Artist diary: The Madge Gill Co-commission, part two

Opening the conversation with Madge Gill’ is the theme for the second of Julia Oak’s artist diaries about her work on the co-commission

Most of Madge’s life would have been spent without a TV as she was born in 1882 and they were not easily available until the 1950s. Madge would have grown up learning to occupy her time in different ways. Although I have had TVs in the past, I have spent the last 10 years without one and as a young child I was at boarding school where we were expected to sew, draw, read, play games, etc. The only early memory I have of TV is watching Winston Churchill’s funeral in the assembly hall at school in January 1965. I was 7.

Early on I decided that I did not want to compare our traumatic life events, it serves no purpose other than to heighten bad memories that end up paralysing me, and I think this was the same for Madge too.

“The similar experiences at times in our life,

Walking in her steps through Walthamstow streets

Are not what determine our life.”

For me, my art work is about process. It’s the doing that is important, it helps me concentrate and think about things in a way that allows me to let go of thoughts about stressful life events.

I have learnt that the process was also important to Madge Gill, her spirit guide Myrninerest possibly means ‘my inner rest’ and that resonates deeply with me.

So, although I am thinking about the work for this commission as a conversation with Madge Gill, it’s not a chat that ends up comparing a timeline of trauma, it is pen mark to pen mark, line to line, artwork to artwork.

A drawing by Julia Oak

To open the conversation, I started to draw in a concertina sketchbook, thousands of tiny circles, repeating and repeating until the page is complete or the colours run out. This is how I am introducing myself to Madge Gill.


“I will sit down at my drawing board prepared with paper,

Fill my pens with ink and ordered to suit

And talk to Madge on that roll of paper.”

1 Comment about this

  1. Ivan Grieve

    Fascinating approach Julia your insights are great and sensitively expressed thank you

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