Painting Mum after her Alzheimers diagnosis
I have always had a strong desire to draw and paint people, especially loved ones and those who have featured prominently in my life. For as long as I remember I have drawn friends and family, my earliest memory is an elaborate drawing of my mum giving birth to my little sister, an inaccurate but graphic image in my 5 year old mind. The first Mum knew of it, was when it was proudly displayed on the classroom wall at the parents open day!
I have been thinking about why I have such a strong urge to record people; when asked “Why do you paint”, Frida Kahlo once said, “ I paint flowers so they will not die. ” And I think this sums it up for me, it's a way of preserving things, whether it's a feeling, a still life or a person. Investigating a subject in such depth creates a connection and a way of feeling closer to that subject.
Above is a painting I started just after my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Since her diagnosis I have felt compelled to paint her almost to the point of desperation. Each week we lose a little bit more of her and by drawing and painting her I feel that it will somehow stave off the inevitable, helping me come to terms with what's happening to her.
I did a series of drawings and paintings of her during this period. I tried to create an atmosphere in my portraits, I wanted to convey her mood and vulnerability and the emotion that I was feeling.
Looking at the pictures now, I notice now how she's changed over time but she still has an elegance and beauty...
Most of the portraits were painted from photos, some quick studies and others more detailed. With photos I can have the luxury of time to get a good likeness and obviously have a lot longer to spend on the details.
It's important that I paint her from life too and she has sat for me a few times for this portrait. The picture below is my most recent and was painted from life. It has a different feel- it's looser, the colours are so much truer and the subject feels tangible- like her presence is stronger.
I love the spontaneity of painting from life, there's no time for dithering, you have to make quick decisions, which helps greatly to avoid overworking the painting. All of these paintings are unfinished and I'm hoping to have some more live sittings with Mum in the future if and when she's willing.
I hope that in the months and years to come, these studies will be a comfort to me and I'll look back at the sessions with fond memories. I think Mum enjoys them too, she can watch the process and relax to the accompanying music. And although there is virtually no dialogue now, a nonverbal interaction of mother and daughter is there, an intimacy and closeness between us...