I was reminded recently of the importance of listening
THE ART OF LISTENING
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand – they listen with the intent to reply”. Roy Bennett.
My dear friend Claudia, actress and theatre director – listening. – charcoal
I watched a superb episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ this week featuring Dame Judi Dench.
I have always enjoyed her as an amazing actress but what struck me during this programme was the way she listened so intently to whoever was speaking to her. She not only listened but also made constant eye contact.
Aged 86, I was struck with how beautiful she continues to be. So much of her beauty comes from her ability to be present for others using both her listening skills and her eyes to communicate.
My friend Charlotte fully present and listening…..
Tony is a therapist which means his life is all about listening to others. He and I have been good friends for a long time. It occurred to me after watching Dame Judi Dench, that one of the reasons Tony and I continue to be such good friends is because he is such a good listener.
I know how frustrating it is to be in the company of those who keep interrupting and so to have a friend like Tony is very special..
I am also fully aware that I don’t always listen as well as I should….but I work on it. When I find myself wanting to jump into the conversation so that I can be heard, I step back and stay quiet for a while. Not only does this give the conversation an opportunity to flow, but I inevitably end up learning something.
Tony – The Listener – oil on canvas
“Listen with your eyes as well as your ears” – Graham Speechley
In this portrait of my friend Fran – she is listening to the unseen energy surrounding her….Sometimes we don’t need someone talking with us to listen intently.
‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say’. Bryant H McGill
Patricia – French actress and such a wonderful listener.
I am a teacher and am very aware of how much is missed by not listening.
I would also suggest that putting aside all distractions – i.e. mobile phones is a very good first step to effective listening.
I hope you get to see the Dame Judi Dench – Who Do You Think You Are episode. It’s wonderful..
This vignette focuses on the years from 1987 til 1994 – during which time I produced a huge body of work. Even though I had been painting professionally since 1972, this period was different….a new beginning on all levels.
Because I chose to leave my marriage without alimony – I moved into what was my only asset a that time the studio on Prescott Alley which had no heat or running water! This had been fine when I had the luxury of a fully equipped house just fifteen minutes away but shall we say somewhat challenging without.
I have written a great deal about this particular chapter. It is still one of the more memorable and in many ways interesting periods of my life. I like to say that it is when I grew up and although there were those who thought I had gone mad…I had in fact gone sane.One thing I was clear about…I would not and could not give up painting. Making art was my life work.
It seemed that after the ‘break through’ all sorts of people appeared in my life that wanted to advise and help….To name a few, there was Jean Frohling, Albert Willett, Howard Thorne, Gay Robinson, Alice Johnson, Carol Petersen, Hilda Kaufman and Adze Mixxie. Gay and her friend Lolly Davies would turn up at the studio with hampers of food…..and then there were the wonderful brothers who did the plumbing. I could go on and on….but it proved the point to me the when we are brave and take the right path – it is as if all manner of help appears in ways that we can never be creative enough to imagine.
Autobiographical still life. – large oil on canvas. This was the first of a large series of symbolic still life works (about 30 paintings) that I produced during this period. I chose this theme because I needed to re-structure my life and workand to re-hone my observational skills.
All the paintings in this series represented people in my life at that time.
This still life speaks of two good friends.
Star quilt on white wicker chair….A gift from Uncle Sammy.
At the same time, my art agent and dear friend – Bonnie Paul (who sadly died four years ago) started to get me well paid corporate mural commissions.
Bonnie and I together in 2000 after I had moved back to the UK/Wales – a place she loved to visit. Behind us is the self portrait I painted from the beginning of this period. ‘The Turning Point.’ I keep it with me at all times to remind me that I can rise to whatever challenge is put in front of me.
One of many mural commissions I received through Bonnie. This was for the Philadelphia Heart Institute. These murals paid well which allowed me to paint what I wanted to paint.Christie and I in front of mural
Symbolic mural for the Massara Building, USA. My friend Patricia in front of mural gives an idea of the scale.
Mural in progress. Working from the many watercolour sketches I made for the mural.
Bonnie also got me some really good private commissions....and because in my early years of painting I had been known as a wildlife painter – every now and then this factor came into play.
This large oil on canvas elephant was commissioned by people who went on many safaris and built a room onto their home to house this and other paintings. Wok in progress photographed in the Prescott Alley studio.
At the same time I was teaching at The Chester Country Arts Association and painting watercolour and oil portraits….it was a very busy time.
I have often thought that had I not had to make my own way financially – I might never have done so much of this work.
