Saturday 3 December 2016

Recreation of a woman's journey

What would you do if someone asked you to produce a piece of artwork based on their mother, who had recently died? Yes? No? Um...

The journal of a woman's life

Although I had said yes, almost automatically, this year saw a major artistic challenge for me. And at times, deeply question my belief that I could meet this request, let alone produce something that would connect to them in any meaningful way.

You must understand that I did know the person who had asked me...very well, and for a number of years, and this person I would trust with my life. However, I had only met the mother of Anita Sauvage once, Colette Sauvage, and it was towards the end of her journey.

This was to be a very sensitive piece of artwork. To dissapoint was not an option, but so possible it at first defeated me.

It would also see its production taking just over a year.

The idea for the piece would take most of that year to even come to me, let alone to work on.

Circumstances would also see the piece delay in creation, due to the subsequent death of Anita's father, which, I would later realise had connected to me subconsiously during the commissioning period, and during the subsequent months.

The commission began with chatting to Anita and listening to her talk about her mother's extremely interesting life, noting her choices, her jouney from Algeria, through Spain to France, her work as a seamstress, her love for her family, for modern art and for her garden.

Three objects to go by. Three photographs. Three stages.

In youth

A young woman

A mother

This piece enabled me to pull together many of the techniques developed over the past few years. Watercolour, pen and ink, abstract photography; my skills would be needed once I had committed to the piece, and to weave this life together. Starting the project came at a time when I was also sensing the deep moments of loss in my life - facing the loss of job, house, and remembering the loss of my own father. These deep emotions connect us all, and are thus universal.

Becoming familiar with a woman not known

Emerging patterns

Developing a weave

I love detail. I have an eye for it. Met with a woman I did not know really threw me headlong out of my zone of comfort. I had very little detail to go on. A few words, a few pieces of paper, with literally just moments of the past. I would need to trust in my intuition.

Letting go of detail
The piece for me would ultimately represent a tension between the detail that we see, and that which we don't. The missing pieces in everyone's life. The initial studies would give me the chance to exorcise the give it air, and commit it to paper. And once I had developed the more detailed portrait, I could then reduce my representation of the woman herself, and move this into my renditioning of her surroundings, in the technique itself, and not to try to place it into her shape, her reflection.

For me the few words would have to do...journey, garden, seamstress, husband...bird.

Once committed, the piece began to emerge, and take shape...taking note of previous artist's use of weaving and tapestry, I would couple the history of this woman as a seamstress and my technique for almost weaving pen and ink lines.

The journey from Algeria would help me connect her final garden to its origin in maps.

And, coincidental, magical connections would be included, with the addition of the Algerian nuthatch...the migrating bird; migrating like this adventurous woman. It would later appear, and prove to connect to Anita's father, Jacques - where the bird would signify her father's career as a French pilot.

Beautiful happenstances are always so precious, and once Anita saw the finished product, and was pleased, and moved (I am happy to report), it quickly became obvious that I had captured more than I thought. For me, the almost tear-nature of the jewels, hanging from the draped fabric across the garden and grapevine, bore a remarkable resemblance to one of Collette's favourite necklaces. I just love the moment when these unexpected coincidences are made!

The final stage would also see her daughter take a hand. Enabling the memory of her mother to be placed, literally in her mother's choice of modern sunglasses, it would prove to be a fitting final signature touch, with the detail of her mother's gaze hidden from view.

Colette - in her garden


  1. I just saw your post David. How could I miss it! The way you describe your journey is so wonderful and connects with mine so deeply. With these moments of doubt, of emotion, of excitement, of hidden meaning suddenly emerging. I was aware that what I was asking was challenging but I trusted your artist's instinct and your talent. And what you produced is a wonderful piece of art that I looking at every day in my office. And the magic beauty of it is that I'm still discover hidden treasure in your painting. How can I ever thank you for such a gift of love mon ami... with love. Anita

    1. Merci beaucoup mon amie pour vos gentils mots. David xx

    2. Merci beaucoup mon amie pour vos gentils mots. David xx