I used to know who I was. It was easy. hilary is a painter. hilary is ‘seriously hilary’. ‘seriously hilary the painter’
I imagined ‘seriously hilary’ into existence without any notion of what she would become. Seriously hilary was an email address hastily created in order to receive some serious files. As for the small ‘h’, I decided that my name was mine. I would decide if it followed grammar rules. I refused to allow society to decide what my name, my identity, should look like. Also, I thought a small ’h’ was prettier.
Making art has always been a part of me. I loved art class in school. Melrose Place on TV in the background, I filled my evenings with drawing and painting. I painted some rather excellent giraffes, shoes and cabbage leaves in those years.
It took a tragedy to shake the real paintings out of me. When I was 21 I lost my boyfriend to suicide. My feelings manifested themselves as paintings. This was the first time a painting came from within. From my heart. My crushed broken heart.
It is important to me to write the story of each painting. I want people to feel my paintings. I want people be comforted by knowing someone else shared their feelings. I want them to feel less alone. I want to be a force for positivity in the world. I want to make people feel loved and understood.
One lady told me that this painting perfectly expressed how she felt after her divorce. So maybe I achieved what I wanted to. Maybe I did contribute something positive to the world.
“People often unaware of their potential. People get dragged down by negative attitudes. They stop believing that they are worth anything. This painting came with the realisation that I had gotten dragged down by misery and pain. Talking with close friends made me realise that there was a beautiful bright shining happy person inside me. I needed to fight for her survival. The painting shows the dark unhappy shell that I was buried in. The goodness inside shining a light to show me that things could be better. It is still a struggle some days but it’s worth fighting for. Everyone should feel proud of themselves.
“It is easy, terribly easy, to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work. Take care of what you are doing. Take care.” George Bernard Shaw”
Following a whirlwind romance to Belgium I started working on my first solo exhibition. I transformed our tiny kitchen into a painting studio. I never consciously designed my paintings. They just came to me. Triggered by a feeling, an emotion, a thought, an experience, a book or a memory I wanted to hold on to forever.
It wasn’t always easy. Some days nothing came. Then I curled up on the sofa and put on my mums’ video cassettes of E.R.. I couldn’t try to create something. That was a waste of time. This resulted in forced, fake, awful paintings that made me question my talent. So I would wait, and after a while I would see or hear something that would flick the switch and there it was, a new painting.
It could come from a sentence in a book.
“One morning I awoke and understood the hole in the middle of me. I realised that I could compromise my life, but not the life after me.
I couldn’t explain it. The need came before explanations.”
”I needed a child”
From “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathon Safran Foer
It could come from a lyric of a song I have heard hundreds of times but for some reason on that particular day you saw it as a painting.
“Here comes a girl with long brown hair who can’t be more than seventeen. She sucks on a red popsicle while she pushes a baby girl in a pink carriage and I’m thinking that must be her sister, that must be her sister, right?
That must be her sister, right?
They go into the 7-11 and I keep walking.”
In the years that followed I had exhibitions in Belgium and Ireland. One of my paintings featured on a CD cover. One traveled to Sicily for a group show. Three were reproduced on a huge scale for a show in China. I took part in the yearly Open Studio event in Antwerp. The city commissioned a seriously hilary Mermaid mural. People continued to show the connection they felt with my work by buying it to hang in their home. It was going well for ‘seriously hilary the painter’.
This is Lena, my favorite creation. I had not painted for a while. I worried that painting had left me. Lena came to me from a friend’s black and white bathroom selfie on facebook. Scrolling endlessly and in a flash, there it was in my mind, my finished Lena painting. I have never been so satisfied with a painting as I was with this one. It turned out so much better than I could have ever hoped. It really felt like the painting used me to create itself, but we’ll talk about my imposter syndrome in another session doctor. 😉
And then it was gone.
My identity as a painter.
I get a heavy feeling in my chest as I write this. It has been four years since I have picked up a paintbrush. Four years since a painting has come to rest in my heart and make me paint it. It hurts. I tell people I’m too busy. I brush off their questions (pun not intended). The truth is, it has left me and I don’t know where it has gone. How can you make something come back if you never knew where it came from in the first place?
I took up sewing. Something creative that involves following instructions. It does not require my inspiration as a first step. I enjoy sewing but it feels a little empty compared to the love I felt creating my own paintings. Making a one-of-a-kind cute dress is great, but it doesn’t come close to the high of creating an idea, a feeling, that previously didn’t exist. Something that can touch people’s hearts and make them feel less alone, make them see that I have felt the same as them.
So, who is hilary? I don’t know the answer right now. I miss being ‘seriously hilary the painter’ but being ‘hilary the Charlie’ feels pretty damn good right now.