Ironically I ended up with three studios. The one on Prescott Alley…..another in the Massara Building and one in Jean Frohling’s carriage house …..all within minutes walking distance of each other.
Three eighteen ft mobiles I designed and built for the Massara Building.
Another dear friend the artist Howard Thorne helped me with the installation of these mobiles..
The artist Howard Thorne who helped with the installation of the mobiles. large oil on canvas painted in Howard’s studio. I painted him in front of one of the stained glass windows he designed.
This painting was at the Chester County Arts Association exhibition just before I moved back to the UK.
Artist and friend Charles Jay – oil on canvas. – with me in London.
Watercolour sketch of my dear friend. Sue Hineman – with me in London.
Adze Mixxie the astrologer…..large oil on canvas from a newspaper clipping.
There was so much more. Behind every painting, mural, portrait, workshop were many more often fascinating stories.
This vignette gives an overview of that period….Little did I know at the time that my cousin Lyn would come to visit me from Wales which would lead me to wonderful Crickhowell Wales and to another new and exciting beginning.
In this photograph taken in my Prescott Alley studio in 1987 I am standing in front of one of the large Rock and Nude paintings…which is still one of my most important series of works one I continue to work on to this day.
I was recently sent this photograph by my friend and fellow artist Mary Ellen Bilisnansky. It has triggered all sorts of emotions – some of which I will share in this vignette.
It shows a very different me with the artist/inventor Remo Saracini, who along with many other interactive creations, is best known for inventing the Walking Piano that became a hallmark in the major motion picture BIG – starring Tom Hanks.
In the early to mid eighties Remo had a huge studio in a converted bank in Philadelphia. It was Mary Ellen Bilisnansky (at that time a good friend and well known ‘wearable art’ artist) who introduced me to Remo which lead to our having a large fashion show/party in his studio, which is when this photograph was taken.
Before I talk about the ‘acting out’ element that the first picture has triggered…here is another photograph of me taken in the late seventies/early eighties. It represents a time when I was happily married and enjoying my family. At the same time my career as an artist was underway. Along with exhibitions, my work was represented by Newman Galleries and other galleries in Philadelphia.
I am at heart a country girl…most happy when surrounded by nature and animals...and of course paint and canvas.
So what do I mean by ‘acting out’?
Acting out as I understand it is a ‘defence mechanism’ – a way of venting painful emotions such as fear or frustration. Emotions that are trapped with in us – like my black box. (see vignettes 13 and 14)
I am quite clear about my own frustrations at that time. Outside of the confines of family and very close friends, I wasn’t taken seriously or listened to and anxiety continued to plague me!
My appearance was key to the way people responded to me….not my work, or what I had to say….but rather my outside appearance. This really hurt and upset me to the point that I began to exaggerate my dress and appearance (acting out)
Me, my husband Bill and Mary Ellen Bilisnansky in costume for a ball at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.
‘A Typical Saturday Night with the Reeds…….’ many would have seen us this way….lots of parties and always seeming to be having fun. For me dressing up was a disguise…..I was able to hide behind the costumes.
However all wasn’t as it seemed. Big cracks were beginning to appear for the whole family. Bill who was a brilliant historian continued to struggle for success in the business world – somewhat like trying fit a square peg into a round hole!
Jarrod was a fully fledged teenager exhibiting his own version of ‘acting out’ and Christie (almost nine years younger than Jarrod) was seemingly unaware of what was happening. Of course now I understand that everything is interconnected...which means that all of us were affected in so many ways.
My Father (age 62) died very suddenly and so I had to return to the UK to look after my Mother and oversee the funeral. This was devastating, but at the time I didn’t have the vocabulary to express the deep trauma within….All of this was building up.
I became very ill land had to have a hysterectomy – and so it went on….
As a family we were experiencing a ‘perfect storm’……
Meanwhile my friendly doctor continued to prescribe Valium.…….
It was as if a huge wave was coming in – threatening to engulf us………. Although Bill’s family were American and mine English…we both came from families that believed in the ‘stiff upper lip‘ theory and so we continued to battle on and bottle it up!
The oncoming wave……watercolour
After my Father’s death and my recovery from surgery I knew something had to change. We simply could not continue the way we were. In 1986 I checked myself into the 30 day rehab to detox from Valium and for the first time in my adult life received real help. This was the beginning of a new way of being – a new life. (see vignette 14)
Very sadly Bill and I were divorced. To this day I believe that had we received the help we needed individually and as a family this might not have happened.
In this picture a couple of years after rehab we are at Christie’s graduation. Divorced but still a loving family.
