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I took the Fucking Donut

 

I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan, I’ve read quite a few of his books and I read his blog from time to time. I first heard about Amanda Palmer through Neil’s blog, a few years ago, where he was writing about their wedding. Then, again, on one of his Facebook updates only this time he mentioned her TED Talk – The Art of Asking. I watched the video and was hooked. I needed to know more about Amanda and her story. I immediately took to social media to check out her profiles on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

I found out that she was the lead singer in the “Dresden Dolls” and, after that, in “Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra”. Amanda also used to be a living statue, collecting money in a hat while dressed as an eight-foot bride. I listened to a few of her songs online and decided that I liked them.

In December 2014, scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed that Amanda had written a book called “The Art of Asking – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help”. I was intrigued and set out to buy the book.

It’s one of my favourite books. It’s a heart-warming memoir based on Amanda’s TED talk; her raw interactions with her fans and connecting with people, seeing people.

Artists, who are offering the world something beautiful, should be able to ask for remuneration or help in any shape or form. Asking makes you vulnerable; this excerpt from Amanda’s book gives you a different perspective:

“Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me. Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you. But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.

Another excerpt (below) from her book explains the inspiration behind my painting – “I took the fucking Donuts!”

“Thoreau wrote in painstaking detail about how he chose to remove himself from society to live “by his own means” in a little 10-foot x 15-foot hand-hewn cabin on the side of a pond. What he left out of Walden, though, was the fact that the land he built on was borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, that his pal Ralph Waldo Emerson had him over for dinner all the time, and that every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought over a basket of freshly-baked goods for him, including donuts.

The idea of Thoreau gazing thoughtfully over the expanse of transcendental Walden Pond, a bluebird alighting onto his threadbare shoe, all the while eating donuts that his mom brought him just doesn’t jibe with most people’s picture of him of a self-reliant, noble, marrow-sucking back-to-the-woods folk-hero.

Taking the donuts is hard for a lot of people.

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think when they see us slaving away at our manuscript about the pure transcendence of nature and the importance of self-reliance and simplicity. While munching on someone else’s donut.

Maybe it comes back to that same old issue: we just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love.

Try to picture getting angry at Einstein devouring a donut brought to him by his assistant, while he sat slaving on the theory of relativity. Try to picture getting angry at Florence Nightingale for snacking on a donut while taking a break from tirelessly helping the sick.

To the artists, creators, scientists, non-profit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing,

Please, take the donuts.

To the guy in my opening band who was too ashamed to go out into the crowd and accept money for his band,

Take the donuts.

To the girl who spent her twenties as a street performer and stripper living on less than $700 a month who went on to marry a best-selling author who she loves, unquestioningly, but even that massive love can’t break her unwillingness to accept his financial help, please….

Everybody.

Please.

Just take the fucking donuts.”

And so, I enlisted the help of my friend and art teacher, Angie. I got all spruced up in a Moulin-Rouge type outfit, painted my face like a mime and stuffed some donuts in my face while Angie clicked away at the camera. I chose a the best picture of the lot and painted it.

This piece was entered into the Art Lover’s competition in February 2015, which didn’t place anywhere, but it’s a piece I’m extremely proud of.

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Breathless

The piece above is a portrait of my mother when she was a 4 or 5 year old kid. I recently found the photograph and decided that I needed to create an artwork around it. I was challenged by my friend and art teacher, Angie, to create a mixed media piece – so I used pencil, acrylic paint and embroidery cotton to create the portrait of my mom. The embroidery cotton is symbolic of my mother since she would always be sewing something; whether it was my matric dance dress, curtains or dolls clothes.

The story below is my account of the night my mother passed away of a heart attack at the age of 45, I was 21 at the time. It took me a few years to write it because the pain and grief were just too fresh to deal with. Anyway, I’m sharing it with you all.

***

Breathless

August 22nd 2001, I remember that night as if it were yesterday. A familiar lump forms in my throat. My eyes tear up, my gut feels empty and a dull pain forms where my heart is.

I was 21 years old and didn’t have a driver’s license, or a car for that matter; hence having to rely on the ever-so sporadic bus transport system. God how I hated taking the bus! I’d finished my day job, took the first bus into town to wait for the second one to take me to the restaurant. Thursday nights were my regular shift.

It was getting late, the sun was going down and the wintry night air made its presence known. Downtown Johannesburg isn’t the greatest of places to be during the day, let alone at night. It was cold. So cold, that when the wind blew on the back of my neck it forced me to scrunch down into my jacket. Goosebumps riddled my skin and there was still no sign of the bus.

I panicked about being late for work. I called to tell them the situation, to let them know that I wouldn’t be able to make my shift. Eventually the bus arrived. I decided to go to my mom’s place. My sister, Nicci, and I had recently moved out to a townhouse just down the road from her. Mom dished me up a plate to eat. While I ate my mom filled me in on the day’s events in between her coughing, smoking and tea drinking. My siblings Dean and Lara, 13 and 11 years old respectively chimed in with their news too. My step-dad was away on business in Hong Kong at the time.

