Please note that due to the subject matter of this project (death/grief) some of the images on this blog might be disturbing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kathryn Orton

Notes on the Hankie Paintings

I made these works in 2000 as a parting gesture before my first overseas trip. My mother had died in September the previous year, just before her 82nd birthday. My siblings and I thought she couldn’t bear to see in the new millennium, having been on her way out for a while.

She wasn’t often sick when I was growing up but there was one time when I was about nine years old. I remember sitting, crying, outside on the front path in the dark because I was scared she might die. I didn’t know what was wrong and I didn’t know what to do about it. My father was comforting me and telling me that we had to look after her. When my father died I was twenty and I felt the responsibility of looking after my mother from that time. My Brother and sisters had all married, there were grandchildren.

My care was mostly from a distance. I had taken a job 300 kilometres away, but I would visit often for the weekend or holidays.

My mother Alice was a strong, intelligent, independent woman, who could be difficult, and wasn’t to be messed with. She was proud to have filled in her lengthy widowhood reading books and encyclopaedias, with sewing and embroidery (often original designs much prized as gifts for the family), knitting garments and rugs (she was living in a cold climate), gardening (the family authority on plant species, who knew the botanical and common names for most plants), painting and drawing flowers from the garden, and walking long distances around town while she could.

It was only towards the very end of her life that our roles were reversed; my partner and I cared for her at our home until that became too hard.
These are collaged hankies, some hand made and well used by my mother, others given as gifts to a daughter who was more inclined to using tissues that could be thrown away. I intended to paint onto them but couldn’t bring myself to put any other marks on these. My travel included central Italy (on a tour developed by a friend), the south of France (to visit another friend living there) and Barcelona (because I wanted to see some of Spain), hence the titles.

Farewell is one of my mother’s hankies, waving the way my partner’s mother would always wave her hanky as we’d leave her to return home.

Arrivederci is a lace trimmed gift with floral patches from another well loved hanky of Mum’s.

Bon Voyage is layered with both our handkerchiefs. An initialled, unused one of mine with the K for Kathryn, left so long in its packaging that the sticky label left a permanent stain, one of Mum’s mended, hand made hankies and more of her flowers.

Hasta Luego, Alice is a hanky she made and embroidered with her own initial, looking scorched and reminding me of earning pocket money as a child, one cent for each hanky ironed. Its title reflects my own recent brush with mortality.

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