This vignette was triggered by a programme I listened to on BBC Radio 4 this past week about the movie The GodFather – a lot of which was filmed on Staten Island. I also thought it would bring a much needed lighter note to our day…..
It’s now 1969. I am a single working mother living with Jarrod in our little cottage on Harbor View Place, Staten Island commuting back and forth on the Staten Island ferry to Manhattan where I am working at White, Weld & Co. (vignette 3)
Upon arriving on Staten Island, I was introduced to Marie and her family. Marie was to become Jarrod’s babysitter. What a blessing it was to meet her. I never missed a day’s work because of Marie, and up until her death a few years ago we kept in touch. She was so kind and in every way a wonderful human being. Part of a large Sicilian family, Marie loved to cook. Whenever I entered her home…the first thing she said…was “you have to eat” and sure enough there was always a large pot of sauce cooking in the kitchen ready for pasta dishes.
Coming from the UK at that time this was completely new to me but I learned to like it a lot:)
The above photograph shows Marie along with three of her children plus Jarrod andme in the garden of the cottage celebrating Jarrod’s third birthday.
I rented the cottage from Mimi Kolff who also became a good friend until her death in the eighties. Mimi’s house was next door to the cottage. Mimi’s father helped to develop Staten Island and one of the Ferries was named after him The Cornelious Kolff.
Mimi in her garden on Harbor View Place.
In hindsight I could never have imagined on February 3rd 1966 when I sailed on the United States Liner under the newly built Verrazano Bridge that I would be living virtually next door to the bridge andFort Wadsworth a year later. Nor could I have imagined at that time that I was carrying the seed of Jarrod in my belly!
Another indication of what a different world it was then….The Verrazano Bridge was nicknamed The Guinea Gangplank…because after it was built, many Italians who lived in Brooklyn crossed the bridge to live in what was at that time the leafier and more desirable Staten Island.
As I settled in and got to know my neighbours, sometimes I would push Jarrod in his stroller from house to house collecting for the Heart Foundation.
At the end of Harbor View Place there was a big house overlooking the Harbor directly towards the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Island. I was aware that there were always suited men and stretch limousines on the driveway to the house but it didn’t stop me from going to the front door and asking if I could receive a donation. Ignorance is bliss….
Consequently Jarrod and I were invited in to have milk and cookies with the owner who turned out to be a Mafia Don. Every time I went there he would give me twenty dollars for my collection – a fortune back then…and he was lovely..rather like visiting a grandfather. ……who knew? It was Marie who told me who he actually was….
large ala prima oil on canvas – 1989 – self portrait
In my last post (Vignette 13 – Anxiety) I talked about having a break down when I was thirty-nine years old.
This post is all about the break throughs that happened after my recovery from the break down.
Not only was anxiety removed and the art of denial tempered….. but I began to see clearly both in terms of what my life was about and in terms of being an artist.
It was almost as if prior to the break through moment, I had been too scared too really look….too scared to really see what was right in front of my nose. To do so would have meant acknowledging the need for enormous changes. A very scary proposition back then!
watercolour – self portrait with hummingbird.
Yesterday I saw a brilliant play Tom Fool by Franz Xaver Kroetz. To begin with it seemed like a slow burner, however, it was extremely powerful. To quote from the write up about the play ‘characters struggle with their inability to articulate their true thoughts and feelings. Their anger and desperation remains constantly unexpressed.’
This was how I felt up until my break down/through at the age of 39 – unable to articulate my true thoughts and feelings. Consequently they all got bottled up – in my impenetrable black box! (see vignette 13)
Having a break through is of course just the beginning of making huge changes. It’s not like a light switch is turned and everything is OK and different. It takes, acknowledgement, work and time for this to happen.
self portrait from that time. watercolour.
Having crossed the great divide within myself. I began to experience huge rewards. A sense of wellbeing and wholeness prevailed. With the fear removed, Life took on so much more meaning. Moments of deep contentment began to appear. Contentment – my favourite state of being.
I learned to spot and confront negative patterns before they caused havoc in my life and most importantly I learned to live my life one day at a time….What a relief this continues to be. It was like fine tuning a radio each and every day so that I could hear and see properly.
Forty years on from my break down/break through I continue to be grateful for this experience. It gave me my life.
RANDOM VIGNETTES FROM MY LIFE STORY – 13
If anyone reading this has experienced a panic attack or prolonged anxiety they will know how awful it is and at times how totally crippling it can be.
