Sunday Supplement: Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones
Following on from the somewhat tender recollection of my accident when painting the traffic cone upon my autobiographical mobile, I thought the time was probably ripe now to share a few of my accident paintings too. They’re not the easiest of works to suddenly introduce on The Daily Norm which, after all, tends to be more about the joie de vivre and the pleasant past times of daily life. Nonetheless, we would be foolish to underestimate the power of art as a channel through which stories of pain can be relayed in often the most powerful way, and also as an invaluable tool through which, as an artist, that pain can be relayed and tackled head on.
In the months which followed my altercation with a falling wall, I was bed bound and imprisoned under the weight of a barbed metallic illizarov frame. This frame, which is a form of external fixator, was attached to my leg, with some 14 metal rods sinking deep through the flesh and into the bones. The daily pain of moving around with such a structure affixed was indescribable, which, along with my need for crutches, and severe weakness meant that I could do little more than lie, sleep, read and, mercifully, paint.
This painting, entitled “Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones (The Show Must Go On)” was the first of ten paintings which I eventually completed during the course of my recovery. I started imagining the painting shortly after the accident, when the effect of a falling wall had become so inextricably linked with the physical and mental course of my life that I imagined myself morphed into the wall, the chilling barbed wire from the top of the wall framing my head like a kind of crown of thorns. With the work growing inside my head, I ordered the canvas while in hospital and set to work as soon as I could when I was at home in my parents’ house in Sussex.
The work wasn’t easy. I had to be lifted onto one chair, with another chair directly in front of me so I could place my leg upon it. Both chairs were on wheels so that I could move around the full dimensions of the canvas (it’s 130cm wide), but in fact I could paint only in short bursts at a time, such was the pain that wracked my leg and the fatigue which overcame me.
The resulting painting illustrates the accident through a toy lorry, crashing into the wall which has metamorphosed into a classical bust with my horrified face atop it. To my left, my crushed leg is like a column, broken into pieces, the foot, with its nerves damaged resulting in a foot-drop, being propped up by a crutch. I guess I drew influence from Dali for this image, who himself used wooden crutches as symbolism in many of his works – how ironic that after years of loving Dali’s work they should be so pertinent to me now. The broken column meanwhile is a reference to the work of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist, who struggled through her career with a spinal injury sustained in a tragic bus crash, and whose pain is transposed so powerfully into her work.
On the right of the canvas, the idea that “the show must go on” is represented, another crutch propping up the theatrical proscenium arch in a demonstration of my means to carry on and not give up at this early and all important stage of my convalescene. However in this theatre, the curtains are red like blood, pinned to an engorged fattened pillar (representing my swollen leg) with the ghastly metal stakes which fixed the illizarov frame to my bones. There too the traditional masks of comedy and tragedy have both adopted the guise of tragedy.
And as my body crumbles, my ear has fallen away and lies in the foreground, next to my artist’s signature. This is my representation that my accident had made me a stronger artist. As a symbol of this, I used the ear, making reference to the likes of Van Gogh who, despite the emotional turmoil, the chopping off of his right ear etc etc, was a real artist, who used his work to give him strength, and communicate his turbulence to the world.
Finally, I should add that the title, “Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones” is a play on the familiar saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – a phrase through which a child, perhaps teased at school, attempts to instil strength within himself, despite the pain he feels for having been the victim of mean words. The phrase was pertinent then, because like the child, I was struggling so hard with the relentless pain of my recovery, but through art I drew the strength to somehow get through it and tell my story to the world.
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- Autobiographical Mobile: My painting diary – Day 7: My accident (normsonline.wordpress.com)