Mom dropped me off at home around 8:30pm and offered to take me to work the next morning. I remember saying I love you, see you tomorrow at 7 am.” She drove off in that white Fiat Uno, waving at me. I was home alone. Nicci was playing volley ball with her boyfriend and some friends; she would be home a little later.

I was almost sound asleep when buzzer rang. I thought it was strange for someone to be ringing at this time of the evening. Perhaps Nicci had arrived home early and forgotten her keys? I picked up the intercom phone; Dean’s voice came bellowing desperately through to me… “Sim, come quick!!! Something’s wrong with mom!!!”

Adrenalin pumped through me. Mind and heart racing I found an old track suit and some shoes. I threw them on as I fumbled with the keys trying to open the security gate. Renette, my mom’s neighbour from across the road had driven the kids to my place to fetch me.

Arriving at my mom’s house I raced inside, down the passage to her bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed.

Her face ashen.

Clutching her chest.

Battling to breath.

Shaking her head in a desperate gesture to say she couldn’t speak.

I can’t remember who called the paramedics. I can’t place much of anything that happened in the next few moments. I do recall them working on my mom.

One of the paramedics turned to me and said, “Get the kids out of the room!”

I forced myself to put on a brave face while leading the kids into the living room.

“Everything will be fine. Mom will be fine” I told them.

“Dear God, please let her be fine. Let her be okay. Please. Please. Please?”

The paramedic walked into the living room, told us how sorry he was but that my mother had passed away. He rambled on about the technicalities.

I heard him but wasn’t listening.

I wanted to scream but couldn’t.

The words “Your Mother’s dead” punched me in the gut.

I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air.

I made my way down the passage to her bedroom. Mom lay on the floor, a ghostly grey colour on her face. Lifeless. That wasn’t my Mother. My Mother was full of energy and life.

I stood there. Numb. Staring at what was left of her.

I knelt down. Kissed her forehead and felt the last of the warmth drain from her grey skin.

I gasped for more air.

What was I to do now? I’m the eldest; I needed to be strong for my siblings. Oh, God. Nicci! Nicci didn’t know! How do I tell Nicci?

I called her phone. Clive, a friend, answered. Apparently she was still on the volley ball court. I screamed at him to get her home immediately. I could hear he wasn’t very impressed with me yelling at him. I didn’t want to say anything on the phone. I just needed her to get home.

Whilst waiting for Nicci, I called the necessary people to let them know what had happened to mom. Aunty Shirley was the first person I called. I’d woken her; she was confused and thought I was my cousin and that my mom’s sister had died instead. Once she registered what I was saying she gathered up that side of the family and drove to the house.

I called my dad and step-mom next. Dad also made his way to us.

I finished calling everyone I thought I needed to know. The ambulance was still outside; they’d just loaded my Mom’s body into it as Nicci arrived. I don’t know who told her but she totally freaked out. She screamed and ran away from the house down the street. She collapsed before she could get further than twenty meters from us. Someone, her boyfriend, I think, ran after her.

Renette invited us to have tea at her house while we waited for everybody to arrive. Funny how some people think that in times like these a cup of tea will fix everything. I can’t remember drinking any.

I sat there.

Thinking of nothing.

 Thinking of everything.

My right leg was shaking.

People arrived. Hugs, tears and “I’m so sorrys” were passed around among us.

I hadn’t cried yet. I was still gasping for air.

I sat down again. Still numb. I stared into space.

Thinking.

 Not thinking.

Gareth, my second cousin, told me it was ok to cry. He said all the usual mumbo-jumbo you think you should say to somebody who’s just lost someone close to them. He told me to let out the emotion I was feeling…

I didn’t know what I was feeling. I just wanted the night to end and morning to come so that I could wake up from this nightmare. What should I be feeling? Grief? Shock? Anger? I didn’t know what to do.

So I sat. My right leg shaking. I continued to stare into space. While everyone else made pathetic small talk amongst themselves because they didn’t know what to say or do either.

My dad arrived later than the others because he lives about half an hour away. He gave Nicci and I a pat on the back and R60.00 worth of airtime for our phones.

I wanted to call my mom, but couldn’t.

I still couldn’t breathe.

I don’t know who took us home. I got into bed. Eventually I cried myself to sleep.

 ***

That was almost 15 years ago, with each passing year it becomes a little easier to handle the painful, gut wrenching feeling.

There are still days when I’m left breathless.

 

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Our national flower, the King Protea

I’ve always loved the way the King Protea looks with its subtle pink, magenta and cream undertones; and bright, leathery leaves. It’s incredible to see not only in colour and size but the sheer beauty and number of them that populate Table Mountain.

The King Protea has been South Africa’s national flower since 1976. According to South African History Online the Protea “is an emblem of the beauty of our land and the flowering of our potential as a nation in pursuit of the African Renaissance.”

In 1735 Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, named the genus Protea after the Greek God Proteus, who could change his form at will, because they have such a wide variety of forms.