From as early as I can remember up until I was thirty nine years old, I experienced and suffered from acute anxiety! Back then, no one talked about such things and indeed had any real understanding of what it meant. It was another one of those things where we were supposed to (coming from England) maintain a stiff upper lip and pretend that everything was just fine. Those were the days, certainly in the UK when to go to a therapist suggested neurosis. It was something you kept quiet about.
Long before I even understood what the word anxiety really meant I knew that I felt very uncomfortable in the company of people I didn’t know. ‘Uncomfortable’ is understating it – what I actually felt was fear – a visceral fear that seemed to be triggered by social situations.
When something is experienced in a visceral manner, it is experienced from deep within. There might be no rational explanation – but for the person – experiencing it…it is more than real.
What made it worse was that my upbringing was all about being and looking confident. In order to survive, this meant I had to learn how to project on the outside an air of confidence. Oh my goodness how painful was that.
When I was thirty nine years old – happily married and living in the States, I had what today would be called a break down, but because by then I was a master of covering what was actually going on, everyone thought I was OK and so expressed shock, and dare I say anger, when I stopped pretending!
Meanwhile several years before this incident my friendly local doctor had prescribed Valium! I thought I had found the panacea – the cure all – the magic bullet which allowed me to go into social situational feeling cool, calm and collected:)
Of course it wasn’t the panacea – or magic bullet – it was a drug and like most drugs once the initial glow had worn off I was left upset and confused to find that the anxiety was still there. The Valium had simply covered up what was really happening….
When I had this break down at thirty nine years old I put myself in a thirty day rehab which turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Along with one on one and group therapy all of which were totally new experiences for me, participants were asked to attend a weekly talk about spirituality……….I wasn’t too sure about that. The man who gave the talk turned out to be really lovely. At the end of each session he would suggest to anyone who was going home that week to come and talk with him about any issues they might have.
I remember sitting with this man – overlooking the gardens…and saying that I didn’t want to go back out into the real world. That for me it was still a place of ‘jagged edges’.
He asked me if I prayed. I said ‘no’
He pointed to the trees and said – I could pray to a tree which made sense to me….
And then he said.
“STOP FIGHTING IT“
At that moment, I can never explain what happened but I knew that the anxiety had been lifted…..What can I say? This was thirty nine years ago…..
Over the years I have learned to live differently. No more covering up who I really am, – no more worrying about issues I cannot change….and also a deep understanding that I am not going through this journey alone. That there is indeed something much greater than me that I can tap into for support.
Hummingbirds symbolise that unseen love and support for me.
After this amazing experience…..I continued to have one on one therapy with a woman I really liked. She suggested that we needed to remove all the stuff inside of me that had manifested itself as anxiety.
I drew a box and made it black, shiny and totally impenetrable.
With the help of the therapist the box was removed rom my body….What an amazing experience that was. It was like having surgery.
Given that the world is going through such trauma on so many levels…not least of which the horrors of Ukraine….human kind of all ages are going to need help in order to cope.
In 1993 – after living and working in the USA for twenty eight years, I returned to the UK/Europe. I moved to Crickhowell, Wales to be with my cousin and family.
I was so happy to be home. So happy to smell the traditional English/Welsh pastries in Annwyn the bakers along with the smell of Welsh soil and lambs playing in the fields.
I had experienced some happy years in the States with my dear husband Bill Reed and of course the two children – however when my marriage fell apart and the children were old enough, it was time to return home.
During the first six years of living in the States, prior to meeting and marrying Bill, I felt deep pangs of home sickness. I learned that to be homesick is a very painful condition. I almost returned to the UK in 1971 just before Bill and I met and married in 1972. However………..
Life is full of ‘Sliding Doors……..‘
Crickhowell – Wales
The people of Ukraine are going through a living hell. As we think about their pain and longing for everything that has been familiar to them including their land and soil, it must give us pause to look at our own lives on many levels…and most importantly to not take anything for granted.
If and when they are able to return home….what will home look like after their land has been defiled by Putin!!
As fellow humans we must love and nurture them as we would our own families. We must try to counteract the horrors that they are now living through. The only way I know to do this is to come together with love and kindness
My little garden in Crickhowell which I Loved and nurtured….and of course Christeve the Cat – my constant companion at that time:)
When I look at this picture today I think of all the gardens and animals that the Ukrainian people and all other refugees have had to leave behind…along with all their shattered hopes and dreams.
Today there are nearly thirty million refugees globally and as climate change tightens its grip and war rages on…those numbers are rising by the day.
We cannot and must not bury our heads any more…to do so means that anyone of us could be next….Monsters like Putin want to conquer the world.
It is the simple things in life that give the greatest pleasure….
