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Autobiographical Mobile: My painting diary – Day 24: A family tragedy

I set out painting my Autobiographical Mobile in June last year, and wrote my first post on the painting (once I realised it would take me some time to complete) back in August. The intention was to paint a mobile like structure, balancing from its various offshoots both the good and bad experiences of my life so far. In this way, the mobile would tell my story, acting as a autobiographical self-portrait through symbolism alone. Yet when I was planning out the painting back in the summer of last year, I could never have known that when designing how to represent the bad experiences of my life so far that a further, horrendous family tragedy would occur, rocking my world and the lives of my family forever.

Three days before Christmas last year, my brother in law was killed – hit by a car. He left behind my sister and their three children: two year old twins and a 4 year old – all boys. It’s not been something I’ve addressed directly on this blog: before now it felt too soon to address so traumatic an experience on this platform. And even now it’s too tender to describe in words. Yet as with my own road traffic accident five years before, there is no underestimating the relief which artistic representation has given me in being able to work through the pain that tragedy brings.


When his death occurred, Christmas died. The sparkle, the light, the glory and excitement of Christmas was automatically extinguished like a glass of water poured suddenly over a candle. The continuing presence of the decorations around us felt somehow awkward, almost insulting, like someone wearing bright pink at a funeral. And once those decorations were packed away, the world left behind was in so many ways changed from what it had been when we had taken them out, full of the spirit of Christmas only a few weeks before.

In my home what remained after Christmas had been packed away was my Autobiographical Mobile painting, sat on my easel still incomplete, but already including what I had previously considered to be a completed “bad experiences” side of the mobile. Staring at the painting it dawned on me, that no aspect of this work, like a living breathing organism in our home, was ever going to be finished until the last brushstroke had been applied – in the meantime it was a continuing record of my life, and this grave family tragedy would now have to have its place on the canvas.

Already painted pre-Christmas was what I had thought of as the “family rock” – a large rock in the bottom right of the canvas, against which a small golly-doll, representing my mother, and a caravan representing family childhood holidays are placed. Those representations remain, but now in a different guise. For wrapped around the rock, ensnaring, entangling the family, the doll, and the caravan in its sinuous web is a police ribbon taken straight from an accident scene. Nothing in the family is free from its reach – it is all-encompassing, a symbol of the inescapable consequences of a family death, a loss of life which affects so many, irreparably, now and into the future.

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But the image goes further. Atop the rock, a seagull is standing, trying, hard as it might to break the ribbon away, a tear rolling from its eye as it comes to terms with the struggle. The seagull is my sister. We always used to call seagulls “Cathy’s friends” because they always seemed inexorably attracted to her when we were on beach holidays – maybe something to do with the snacks she was eating! The seagull – my sister – looks upwards in the direction of a cage, and in that cage is a bright yellow bird, trapped with three small babies, imprisoned within the confines of its own destiny: responsibility enclosing the bird with an iron fist.


Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the painting, a tire track has imprinted itself through the sand, plunging directly into the rock – the impact of the accident, hitting my family hard. None can escape, although some of us got off lighter than others – around the golly (my mother), a manufacturing certificate hangs outside the confines of the police ribbon. It bares a signature. It’s mine.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. maru clavier #

    Pretty strong representation of a experience and the prints it has left. I remember you mentioning something had happened that blocked the Christmas joy. Now I know. Writing -for you painting also- about these things, sharing them, sometimes help me to heal. Hope is the same to you. If we were at hugging distance, I will hug you right now.

    April 29, 2013
  2. Check out It is an excellent grief-support program run by churches world-wide. I would not have survived Joe’s sudden passing without God working through my local support group. Love, hugs, and prayers to you and your family.

    April 30, 2013

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