At the very beginning
I couldn’t have been born at a better time in the history of creative expression and progress. I came into this world in 1969, just in time for the Summer of Love, the moon landings, revolution and the counter culture. The Beatles were still together (only just). I was born at the heart of it all, London.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the Sixties, but knowing I was there and growing up at a time that was still basking in the after glow of that decade is why I wear my birth year like a badge of honour.
The artist was born
I wish I had a dollar for everyone who tells me they can’t draw. Neither could I. My mother was an artist and was fairly critical of my attempts.
One day in primary school we were told to paint pictures of fireworks. Guy Fawkes night was coming up. Our teacher, with chalk in hand, showed us on the blackboard how to draw fireworks. As was the norm, we were given butchers paper and horrible blocks of water based paint to work with. In my mind I saw streaks of light zooming across the sky, I heard the whizzing. I felt the excitement as the noise turned into a loud crack with light cascading into a fan or pouring like water from the sky. I painted my picture the way I felt it which was very different to the teacher’s example.
My teacher chose her favourite paintings to display at the school’s open day. As was always the case, mine wasn’t there. “If your art isn’t up there, come and collect it and take it home” she said. I was shocked when she said to me “oh Miriam, you really want to take yours home? I was going to throw it in the bin”. On that occasion Mum didn’t agree, she loved my painting and I could tell she was proud of me. My painting was displayed on the kitchen wall at home for many years.
One evening early in the 1980’s a friend and her brother were around at our house. We were watching The Beatles cartoon, Yellow Submarine. I’d seen it several times before but this time it had a different affect on me. The dreamlike quality, fantasy, music, colours. I was hooked. Then the song “All You Need is Love” came on. That was a pivotal moment. Listening to the song filled me with a passion I’d never known before. It welled up inside of me, ready to burst.
I wasn’t happy at school. I’d always been the outsider. Maths filled me with dread and so did sport, which gave ample opportunity for the bullies to torment me. At 13 years old I was already in the midst of teenage angst. I’d hide myself away in my room, desperately overpowered by this energy within me, juxtaposed with my depression and anxiety. I was also increasingly frustrated with the Baby Boomer generation whose fight for change had given way to apathy as they caved to the establishment, expecting us to conform while also carrying on their baton of reform.
I wanted to be able to express my pain through music but my family wasn’t in the least bit musical and none of us could sing anything remotely recognisable, so my passion for musical expression seemed to have no outlet. I taught myself recorder and tried guitar too, but with no support from those around me, it all became too much of a challenge. I’d even cry into my pillow every night out of desperation, praying to God for a miracle, that I would wake up with a voice like an angel, or at least a voice people would happily listen to.
Words flowed through my restless mind. They sounded like poetry to me but didn’t fit in with the rules and regulations imposed on such self expression and thus I was blocked and bound by my inner turmoil.
I started a private diary. I called it “Dear Memory” because this diary was for my eyes only. I hoped the “me” I would be in the year 2000 would one day understand this frightened and lonely child I was then and would forgive me for stuffing up her future. As if I would ever forget!!! Even so my words could only express so much. The tears that blurred the ink on the page said so much more than the words ever could.
I started to draw, almost unaware that I was. The drawings were rudimentary, just for me, but they gave me an outlet to release this anger and despair where words failed me. I had found my own therapy. My own survival. Back then I thought I was so weak, while I was in fact so unbelievably strong. Nowadays I’m ever so proud of the young girl I was. Without her I would never have grown into the artist, writer and thinker that I am today.
Art and writing were not only my lifeline but in a short space of time became something I was considered good at. Despite missing a lot of school because of the dark place I was in, I still rose to the top of my year in art. I left school when I was 16 with “O” Levels in Art and English. The school’s career counsellor asked me what I wanted to do. “I want to be an artist, or if there is a way to help people by using art, like a sort of therapy, I want to do that even more”. The counsellor laughed at me.
With the school’s prediction that I’d spend the rest of my life claiming dole money ringing in my ears, I studied office skills for a year. It set me up for the 21st Century in a way no other courses could. I was taught to type at a time when many people couldn’t!
Several jobs later, travelling and living overseas, together with rejections from art colleges, I turned my back on art. Art was too painful. Every rejection was a rejection of me. Because my art was (and still is) such an integral part of me. Maybe this is why, as much as I tried to shut the door on the art world, my need for artistic expression always had a horrible way of creeping back into my life.
