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Posts tagged ‘Accident’

Countdown to my new Solo Exhibition | 7 days – Bricks and Stones

It seems almost mad that close on 6 months have gone by since I first announced on this blog that I would be holding a brand new solo exhibition of paintings, illustrations and prints in London’s Strand Gallery this May. And yet here we are, with the exhibition on the doorstep. In 7 days, my exhibition, which will feature over 100 displayed artworks and a whole lot more other artworks for sale, will throw open its doors to the prestigious West End of London. A mere 50 metres from London’s Strand, the exhibition is in the heart of the city’s colourful Covent Garden/ Charing Cross area, and frankly I could not think of a better location.

So as excitement builds, the bubble wrapping goes into overdrive, frames are attached, price lists drawn up and champagne gathered, I thought I would take time to explore some of the themes and artworks which will feature in the show on each of the 7 days approach to the exhibition’s opening on 13 May.

Poster A2 Cafetiere

The exhibition is entitled When (S)pain became the Norm, a title which represents the three main themes which will run through the collection – Pain: the time of my 2008 road traffic accident and the protracted convalenscence which followed; Spain: how this most colourful of European countries has given rise to some of my most exciting and energetic artworks; and the Norms: all my paintings and illustrations of the small white-blobbed one-armed creation of my imagination, most of which have featured on this blog which is named after that same unique character.

In this first post, I am sharing the painting which really kickstarts the whole collection. Entitled Bricks and Stones may Break My Bones (The Show Must Go On)it was the first painting I started in the weeks immediately following the horrendous accident in which I was involved in May 2008. On 29 May 2008, I was walking out to buy some lunch when a lorry, without warning, collided with a 10 ft concrete brick wall which then collapsed onto the pavement as I walked by. I was caught under the rubble and serious crush fractures sustained to my right leg. Frankly, I was lucky to get away with just that. The injuries were so severe that I had to have my leg placed in an external fixator – a horrific instrument attached to the leg with a series of a bloody pins – and I underwent some 7 operations over 3 years before the leg was finally healed, sufficiently, to such a level that I could walk once again.

Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones (The Show Must Go On) 2008 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas (130cm x 110cm)

Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones (The Show Must Go On) 2008 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas (130cm x 110cm)

This painting, which is perhaps one of the most visceral and uncomfortable of my collection, represents the accident itself. I am shown, in self-portrait, morphed into the wall which had by that time become an inescapable factor in my life. Crashed into it, a small toy lorry is beside me, while on my head, like a crown of thorns, is the barbed wire which ran along the wall and collapsed down upon me in turn. My broken leg is shown as a column broken into three pieces, reminiscent of a similar representation used by my idol, Frida Kahlo, while my crutches are propping up my right food Dali-style since, which, owing to nerve damage, otherwise flopped involuntarily to the floor. Meanwhile over the bleak landscape, the pins which pierced my leg pierce the ground, and on the right, a theatrical proscenium arch likewise propped up by a crutch and a swollen leg demonstrates that despite all of the horror around me, the show had to go on: Something demonstrated by the fact that I was up on two chairs, my leg outstretched, painting this powerful work.

Come back tomorrow for my next featured work, and in the meantime, please consider coming along to my exhibition. More details can be found on my website, and on that of The Strand Gallery.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. 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. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Sunday Supplement: Moules-Frites

Following on from the last two weeks of rather traumatic accident-based Sunday Supplement features, I’ve got another one for you I’m afraid – in fact there are 10 paintings in all, each depicting my experience of convalescence and the various stages of recovery entailed.

Barrister’s wig and tin

In this week’s feature, Moules-Frites: Nerve and Muscle Pain on a Legal Life Revisited (oil on canvas, 2008), the next stage of recovery requiring a chapter in my painting diary was the new found pain experienced on returning to work after almost 5 weeks being bed-bound post-accident. I should explain by way of background that despite my many artistic endeavours, I am in fact a qualified lawyer – a barrister to be precise – and some months before my accident, I secured myself a pupillage (the last year of training before qualification) in a top London barrister chambers, due to begin in October of my accident year. Pupillages are like gold dust – several hundred young lawyers apply for the handful of places that are given out each year. And so, while the accident came as a mighty blow to me, I was determined to start the pupillage as planned in October.

