Tribute to My Mother

I have been absent from my art web site and from working on my art in general, for some months now, since my my mother became terminally ill at the end of 2018. She died on Sunday, May 5th 2019 and although these early days of bereavement are so very tough, I have been able to write a tribute to her and produce an image that encapsulates my thoughts about her right now.

When I was eleven years of age I became ill with appendicitis and after the operation to remove the offending organ, was delighted to be able to spend eight weeks recuperating at home – and thus not attend school. It was June and, as was typical in the sixties, it was very warm.

We lived in a beautiful house with a private, enclosed garden full of fragrant blooms. My favourite amongst these was the blue iris. I spent my days reading, drawing and painting whilst my mother pottered about in and outside of the house. This was the first time I had ever spent alone with my mother that I could recall, because the only other time would have been before my younger brother was born and I couldn’t really recall those very early years. I felt this time period was magical and significant, though I did not really understand why at the time. It is only now, all these years later, that the circle of meaning has completed itself and I can see how other later events also connect with then and now to explain to me why those days and weeks were so special.

I produced a picture of the irises during one of those idyllic sojourns in the garden and presented it to her. I spent hours on the picture and even though it was in pencil I tried to capture their essence – especially the depth and brilliance of the colour blue.

The years went by and I don’t know what happened to the picture. We moved house. It was probably abandoned somewhere in a drawer. This didn’t matter to me. What was important was the fact that I had done it and always remembered doing it.

My mother had the most beautiful eyes. Big, wide pools of iris blue that could melt, disarm or disturb anyone who looked into them – depending on whether they were friend or foe. I didn’t understand, at the age of eleven, what the irises signified to me, but I do now.

I would think of them many times over the years and as I pursued my practice and study of art I often wondered why I didn’t paint them in colour.

In 1993 I was studying A Levels (Art and English) and a Foundation Diploma in Art at Weston-Super-Mare College of Arts. I was married with young children and was determined to complete my further and higher education, which had been abandoned after my parents divorced when I was a teenager. I attended English Literature with a lovely lady called Louise, who gave me a lift in to college in the evenings. Without her, I would not have been able to go at all as I was extremely poor at that time in my life and could not afford transport of any kind. When we completed our exams I asked her what I could do to replay her kindness and she asked me to paint her a picture. She wanted me to produce a copy of Van Gogh’s Irises. I was a passionate devotee of Van Gogh and was highly honoured to be entrusted with this task.

This time I painted them in all their rich, vibrant glory with a huge, confident palette knife because this was a second chance to use colour and do them greater justice. I spent several days on the painting and when I proudly gave it to her I packaged it in a protective plastic wallet. I was then horrified to see, that when she tried to pull the picture out of its sleeve for a close-up inspection, the paint had stuck to the plastic. I thought I had ruined it but she reassured me I had not. Louise and I went our separate ways that summer, to different universities and different futures, but we stayed in touch sporadically and when the wonders of social media enabled me to find her online, I tentatively asked her about the picture of the irises. She sent me a picture back to show me that they were sitting happily and intact on the wall of her new house in Kent.

Today, after I wrote a tribute to my mother, for her funeral, I wanted to produce an image that represents all my thoughts about her at this time and in this moment and this is when the circle of meaning completed itself. I know now that the first, tentative, drawing of those irises was my childlike way of explaining that the irises signified my mother’s eyes. It was a first draft, that’s why it was in pencil. And now, today, I have produced what will be the first of many images on a theme of blue irises. Those who know me well know I have always loved the colour blue in all its hues and shades. The blues of Cornwall, where I lived till recently. The blues of the ocean, which are still here with me – in Florida – and the blues of my mother’s eyes. Iris blue. A beautiful, rich, vibrant blue that pulses with life forever.

Blue Iris of June For June Marie Newton November 27th 1933 to May 5th 2019

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