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Making Black Rose heaven: after the prelude


First – a moment of history:

Love is something impossible for me to grasp. If I loved my mother then it was not a tender love nor an easy-come love. It was not the kind of sentimental love that I see warmly displayed all over our culture. If I loved my mother at all it is because she had to suffer me and endure the endless disappointments that I caused her to experience. Yet, if anyone said a negative thing about my mother I would feel rage at them. So, it was a strange kind of love – and yet I could not have wished for anything else or anything better. I could never wish for a different mother. Not long ago I heard an esteemed British novelist – a woman who has won literary prizes – announce that she did not know if she could love. I am not sure I can either. I know duty, I know desire, I know infatuation but I do not know if I am capable of whatever this thing, ‘love’ is.

In my middle-age I used to think that my brothers and I had been forged as people in the unsparing fires of hell. Not for us was there any sense of having a kind of warm emotional security from a mother who was ‘there for us’ through thick and thin. She was a remarkable highly-cultured talented woman who treated us with a frankness that was unsparing, scathing and often destructive. Sometimes, when I looked back, I felt as if I had been perpetually dosed in caustic soda.

However, I was wrong. How is it possible that I overlooked the huge and consistent effort she made for my brothers and me? Every Sunday she would prepare the delicious roast; every Sunday she would make and ice a lovely chocolate cake. Throughout her life she did our washing, mended our clothes, put up with the turbulence and the noise and the egoistic inanities of her four sons. I was blinded to this because of school, then university and then the testing realities of my chosen professional work. I was blinded to all this because my world, from my early teens onwards, had become one of ideas and dreams – then ‘policies’ and ‘responsibilities’ and coping with colleagues at work – and trying to limit the damage I might do to my two daughters.

Anyway, now I have to live with the awful truth that I failed my mother. I failed to give back that which she deserved. And there can never be any closure to this. No escape. No illusions.

Second – working with the reality

The ‘Open-cut’ project on the MA Fine Art course immediately surfaced, for me, strange visions and memories of psychiatric disturbance. I kept seeing, in recurring images, the wards of mental hospitals and I kept thinking about my mother’s nervous breakdown and how I had to take her to the psychiatric hospital in Basingstoke for her electro-convulsive therapy. I kept thinking about how awful her life had been because, from 1952 onwards and for so many years she suffered from a kind of deep depression. It was awful for my father, my brothers and myself. My father had to become both mother and father because my mother simply was not there. When she was suffering from her depression (and they lasted for three months on end) she possessed cold disinterested rational powers but they were freighted with nihilistic despair. I knew that my mother could do nothing about her mental state. That’s why I would defend her to the hilt. She could, as my great philosopher friend put it, ‘do no other.’ It’s strange how (even at the age of 4) I realised this. I was brought up as a boy – and ‘you never kick a person when they’re down.’ That would be dishonourable and honour mattered.

At my mother’s funeral I had to decide how to find a few last words to say about her. So I wrote out a version of the poem, ‘Black rose heaven.’ I spoke briefly and gave every one who was there a copy of a photograph of her when she was aged 5 – and her world had yet to be destroyed.

But destroyed it was by the insanities of Nazi Germany. (Nonetheless I still like reading Nietszche and I still like reading Heidegger.)

I was bought up in the idyllic early sunshine of life – and then – the crack -up. Her crack-up. I’ve fended off madness and despair but it has always been a struggle. I once did and even now still think of her bidding: she said: ’Go out and make a difference.’ (‘You must,’ as my colleague Peter said, ‘learn your lines well.’ I did learn my lines.  ‘Be on your guard,’ he said: ‘You are a strange attractor.’)

This is the background to ‘Black rose heaven.’ It is a work that tries to represent the fracture in my mother and me. I hope we are linked together through a network of image, artefact and paint. It is not an attempt at redemption. It is made, as the great Marcuse suggests, in the hope that, as art, it may work to reveal truths that are released from the constraints and propriety of the Freudian reality principle.

The photo above shows one element or rather a part of the beginning of the making of ‘Black rose heaven.’ It has a slightly conceptual graphic-design feel to it. It is a first accumulation of relevant material for the work. I may use it as part of a book that I hope I will make. I just hope I can secure the uninterrupted time to get on with the painting. And this proposed first attempt may only be a first attempt. I have a large white painted cardboard background ready for the action.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good work Rob
    An honest account
    Shades of Camus here, and the attitude of the outsider to his mother – but it is your work, and your experience
    What are the chances that all four brothers have very different memories?
    Guilt, in my view, is a useless emotion. Nietzsche talked about the slave mentality!
    Keep going

    November 5, 2019
  2. peter villiers #

    Tried to answer this Rob The IT is very challenging! How curious that we use technology to convey feelings! Keep up the good work If you are to be a great artist, how can you be recognised in your own lifetime? I wonder about the motives of your fellow students in offering comments on others’ work. See Ruskin, the crown of wild olive. See also David Mamet on actors. The only proper response to any theatrical appraisal is simply to thank the appraiser. The comment Oh no, I was awful tonight! You should have seen me last night! Is, as we say now, inappropriate. PS Re your mother, The modern view is surely that ECT is not necessarily the right treatment for depression. Carolyn’s mother had ECT in Basingstoke and it numbed her – which I suppose is a solution, but not for the person with a problem. Her relatives felt that it was useful – presumably because of our current belief in the credibility of the expert. We are still, really, at the stage of so-called primitive society in which the witch doctor is given a certain credence because there is no alternative but to grant him that credence – or to accept the fundamental truth that some problems have no solution. Which leads us on to John Gray, but I’ll stop there. And not even mention Ortega y Gasset! Which reminds me, the exhumation of Generalisimo Franco is a strange event. Are we now to believe that he did not exist? Puzzled! And what of Jose Antonio? Difficult to apply consistency here! But a possible subject for a painting. The coffin, suspended between heaven and earth… Franco looks out, bewildered…

    November 6, 2019
  3. Actually you are quite right Peter about the uses to which we put all things IT. I will reply to you in more detail in a few days time.

    November 7, 2019

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