Artist diary: Madge Gill Co-Commission, last installment

As All Souls: The Outside In co-commission goes into its final week on display at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, artist Julia Oak reveals how the exhibition has been a major step to overcoming her demons and realising her dreams.

All I Ever Wanted Was To Draw And Paint.

We all come to this point of time with a lived experience, a life that has brought us to be reading this diary at your moment in time.

I have found it difficult to find the words that allow me to share my lived experiences with you, inhibited by the legalities of our justice system and social norms to my own inhibitions.

Untitled. Julia 1968 aged 10. Poster paint on cartridge paper A3+

As a child all I ever wanted to do was to draw and paint, but at each step of the way my dream was thwarted. It started with an education system that did not permit me to select Art as an option when choosing my ‘O’ Levels, (yes I am that old), this was followed by a foundation art course that pushed me in the direction to be a silversmith and jeweller. However this never happened because of a lack of funding.

Camouflage Collage. Julia 1975 Aged 17. Indian ink on photographic paper. 50cm x 50cm.

Following on from this, the constraints of my family life and parenthood saw me undertaking tailoring repairs and undertaking textile piecework.  Textiles had always been a part of my life, instilled in me as a life skill, as is cooking and cleaning. I sew neatly and accurately and started making my own clothes from 10 years of age. To break free from this cycle I trained to be a textiles teacher and worked in some of the most deprived areas of London with pupils facing adversities I had lived experiences of, my insight helped immensely.

But niggling underneath this all was an overwhelming desire to draw and paint, a calling.

Life did not allow me to, it was saying to me prove it.

It started with Art Therapy during my divorce in 1995. Art Therapy accompanied me through my battle with cancer and the major alterations that made to my body. Most of that work has been destroyed.

Mental health was poor, self esteem was a phrase I did not have a concept of, self care was not even an option with so little resources to care for my children. Eventually I became physically ill and all I COULD do was draw and paint.

Page from therapy sketchbook. Julia 2004. Gel pens on cartridge paper.

Eventually with no 5 year survival rate predicted from the cancer I enrolled on a BA, at last I could draw and paint, but alas it was not to be. My sense of worth was rock bottom and I did not have the mental capacity to fight, that was all directed to overcoming cancer. So I followed instructions and studied sculpture instead.

I made the 5 year stage, completed my BA in sculpture, 5 years part time. Then life plodded along. I was not fit to work but I could draw and paint, even if I did have a degree in sculpture.

I was eventually declared unfit to work permanently and I took medical retirement from teaching. Now, I thought, ‘it is time to concentrate on my drawing’ so I enrolled on an MA part time with the intentions of drawing. But alas again it was not to be and I was coerced into Textiles, which for me is akin to cooking and housework. My mental ability to fight was all used up and I fell instep with the University’s criteria for a course that my pension had paid for. That was 2014. I finished specialising in sculptural textiles.

But still, all I wanted to do was ‘to draw and paint’ and in my spare time I did.

Excerpt, A Way Home. Julia 2015. Sharpie marker pens on roll of Fabriano paper

Since the MA I have dabbled in textiles and it now has a place in my life as something I do for others, it’s part of my need to nurture and comfort others.  

However for me I draw and paint. It is my spiritual base.

I have already shared how being chosen for the Madge Gill co-commission made me feel, that has not changed, I am still somewhat overwhelmed and float between disbelief, fear, excitement and so on. But now, I am learning to celebrate what it means to be recognised for my drawing, something that I am now grateful has not been contaminated by other’s coercing me into what they think I should be.

The exhibition is a major step to overcoming the demons that haunt my daily life, but now when they get too close I have the proof that they are wrong and can tell them to @#£& €$¥!

Installation view of part of “Enter These Enchanted Woods”. Julia 2020

There is one week left to run in my exhibition ‘All Souls’ at Pallant House Gallery. It closes on 18th July 2021.

Come share in my celebration of being able to do what I have always dreamt of.

What do you think about this? Guidelines for commenting

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *