Oil on Canvas 76cm x 90cm. Inspired by my recent trip to Florence, the source is photographic with my own creative license.
The work is a commission for a client who wanted a “demure nude”.
It is the anniversary of “when my niece came to stay”, a whole year ago. Winter can be quite heart warming when you have experiences like this…..
July 9th 2015: I have just experienced the most gorgeous eight days with my niece from New Zealand. First grandchild to the family, therefore my first niece, and my brother’s first born (of four girls). Maybe this ‘first’ status gave her some rights of passage in life which held her in good stead, considering the circumstances she found herself in during her childhood. An unfortunate one as the result of her parent’s marriage breakdown. I am sure that she is not alone on that stage, with other children who endured the uncertainly of home, place, and belonging as a result of a broken home.
The older I get (or more mature I should say), the more I am drawn back to my family. In particular, my role within that structure. Having left home and country at seventeen, I have not had a lot of connect with my siblings, nor the wonderful nieces and nephews as a result, at fifty I found myself returning like a homing pigeon of sorts. I wanted to reconnect and make up for lost time. After the breakdown of my own marriage to an Italian man, I realised that there were indeed tribal differences between us, and the years I had spent developing relationships with his children and mother were buried soon after we parted. In Italian lore marriage is forever, no matter what. When you leave you are ‘officially’ dead. Till death do us part indeed, I had died to them upon the end of the marriage.
Two of my nieces from two different sisters had been to stay for extended periods during the time I had my Graphic Design business. So it was like work experience for them, as well as getting to know each other a little better, considering I had not had a lot of contact during their childhoods. The visits were from one to three months. The visit from Gina was only one week, and at my invitation. I cannot explain why there are better connects with some members of the family than others, but I guess it is no different to the people whom we simply encounter in life and form an instant bond with.
Gina had not been in the best of health of late, so I just wanted to wrap her up and give her a much needed rest. I knew that being in a new environment could be such an invigorating and sometimes in itself a healing experience, combined with some TLC, I felt I could offer some respite from her CFS condition. Gina had ‘burnt out’, her get up and go, got up and went, her MOJO was gone gone! CFS does not necessarily signal a call out to the Country Fire Service, because there simply is no fire to put out, and it is pretty hard to reignite the flame. Her resulting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was possibly due to having put all her eggs into one basket, and when that basket broke the shattering effect is likened to that of a jigsaw puzzle needing to be put back together. There is your life, you can see it – the whole lot, from inception to present moment, the good, the bad and the bloody ugly. Her childhood had crept up on her and she found she was addressing the many aspects of her dysfunctional childhood. The fact that she had survived the multitudes of moves from town to town which robbed her of friendships and bonds with other girls. Endured her mother’s creepy boyfriends who had run her down with verbal, sexual and physical abuse and made her feel scared and insecure. Being farmed out as a child slave to another woman who was simply lonely, for two years, who practiced in the occult, performed séances, runes and other weird shit that no child should ever be exposed to. How her mother allowed this to happen is beyond my comprehension! Combined with a lack of any fatherly input, owing to her mother’s annihilation of his need of presence in the upbringing of his daughter’s life and geographical distance combined. It all came to a shattering head at age thirty-eight.
In the past three years Gina had suffered high-grade pre-cancerous cervical changes that needed surgical removal, but caused her to suffer a massive hemorrhage, which lead to Fibromyalgia, and on to chronic fatigue. In essence, she experienced at age thirty-eight a massive meltdown, which also resulted in her inability to work, and the effects that had on the family from both a financial perspective in this day and age where most parents both work to support a family and a psychological one which made her feel enormously guilty for letting the team down. Trying to piece together and make sense of a robbed childhood, what she really endured and had mentally blocked out for survival took its emotional toll. Combined with quite simply the pressures of running a family of her own and trying to make sure that her children had the childhood she did not. Was it any surprise that her life shattered and splintered the way it did and manifested in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
If we don’t address the wrongs done to us throughout our life passage, we carry them with us, until finally they catch up with us. They define us, as victims of our own making because we have not stood up for ourselves. Gina had however stood up for herself and at many junctures in her childhood, especially as she grew into adulthood. She finally said to her mother when the boyfriend’s abuse became too much “I cannot live with you any more”. She was only fourteen years old when she went into voluntary foster care. Stories of aiding her mother to keep from being strangled by the boyfriend, with a massive crack to his head with an ash tray, then being turned upon by him. Raking a gravel driveway as punishment for her ‘crime’ in this episode, then having him speed his vehicle over it, only for her to ‘do it all again’. She spent a brief period living in a friend’s caravan in the back yard for respite, even though she eventually went back to live with her mother, when it was safe. Gina enjoyed her time alone in the caravan because she had a sense of freedom. A safe space of her own.
Her life made mine look like a fairy tale in comparison. I could not blame my brother either, simply because he was not there. He was only twenty-one when he married, and Gina’s mother a mere eighteen years young, crazy when you think about it? It failed after only five years and two young children under three, he went on to another country so being there for her was a geographical barrier in many respects. He was shut out, but also didn’t put in a huge effort to retain the contact that was quite obviously needed for a good relationship to be retained.
Gina has her own family now, a son of fifteen and daughter eleven, and a husband who adores her. So why was Gina in the place she was? Over compensation perhaps for her own upbringing and its deficiencies. I could not judge her on that one as she only spoke of her children with the utmost love and her role as a mother with pure dedication. Yet I knew she was crying out for more, and it was quite possibly just this need to be mothered. We all know that our ‘motherly’ role can be quite depleted if it is not topped up with some reciprocation every now and then.
My own mother had always told me “be kind to each other”. I somehow wanted to help her heal from all the acts of injustice that had been inflicted upon her during her childhood years. I believed that conscious acts of random kindness go a long way in this world of selfishness and self indulgence. And charity starts at home right? A Virgo and therefore earth mother sign, giving back comes naturally to me. I hoped that a week in my care may come to help heal her shattered soul, mend her spirit and send her on her way again having had some nurturing from her aunt. Only time will tell on that front.
We made a pact to take a selfie together on every day and on each occasion, whether it was out and about or just at home. Sometimes I wrapped her in my favourite blanket and parked her in front of the tele to watch a brilliant eight part tele series called “The Honourable Woman” (BBC equivalent to Homeland). Stacked books in her room to read, of which she finished one and took another with her for inspiration. Cooked some of my all time favourite recipes in my brand new kitchen. We ate vegemite chocolate and cake whilst we told stories of our lives. The interchange of self, our rebellious youths, and the taming of our free spirits,….motherhood, sisterhood, womankind.
The final words she said to me when we parted, “I love you Barbara, you are the mother I never had”.
“And you Gina are the daughter I never had”.
There is was, it had passed, our brilliant week together. I had facilitated a remarkable experience for us both and it felt good, just as much as the parting felt wretched. I had wanted to help her, but I knew that I had also helped myself. The tears made me feel human, they made me feel connected. I put on the Sheryl Crow CD, turned it up loud, just as we had done on Sunday as we tore through the Barossa Valley in my fast little car. “I can’t cry any more” played first up. I cried all the way home,…and then some more.
I feel so despondent towards my brother (Gina’s father) and her mother also. But they are not my concern. I only acted on impulse and intuition, slight as that may have been and many of us tend to ignore as we go about our busy lives. To engage my niece for a week in Australia for some much needed time out was a simple act of kindness, but I know that it brought us so much collective joy and healing for both of our souls.
Whilst at the Academy of Fine Art in Florence, I undertook my first ‘site size’ portrait. Having always painted from photographs this is my first portrait done from a live model. It was a first also in that I had to draw with a paintbrush without having sketched her in charcoal onto the canvas first (which is how I normally work). Not only was I surprised at how easy it was, but also how accurately this can be accomplished with only the use of string for measuring, just as they did in the Renaissance era. The resemblance to the model was also uncanny and accurate. Yes I should have had her pose for the photo as per the portrait,…but you can see she was quite pleased.
Whilst studying a drawing and painting intensive 6 week course at the Florence Academy of Fine Art recently (October 2015) I drew copies from Charles Bargue (insert), which is the form of art practise undertaken at these atelier schools. Copy copy copy for practise sake. The drawing on the right however is one I undertook upon my arrival back in Australia, drawn in the same method with reference to my past wine label experience and the filigree work I used to do. It is a combination of the wonderful inspiration taken from tapestries fabrics and sculpture experienced whilst in this magnificent medieval city of art. The medium is pencil, acrylic, and gold leaf (from Florence) on cold press artboard.
Blackboard paint, chalk, Acrylic, and enamel on paper March 2015
I was a middle child…..of four. How can that be you might ask when there should be two middle children (of four)? Well the ‘other’ middle child was my brother, the only boy, therefore his status was an assured position in the hierarchy of siblings. All he needed to do was sit there and look good, which was difficult considering his stick thin legs, freckled façade (which didn’t get any better with age I might add), and being in the unfortunate position of having to wear his older sisters hand-me-downs (yes BATHERS and pink cardigans)!
This left the peas in a pod, the three sisters, which gave me the status of middle child. We all had the same mousey brown hair colouring, completed by sadistic bowl hair cuts (performed by our father the would be barber), eye colour, skin complexion (though not as bad as our brother, thank god)… and unfortunately more often than not wore the same matching outfits. Why parents of the 60’s wanted to militarize their offspring in uniform, is a concept quite beyond me. Yet this only served to make my brother more unique and my sisters and I less indistinguishable!
This did however have a major impact on my psyche, looking like a cloned version of my older sister and my younger sister a cloned version of me. People often mistook my little sister and I for twins; even our parents got us mixed up and couldn’t remember which was which or who was who, which was convenient when you wanted to pass blame onto the other! Often my disinterested father he would call me Brend-Barb-Brenda Barbara…..our parents were confused then why the hell couldn’t they have at least given us more original names that didn’t begin with B and end with A!
As a result I spent my entire childhood hating my younger sister.Why did I have to have a clone, wasn’t one of me enough? My older sister had status that could only be admired,…as older sisters do. Its automatic, it’s a given…..she was ‘shit hot’! She came before me by five years so I didn’t mind sharing a room with an ‘almost’ teenager who ultimately made me want to grow up way too fast and become one too. I hold her totally responsible for my early onset of adolescence at age nine and rebellious attitude by age thirteen. Although admittedly maybe this had some thing to do with wanting to be noticed.
She needs to be held accountable for something, because so far she hasn’t done anything wrong. I need to blame someone for my life not looking quite the way it should, so I will use her as a scapegoat for now!
Fancy having to share a bedroom with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dave Clarke Five, the Easy Beats, the list goes on, as it did with posters migrating across the wall of the bedroom in which we shared. Yes, I hold her totally responsible for my premature sexual crush (as a five year old), on Paul McCartney,…how could you resist those doe eyes bearing down upon you night after night?
So from the middle status holding point I asked of myself “Y”? And decided that to come first I had to be “X”. And this folks is where it all began!
Now adolescence was a game changer for us all. God spoke (our mother) and we were all given free will (about fucking time I might add), so at age thirteen we were allowed to groom our own look. Well lets face it by that time you are ready to tell your parent where to get off anyway.
The first thing to go of course was the bowl cut. My older sister promptly grew her hair to her waist and looked like a total babe. Mine however was too thick and unruly (funny that) and could not get it past my shoulders, but it was a vast improvement. I literally didn’t care what my younger sister did. I still resented her for being a clone so I was damned if I was going to set any examples. (I might add here in hindsight that if I knew then what I know now then I would have been a hell of a lot kinder and compassionate… but I wasn’t!) Nooooooo, I was way too busy developing the X factor, I wanted to stand out, I wanted my parents to “look at me”, not THEM! But they never did, in fact they weren’t looking at THEM either, because they were too busy creating the perfectly normal dysfunctional family unit with their massive fights – mostly over money, control, and dads ongoing infidelity – as I said, normal family life!
This was an incredibly convenient excuse however to get the hell out of there as soon as legally possible, and my older sister exercised it brilliantly by marrying her 1st love, which after a couple of years of wild sexual gymnastic back seat car events resulted in an engagement and the resultant walk down the isle to an “I do”,….just as our dear parents did. It was seemingly, the only way out! It was all very proper; she made her own dress, my grandmother made the cake, and dad donned the bridal ribbons to the chocolate brown Valiant and his own chocolate brown sports jacket with contrasting fawn pants to match the décor of the two tone car (I’m sure he loved that car more than us). He was undoubtedly thinking “one down, two to go”. The whole sche-bam cost around $200 folks. The days when parents didn’t mortgage their houses to get their kids off their hands, simply because they couldn’t bloody afford to. My younger sister and I strutted down the isle as her bridesmaids, in mild support of the brave path she was paving for us both. On ya Linda!!!
As the oldest child who was blessed with the simple task of being a trail blazer, proved her consistency when she changed husband ‘Steve mark 1’ out for ‘Steve mark 2’ who came with the far improved capability of ‘dancing’,….but that’s all!
Brother Randal followed suit 2 years later in same copycat fashion, also at age 21, 1st girlfriend, next step, engagement, marriage, babies…its pretty much what we were bred and brought up do,…procreate and populate.
There was no way I was going down that path, and so at age 17, with a one way ticket to Australia…I escaped, determined with the ‘one way, I’m outta here attitude’ to make a go of it. But what happens? Well what we were all conditioned to do as a child of the 60’s, I met a great guy and got married of course.
So, left behind is poor lil’ sis, with no one to groom her. Desperate to also flee the nest, hooks 1st guy that comes along and also marries at 18. However luck was on her side and this fortunately lasted less than a year, allowing her to move on before the damage was done with a far more suitable and long term mate. In fact to her credit is the only one who has gone the distance in the marriage stakes with all the comforts a long term relationship provides. Nice house on a sea inlet, holiday house, boat, caravan, and a garage full of sporting toys, and now also in retirement with a partner she still enjoys.
So, yes where am I going with all this sibling rivalry shit! After spending my whole life developing the X factor, which I don’t regret one bit by the way as I can boast a whole raft of multiple talents and personal achievements, but I wont, because we weren’t brought up that way. I have come to the realisation that family are important. Mum and dad are gone now, and thank god because they fought until their dying breath. There are four siblings, and even though it was a dysfunctional family unit, we still had each other. In fact we collectively agree that we all brought each other up, except for me who was busy being Ms X, Ms piggy in the middle wanting to hog all the limelight!
I have made a promise to myself to return to NZ each year, now that we are all getting older. My 3 sisters, 1 aunt and uncle, 5 nieces, their husbands and children and 1 nephew. They are my kin, my clan and the older I get the more time I seem to want to spend with ‘family’. But mostly I am looking forward to just hanging out with my little sister, to dance like nutters, sing karaoke, put on our grey wigs and simply pick up where we left off. Being sisters,…dare I say it becoming children again and having fun. She never held a grudge against me for being such a bitch and for that I love her like a big sister should.
How fortunate am I to be in the middle, to have a big sister and a little one too?
Oil on Canvas 76cm x 91cm June 2015
The concept of Roxane as my alter ego; the younger woman, the darker side, the rebel, my animus. The tattoos and piercings are of course fictitious but symbolic of the animus. The light and dark backgrounds and singlets represent the ying yang of life, the light and dark forces, the good girl with the pearl earing turning a blind eye to it all, and of course the bad girl who holds the gaze. I believe we all have these innate traits, but how well we control these aspects to our persona makes us who we really are. The portrait is not finished. Maybe I shall revisit it in years to come,…add some more lines, more texture, more layers, as in life itself. Perhaps I will work on it until I die and watch it age along with me. Or perhaps I will do as Picasso recommends…quote: “We never finish paintings, we abandon them.” Knowing when of course is the key to any good painting.
A Sacrifice of the Heart
by Barbara Harkness
Internationally renowned Barbara Harkness rose to prominence in the 1990s and early millennium years as the creator of the Yellow Tail wine brand. Her first book, Sacrifice, relives those halcyon days of the Australian wine industry in an emotional journey of love, sacrifice and self-empowerment through the romantic vineyards of Bordeaux, Barossa Valley and Cote D’Azur.
Adelaide, SA – February 2015 — With maturity, soul and a touch of subtlety, Sacrifice delivers like a good wine. The book chronicles two years in the life of Barbara Harkness during the mid-90s, from her divorce to the rebirth of love with Michael, a married Englishman who lives 10,000 miles away on the other side of the world.
Granted permission by Michael before his death in 2014, Barbara has released volumes of love letters from Michael and herself detailing the passion, sacrifice and pain of two lovers kept apart by the tyranny of distance and the duty of marriage.
As Thomas Liddle, founding editor of Spectrum magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, remarked,”You will find yourself pausing to reflect on the love you have, the loves that might have been, and how love is the ultimate driving force we all seek, because it simply makes us feel alive.”
About Barbara Harkness — Barbara Harkness was born in New Zealand in 1957 and made Australia her home in 1974. After completing a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication in 1990, she established her own consultancy as a graphic designer. Barbara is the creator of the internationally famous Yellow Tail wine brand. She currently lives in Adelaide, South Australia.