Traditional moules-frites

This return to work represented the biggest change for me since leaving hospital. I still had an illazarov frame affixed to my leg, so I had to rip my suit trousers down the middle and each day attempt to pin them half way around my leg to try and prevent people seeing the frame, and the blood bath beyond. And yet still they stared. I was still on crutches, and on around 30 pills and painkillers a day. I had to travel by taxi, and by the time I got home (people in London never bothered to give up their seat for me on the tube, despite the obvious paraphernalia of my injury attached to my leg) I was exhausted and in agony. When I attempted to do anything, not least cope with the demands of a full time job in central London, I started to experience a new type of pain – burning shooting spasms coursing down my damaged nerves, and the dull continuous hammering of my muscles as they tried to engage properly for the first time in months.

Moules-Frites: Nerve and muscle pain on a Legal Life revisited (2008 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

All of this was represented in my fifth painting. The title was an attempt to play on the name of the iconic French/Belgian dish, Moules-Frites – mussels with chips – as this in turn was a play on the words muscles and mussels (try explaining this to the Spanish as I had to do when the painting was exhibited there – not easy!) – In recognition of this word play, a pan of mussels sits in the centre of the piece, representing the burning pain I felt in my muscles as they attempted to rebuild and learn how to walk again.

The scene depicts the stormy Sussex of my childhood. In the sea, the “groynes” (man made sea defences) are replaced with crutches, and by the shore, my disembodied foot is alive with antagonised nerves whose angry electrical currents interact with (or cause) a lightening storm. Meanwhile on the beach, by the frying pan, the traditional black and gold tin of a barrister’s wig becomes a pill box for all of the painkillers on which I was reliant, they in turn being scattered around the beach like pebbles.

As I soon found, the pain of returning to work would all become too much. I stuck it out for five months, but as my condition deteriorated further, and 5  more operations hovered on the horizon, I had to leave again, not returning for almost 2 years.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. 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.

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.

Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones (The Show Must Go On) 2008 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas (130cm x 110cm)

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.

Dali’s Crutches

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column (1944)

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.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. 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.

Autobiographical Mobile: My painting diary – Day 7: My accident

It was a drizzly dull day, the day that changed my life. I was cleaning my windows. I had laboured all day. My newly found art agent was due to visit my flat the next day and I wanted to make a show of it. So I cleaned away, polishing each surface, wiping away a winter’s worth of raindrops from my large sliding glass windows on this mild May day. The cleaning was time consuming however, and it was past 2pm when I realised I had missed lunch. Just a quick break is all it would take to walk along to Marks and Spencer’s, only two doors away, where I could buy a snack.

So out I went, leaving my flat, and walked along the road to grab a sandwich and a drink so that I could carry on my day. I left my now clean windows open, the TV on. I was only going to be a minute.

But I never got that sandwich. And that TV was switched off by the police.

Traffic cones in my art – Road Traffic Control (The Semana Santa Code) (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

There was a large concrete brick wall next to the building in which I live. Atop the wall, barbed wire prevented trespassers, but also gave the otherwise empty site the appearance of a concentration camp, stark and deserted on the South London skyline. I had walked past this wall countless times, but had never paid it much notice, at least not until that barbed wire cut into my head, like a crown of thorns encircling above my eyes. True, the huge metal gates were occasionally swung open, but were more often closed: the site was used for some kind of storage, and large delivery lorries would occasionally enter and exit the site. There was, occasionally some activity there.

The day that changed my life was one of those days. As I walked past the wall, a large lorry was driving towards the exit. It was heading closer and closer to the wall. But something was wrong. What happened next is something of a blur. It wasn’t a long distance to walk, but as I passed the wall, time seemed to stand still. I will always remember in my mind that enduring image – the top corner of the wall seeming to crumple, like paper, folding outwards towards me. Once I realised that the wall was falling, it was too late. As the masonry fell and the whole weight of the massive 10ft concrete wall started to crash towards the ground, there was no escape. I was already pinned under it.

