially, under her own locomotion, Hannah flew to Switzerland, where four days later, at 11 o’clock Swiss time, she took a fatal draught of pentobarbital.
These are the basic facts of my mother’s passing. This post is not intended as either a vindication or a condemnation of Hannah’s actions, nor is it a discourse on the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide. Moreover, were I ever to be in a similar situation, I have no idea whether or not I would make the same choice. The one observation I will make, is that while I totally respected my mother’s decision, being aware of the exact moment of her suicide added a strange dimension to my sense of grief and loss, even as she left for the airport. Whether or not this particular form of grief and loss is preferable to what I would have gone through watching her slow demise in a hospice bed, I genuinely cannot say. The one great comfort I did have, and continue to have, is that she died in a manner of her choosing and; according to her companion, in a state of peace; and most wonderful of all, with her sharp sense of humour intact until the end, as evidenced by this closing anecdote…
When mum and her companion arrived at the house used by Dignitas, they were met by two nurses and shown into a sitting room. One of the nurses (a male), was exceedingly friendly, and especially chatty, to the point, that when he went off for a few moments to prepare the overdose, Hannah, leaned over to her companion, and whispered, “I don’t envy you having to listen to him for the rest of the day!” This says much about my mother’s indomitable personality, and I hope this small selection of photographs , taken between 1961 and 63, reveals her outward beauty too…