I was born in 1956 to a German father and a British mother – now both dead. I grew up in the south-east of Britain near the Essex coast. For the first eight years my childhood was relatively happy; a working-class family of six, in a three bedroom council house. Sometime in my eighth year an uncle began to sexually abuse me, he continued intermittently for three years, only stopped by an “accidental” disclosure to my mother. I kept a diary and wrote, “Did it with uncle Bill” which she found and read.
Although the abuse was wrong and I didn’t want it to happen, I was never raped or physically hurt, nor did it cause me great distress. However, my parents reaction to the revelation, even by the standards of the time, was woeful and left me deeply damaged and utterly confused.
After the acute discomfort of detailing the abuse my mother sent me away saying, “Go to bed you make me sick”. An unforgettable sentence which, even now, fifty years later, still makes me wince at its cruelty. My father rarely spoke to me about anything and never mentioned the abuse. No authorities were involved, no help was offered to me. I was left feeling it was all my fault. I was bad and disgusting. I was eleven years old.
I write about these events because they had a profound effect on the course of my life and to give some background for my eventual aim as an artist.
By my mid-teens I realized I was different, queer, a poof, words that had a sharp sting at the time much less so now. I never discussed this with anyone least of all my parents. The prevailing attitude then was that homosexuals were mentally sick and their sexuality a perverted choice. I mistakenly thought my “perverted choice” was rather my perverted uncles, handed to me, so to speak, so I should be able to hand it back and become normal once again.
This knowledge I internalised and tried my utmost to surpress the attraction to other boys and of course failed miserably. I never formed a close relationship, sexual or otherwise, as a young adult and continually felt guilt and shame about masturbation.
By my late-teens I had become strongly introverted, socially isolated and deeply conflicted. Around this time I was given a book that would completely change how I thought about myself. The author was J. Krishnamurti – one particular sentence hooked my attention, saying whether you were heterosexual or homosexual was a trivial matter, you don’t have to live in conflict. Other things he wrote led me to feel he was addressing something astonishing, vital, something more important than mere sexuality. He became a father figure and I paid close attention to his books all the time thinking how do you do this, how do you live free of conflict? I really wanted to find out.
I started my art education in 1973 as I began to grapple with these feelings and ideas. Through Foundation, BA and MA courses I aquired the necessary skills and knowledge to develop as an artist. There are perhaps two distinguishable but entangled ways to develop; one is to invent a new technique or use of material; the other, the route I chose, is to broaden and deepen what art can address.
This is a difficult thing to achieve and at times I have turned away from art with long periods of not drawing (but continually questioning); it seemed impossible to bring together what was “in my head” with what my hands could do. I left college after one year of my BA because I couldn’t see the worth in self expression. I couldn’t see how to get beyond petty concerns, they kept “surfacing” in the work. It all seemed so superficial. I would live a more virtuous life by leaving college and helping others. I became a State Registered Nurse. However, after six years nursing I could see that, although rewarding for all concerned, helping others doesn’t necessarily change you. Many of the old conflicts remained. Maybe helping others wasn’t the answer and anyway I had become “burnt out” as a nurse.
I returned to college in 1985 to complete my sculpture degree followed by a Masters degree. The challenge now was to make art that inevitably starts with the self, with personal concerns, but that “pushes out” to something important beyond. I completed my art education in 1990, since then I supported myself by part-time nursing. I retired from nursing in 2016.
Not all of my image making concerns one thing. As I’ve aged I realise that life is broad and messy and many things can obstruct any aim. I’m much less conflicted now and make images and sculptures for the challenge, for the beauty or just for the pleasure of making. There have been earlier times though when I have focussed on the different disciplines of drawing, sculpture and photography to develop a way of working, a metaphor, a “gesture” that will point through the work at something other, something “shocking” even, but something vastly more captivating than my personal concerns.
It is very difficult to be more explicit about what is meant by other. It isn’t an extension of the self or the mind – that wouldn’t be other. It arises out of the insight that thought is limited; although explanation here is needed my attempting to do so would quickly become complicated thereby going beyond the scope of this introduction. As an artist I use a visual language to communicate these ideas so I leave it to others to judge my success or failure by looking through the work but perhaps those with an understanding of Krishnamurti’s writing will see more of the “enormity” I’ve chosen to “represent”.