In this image I am sharing food with my very dear friends Sally and Gareth in Wales overlooking the magnificent Usk Valley and Brecon Beacons.
The above photograph shows baby strollers left in a Polish railway station for Ukrainian mothers. Mothers who themselves are traumatised carrying their terrified children as they flee the horrors ofyet anotherwar!
This poignant line of baby strollers speaks a thousand words. It is all about fellow human beings/mothers/women understanding the plight and suffering that others are experiencing. Polish mothers opening their hearts and souls to Ukrainian mothers and children.
Mother and child – watercolour.
I do believe that if women had the sort of power that Putin and some other world rulers have – there would be fewer wars by far!
As women we have an almost animalistic love and protection mechanism built in so that when we have a child of our own we experience powerful emotions never felt before. If we choose. not to have children of our own we still feel a sense of protection and love towards the children of others. These feelings are built in.
Three of my friends have just become grandmothers…two of them for the first time, and I am feeling as protective towards their grandchildren – almost as if they were my own. This is natural and normal…..
What we see happening in Ukraine – has nothing to do with protection and love…it is all about power and greed.
I painted this large oil on canvas of my friend Mary DuPont and her son Samuel. It epitomises for me the protection and love of a mother for her child.
RANDOM VIGNETTES FROM MY LIFE STORY – 10
THE TERRIBLE FACE OF WAR….juxtaposed to the BEAUTY OF PEACE.
In 1995 towards the end of The Bosnian War – I saw a newspaper article with a photograph of a child who had just been the victim of a bombing.
I have no idea what happened to this child but underneath the dust, grime and blood is the face of an innocent little girl. Even if she survived – her life could never be the same again.
Juxtaposed to this image is a photograph I took of my friend’s grandson Cosmo. It is an image filled with love and peace.
Still in their formative years, the young minds of these children are like kaleidoscopes….filled with colour, shapes and wonder and a sense of trust instilled into them by loving parents. It should be a time devoid of worry….
Then the fragility of life raises its head demonstrating how things can be seemingly set in stone one moment, and changed beyond recognition the next!
This is the case for the people of Ukraine. They have gone from lives of routine and relative order to lives that are now torn apart.
We must all stop burying our heads in the sand and stand by the people and children of Ukraine. Otherwise with mad egocentric men like Putin and other bully boys roaming this earth…anyone of us could be next.
We must put ourselves in the place of the mothers and children whose suffering is extreme and the healthy young men who yet again are being used as pawns in the ‘game of war’. Given that we really are all interconnected…to help the people of Ukraine is to help all of us.
I am feeling a great sense of sadness today…about the state of our world.
Sadness because I can remember a time when there was hope for the future. A time of renewed thinking when the powers that be recognised they couldn’t risk another world war – that peace had to be maintained at all costs.
I was born in January 1946, less than one year after the Second World War had finished. So in essence a time when the world had experienced the horrors of two world wars leaving Europe and the world in a state of devastation the likes of which we hoped we would never see again.
In this vignette it is 1960 – I am fourteen years old and am playing on the beach at Viking Bay Broadstairs with children from other European countries. There is a sense of joy and camaraderie amongst us and a desire to find out about our different cultures and ways of living. Some of us are pen pals and would soon be involved in exchange programmes where we would stay in one another’s homes.
In this picture I am ten years old enjoying the beach at Broadstairs.
In short, after the horrors and division of WW2, the young people of Europe were coming together, recognising the many ways that they were united rather than divided.
I could write much more about the Treaties that have been made since WW2, or the terrible suffering that has been experienced because of war, but this is a vignette about my memory as a young child and the leap between that moment on the beach at Broadstairs (a moment of great hope) and where we find ourselves today!
I visited Broadstairs four yeas ago with my childhood friends, Mick and Gail and although the town has changed – Viking Bay looks exactly the same as it did when I was a child…which is reassuring.
quick watercolour of my childhood friend Gail
Gail, Mick and I are now all in our seventies….and recognise how quickly the time has flown by …..let’s not forget so quickly what can happen when power-hungry humans take hold of the reigns.
Four years ago on the bandstand at Broadstairs….I played on that same bandstand when I was a child.
We are now living in a very different world – one governed by, in many cases mad men, and of course the speed and power of technology. None of us know what the actual truth is anymore…..instead we must trust in ourselves and the decency of most of humanity rather than what we read in the news.
In 2000 the European Union adopted the motto ‘IN VARIETATE CONCORDIA’ meaning UNITED IN DIVERSITY. Regardless of political leanings…I feel that this is a good Motto to live by.