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The Anxious Artist Considers Self-Care

I have needed to take a little time out recently because both my mind and body have demanded this from me. Rest does not come easily to me; I would even go so far as to say, it is something I actively avoid. I often feel frustrated with my body, which seems to be increasingly ‘letting me down’, despite my best efforts to push it through its limits. This is not a good attitude and will not bring healing. However, it feels difficult to let down my defences. I feel vulnerable.

A series of appointments for mind and body have made for a very hectic couple of weeks and has left me feeling very disorientated. This is particularly so, as I am now having to adapt my daily routine to accommodate time to follow medical advice in order to find more comfort and healing. It seems that I express my emotional distress through my body and it is complaining in lots of ways, so my full attention is needed.

Additionally, after writing about Alex and Ben in my last blog; I noticed that I was feeling quite overwhelmed. I think this is because I felt such a sense of responsibility towards these artists and feared ‘getting it wrong’. This is not an unfamiliar feeling for me, as I have felt it in the past as a daughter, nurse, or wife perhaps. I cannot bear the idea of letting people down and causing unintended harm. This can be to the degree that I may avoid being in situations where this is possible, which can be quite paralysing. So, as it is my intention to write about other artists in this blog, I felt the need to step back and process all that I was feeling and try to recognise what belongs in the past and what is relevant to the here and now. Ultimately, my primary responsibilty is to myself afterall.

I thought I might spend the time focusing on my artwork, perhaps, but even this has felt like too much. I have tried to do just enough to maintain some sense of momentum and that all important identity as an artist. I am exhausted just travelling to Core Arts to access the screenprinting facilities though. I am trying to maintain that precious and newly rediscovered facet to my identity, which is that of an artist. I don’t want to lose this, as from it I draw strength, which benefits my health and wellbeing in all sorts of ways. However, it is a case of finding ways I can continue to work, which make time for my body to heal. I think doing this will eventually ease some of my anxiety, as I show myself that I am going to treat myself well.

I feel encouraged when I think of artists such as Frida Kahlo, or Matisse, who adapted their approaches to art so their physical disabilities were accommodated. Kahlo contracted polio as a child, causing one of her legs to not fully develop. Years later, when she was 18, she suffered a severe injury to her spinal cord in a bus accident. She endured a triple fracture in the pelvis, from the steel hand rail. This had entered through her hip and came out through her vagina. It was, in fact, this life changing event that allowed her to find painting, which she hadn’t considered doing before. She used her painting to escape feelings of pain and boredom. As she recovered she established her career as an artist, encouraged by Diego Rivera, who she eventually married. This was to be a rather complex relationship.

Kahlo’s health deteriorated when she was in her thirties, when she was required to wear a steel corset for eight months. I had always had the impression that she continued to paint prolifically when bedbound and that she had her bed adapted to accommodate this. Although she did continue to work, when she felt well enough, there were often times that she couldn’t and had to rest. This is, of course, completely understandable and I feel a little reassured that it is ok to take a break.

'The Wounded Deer', 1946.

Matisse initially used his cut-out approach to work out his ideas for larger pieces of work. They were a means for him to unite the solid, bold colours he used, with his very concise line drawings. He brought these two approaches together through cutting into sheets of solid colour, enabling him to expand the shapes and forms of his paintings into three-dimensional space. He worked by creating huge images, which he would cut out and place on the walls of his studio.

‘The Swimming Pool’ 1952

It was in later years that Matisse’s health gradually deteriorated, requiring him to spend long periods of time in bed, or sat in a wheelchair. This made it tricky to paint, particularly on a large scale. It was still possible to cut out shapes though. With a number of studio assistants available to him, Matisse instructed them to paint large sheets in colours of his choosing. He would then cut these out and his assistants would arrange them on the walls, following his direction. This is how Matisse’s famous cut outs came to be.

‘Two Masks (The Tomato)’. 1947

I am not in anywhere near as much pain and discomfort as Frida Kahlo and I don’t have studio assistants at my disposal. However, I just have so much admiration for the stunning artworks these artists found ways to create when they were otherwise living with significant physical limitations. As I reflect, I am wondering if I might naturally feel more creative if I surrender to what my body needs and take that necessary break. Once rested, would this enable my (very busy) creative mind to gain new momentum and if so; I wonder what I would come up with?

Right now, I’m not sure I even have the energy to think. I am tired and must rest. As I do so, I will take the opportunity to share some of what I have been working on recently. That is, when I have found the wherewithal.

For the time being, this blog may be a little sporadic and I may not meet the usual Thursday weekly day of release. This may be a permanent change; however, I will continue to write and will enjoy sharing as inspiration comes to me.

Kent Coastal Path, Dungeness. Silkscreen monoprint with stencil.

Getting all arty.

Silkscreen monoprinting

The final reveal: ‘Beached Wooden Sail Boat: Dungeness’. Silkscreen monoprint, with stencil.

By Naomi Elfred-Ross

Ps. Some of my recent screen prints of Dungeness are going to be in an exhibition coming up at The Mill, on Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow, from Novermber 22nd

I am also showing work with Ben Gooch and Alex Ingram, my fellow artist pals from Core Arts at Wynwood Art District, 2a Chingford Road, in Walthamstow from November 28th.

Do drop by and have a look!

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