Being South African I wanted to explore a theme in my heritage and so I decided to paint a King Protea. I was given some beautiful raw plywood and knew that it would be the perfect canvas to paint on. The size of the plywood piece is 1220mm x 1150 mm. I sanded the wood down and varnished it. I then drew the outline of the leaves and petals before mixing my palette; the paint glided on the wood as smooth as silk.

It took numerous hours to complete but it was worth it. I feel that the wood compliments the naturalness and beauty of the flower because the wood is also organic.

 

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Good Friends in Bad Times

I stumbled upon a heart-breaking photograph in 2011; that depicted a homeless man sitting on the pavement, cross-legged and cradling a dog in his lap. In his  hand was a cap that contained a few coins that I assume were put there by passers by. I felt extremely emotional when I first laid eyes on the photo. I was compelled to find out the story behind the homeless man and his pooch. I also felt that I needed to draw the image so that I could share this emotional tale.

Here is Janet Cremer’s article (09/15/2007) about Noel Matthew Cowley, the man in the photograph:

It was 2005 when Noel Matthew Cowley told his mother he was heading to California to find a profitable job, one that would allow him to pay child support and still have enough leftover to make a decent living.

But Noel’s mom, Suellen Cowley of Momence, never imagined that phone call might be the last time she’d hear from her son.

“It’s been two years,” said Cowley of the last time she spoke to 29-year-old Noel. “There was no phone call at Christmas, no letters. We just never knew what happened.”

The worst thoughts ran through her head in that time. Where could he be? Was he hurt? Even dead?

In that time, she and husband Chuck tried filing a missing person report, but that first required a police report on his disappearance.

And that became bogged down with police bureaucracy when officers in Illinois said his disappearance technically was from California and authorities here said the opposite was true.

“There was nothing I could do, no way to find him,” she said with frustration.

But what she discovered two weeks ago, much by accident, hardly eased her worries.

Noel Cowley is in Canada and, sadly, Suellen learned, he’s homeless.

Call it fate

Suellen, a dog breeder and groomer by trade, was looking through the September issue of a pet magazine targeted at groomers and veterinarians called “Pet Product News.” It was there that she saw a news article for “Feeding Pets of the Homeless,” an organization that provides food to the pets of the destitute.

The article immediately caught Suellen’s eye, not for its contents but because of what ran with it — an emotional photograph of a homeless man sleeping with a dog cradled in his lap. The man, with long, scraggly hair, a bushy beard and muddied clothes, is shown with his face pressed against the dog’s — the sole source of comfort this lonely day.

And the most shocking thing of all about the photograph? It was Noel.

“When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” said Suellen, tears coming to her eyes as she carefully smoothes the edges of the magazine. “I knew right away. I just knew.

“I was crying so hard I couldn’t even see,” she said of the moment she realized her son was still alive.

She immediately called the magazine’s publisher to find out where and when the photograph was taken.

Problem was, the publisher told her the photograph of the unnamed man was taken an entire year ago, and from home — in Toronto, Canada. A photograph from another source Suellen discovered shows Noel and the dog again. It was shot just five months ago in Vancouver.

Tireless work

The Cowleys have since contacted homeless shelters throughout Canada in hopes of finding their son, so far, to no avail. She’s also solicited the help of friends and dog groups she’s affiliated with, in hopes of spreading the word over the Worldwide Web about Noel.

She’s even utilizing the aid of the notorious motorcycle club, “Hells Angels” to try to bring him home. Canadian members have promised Suellen that if Noel is spotted in Canada, they’ll get him back to Momence, along with his dog.

Officials from “Feeding Pets of the Homeless,” have also gotten involved, agreeing to include Suellen’s phone number and e-mail address on their Web site, beneath the photograph of Noel. That way, if anyone knows his whereabouts, they have a contact.

Suellen’s helping that worthwhile organization in return by having her business, Azzur Grooming in Momence, serve as a food bank, accepting money or pet food donations for the approximate 10 percent of homeless people who have dogs or cats. Her business is one of two Illinois sites listed as food banks.

And as far as Noel goes, Suellen isn’t giving up hope.

“All I want is to get him home,” said Suellen, fighting back the tears. “I need to get him home.”

 

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Making Good Art!

The quote above comes from Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Keynote Address to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, USA. The whole speech is quite inspiring, you can read it here: http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012

There are so many great artists out there sharing their amazing work, I can‘t help but feel humbled and grateful to be influenced by them. Their work inspires me to push my boundaries and not limit myself to the tools and mediums in my hands. I feel as if I’m always learning and trying new things just to see what the outcome will be.

Lately I’ve been trying to focus my energy on learning new techniques and playing around with the paint. I’ve been getting it all over my fingers (face & clothes included) in attempts at blending the colours into one another. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. My point is, is that I’m connecting the dots as best as I can, hoping to tell a new story through each piece.

Following Neil’s advice, I hope to make good art.

Neil has also said that somewhere along the line we should make mistakes. “Because if you’re making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Here’s to making glorious mistakes and sharing them with you!

 

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