In my early 20’s I developed an interest in photography. It didn’t involve a paintbrush, so I felt safe. I joined a local class that met on Sunday mornings. One day my teacher took me aside and encouraged me to apply to art college. I put together a portfolio and went for my interview, already so burned out by previous interviews for art colleges. This time, however, was different. The interviewers saw something in my work that they loved and I was offered a place in a college in Clerkenwell, the centre of London and seemingly the centre of the photography world. A new period of my life had begun.
I loved every minute of my time in Clerkenwell. Ian, our tutor, encouraged creativity and expression over technicality. I loved the darkroom. Magic came alive as the photographic image was revealed in the chemical tray. It was a place of retreat and silence. A place I could still my crazy mind.
My greatest inspirations were Man Ray, for his experimentation, stunning tonal qualities and the accidental discovery of solarisation. I also loved Cindy Sherman. Her work was challenging, but brought out a great observation of life and pain. Life and death. Her work fascinated me.
I played around with different techniques of papers and chemicals, light and shade. Black and white photography strengthened my understanding of tonal quality and colour photography strengthened my skills in colour saturation and depth. I progressed to art college in the beautiful little city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, just a stones throw from the iconic Stonehenge (excuse the pun). Three years later I graduated with a BA (Hons) degree. Never had I imagined myself in cape and mortar board when I had left, tail between my legs, from school.
With the school’s prediction that I’d spend the rest of my life claiming dole money ringing in my ears, I studied office skills for a year. Funnily it’s set me up for the 21st Century in a way no other courses could as I learned to type at a time when many people couldn’t!
Several jobs later, travelling and living overseas, together with rejections from art colleges, I turned my back on art. Every rejection was a rejection of me. Because my art was (and still is) such an integral part of me. Maybe this is why, as much as I tried to shut the door on art, my need for artistic expression always had a sneaky way of creeping back into my life.
In my early 20’s I developed an interest in photography. It didn’t involve a paintbrush, so felt safe. I joined a local class that met on Sunday mornings. One day my teacher took me aside and encouraged me to apply to art college. I put together a portfolio and went for my interview, already so burned out by previous interviews for art colleges. This time, however, was different. The interviewer saw something in my work and offered me a place. A new period of my life had begun. I studied for two years in London and then three years in the beautiful city of Salisbury in Wiltshire where I graduated with a BA (Hons) degree.
I loved every minute of college. My first tutor, Ian, strongly encouraged creativity and self expression over technicality. I loved the darkroom. Magic came alive as the photographic image was revealed in the chemical tray. It was a place of retreat and silence and calm to focus my mind.
I played around with different techniques of papers and chemicals, light and shade. Black and white photography strengthened my understanding of tonal quality and colour photography strengthened my skills in colour saturation and depth.
My greatest inspirations were Man Ray, for his experimentation, stunning tonal qualities and his accidental discovery of solarisation and the photographer Cindy Sherman who isn’t afraid to express herself through what are, often, challenging and confronting images.
I met my Australian husband, Anthony, just before I finished college and not long afterwards I moved to Sydney, married and worked for a short while as a medical photographer. Every where I went, every party, the camera was always tossed into my hands. I lost the joy of living in the moment, only viewing life through the lens of a camera. I wanted to participate in life. Enjoy what was around me. I wanted to join the human race. Soon afterwards I became a mum to two beautiful girls and hung up my camera for good.
As soon as my youngest child was in kindergarten, I found myself missing the feel of paintbrush in hand and paint on canvas. I’d never forgotten the little girl who found her way through troubling times with the help of music, art and her diary. That young girl who wanted to help someone else escape their pain like she did. I did my research and found Transpersonal Art Therapy. I qualified as an art therapist, working with both individuals and groups. Through this work I have been humbled to listen to other people’s stories, only to realise that my experiences, thoughts and feelings are not unique to me but shared by people across the globe.
Remember that young girl who cried into her pillow because she couldn’t sing? Miraculously both of my daughters were born with a natural talent for music and the ability to beautifully express themselves through the power of song. They even play guitar and piano. Sometimes I wonder if when I cried into my pillow for a miracle all those years ago, my prayers were heard and answered. I can live out my own passion for musical expression through my children.
Photography has strengthened my visual awareness of colour, form and composition. Art therapy has strengthened my understanding of the need to express our inner landscape, to listen inwardly and find our voice. It’s what makes us who we are, what makes us human.
The world is a fascinating place and so is everything in it. We are blessed to be here, no matter how arduous and painful the process is. It is a process that has the ability to strengthen and define us. Paradoxically we are all the same and yet we are all uniquely different. It’s something we should rejoice in.
The wonder of existence is nothing but BEAUTIFUL.
My life has come full circle.