It’s the loneliness that haunts me. No family, no friends. Alone, imprisoned under a fallen wall. Not knowing whether I would walk again.

I remember the rain. The sickly feeling of a pitter patter around my head. And the stinging sensation. I couldn’t locate it – the signals were all too mixed. But I remember around my face feeling sharp pain, the cold water from the skies, the trickle of blood, the uncomfortable sensation of grit all around me, the numb pain of weight pounding down upon my body as I tried to move.

Moving on from my accident – Road Traffic Control (Autumn in Richmond Park) (Oil on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

But I couldn’t move, try as I might. Because my right foot was somewhere around my shoulders – my entire body was twisted in a way that no skeleton was ever meant to withstand. The wall had fallen – the lorry had crashed into it, brought it down as the driver tried to go forwards. He was not, as it was later reported, reversing. This driver was heading forwards into the wall, consciously sealing my fate as he continued in his reckless trajectory towards the road. I never knew why he brought down the wall, what he was doing, what was his excuse. I never learnt why he drove away, leaving the scene of the accident until police stopped him. And I was never given an apology.

Yet 4 and a half years after the day, I live with a mercifully saved leg, a leg pieced together by 7 operations but which must, still, endure the intrusion of a string of future operations still to come. After two years on crutches I can now walk unhindered, but not for long. I cannot run, cannot bend my leg sufficiently to get on a bike. I cannot stretch it fully out, and I cannot lift my toes. I’m forever tripping on my feet, and bemoaning the burning sensation which runs down my damaged nerves. I have to fill my shoes with insoles, and build my heels up to compensate for my now shortened leg. But I survived. And in a way, I’m stronger, as cliché as that may be.

The day the wall crushed my leg was a day that changed my life. I face an uncertain future, but I was given the opportunity, as a 23 year old, to face up to the fragility of life, and now live life to the full.

A traffic cone now hangs on my autobiographical mobile

On my autobiographical mobile, my accident must feature. It’s a Calder-based mobile, and simplicity is the key. So what better way then to symbolise the accident, than a simple traffic cone, a symbol which I have already adopted in my art as a representation of my accident on the roadside, when a heavy goods vehicle brought down a wall and disabled a passer by.

The day that changed my life: My accident, my story.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. 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.

Sunday Supplement: Convalescence Behind Bars

Yesterday I braved the crowds (which weren’t actually all that bad) and strove boldly into an exhibition which I have been trying to put off for a while (purely because I feared how it would ignite the great contemporary art cynic inside me and make me thoroughly moody for the rest of the weekend): I went along to the Damien Hirst “retrospective” (he is still very much alive and kicking) at Tate Modern, London. The exhibition, which I shall review fully in The Daily Norm tomorrow, wasn’t actually all that bad. One of the works which really captivated, was his four cabinets, irrelevantly entitled Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter respectively, full of pills. You wouldn’t normally notice the humble pill. In fact generally speaking, when you’re having to take a pill, it invariably holds some negative connotation, whether it’s an illness-defying super drug or a good old vitamin D supplement just because your work (or country, as is the case with the UK) precludes you from getting enough sun.

Damien Hirst, Lullaby, the Seasons (2002) (detail)

When Damien Hirst put a plethora of different coloured, different sized tablets together, each meticulously displayed in a huge mirrored and glass cabinet, he called attention to the strange and unique beauty of the humble pill. Who would have imagined there were so many shapes and colours in amongst our medicines. Even the powder inside the capsules looked like a floral pattern from a distance as different beads of colour intermingled delicately.

All of this brought to mind a time when I too had to take so many tablets and pills that I was able to admire them with an artist’s eye, when a collection of multi-coloured pills started to look like a rainbow in my hand, until reality set it and I realised with horror that having been taking such a cocktail of drugs for so long, my poor liver would surely be irreparably damaged and my natural bacterial system zapped dry of any life or goodness.

My leg in the weeks following the accident

The time was 2008 and the three years which followed. It was in the aftermath of a terrible accident which blighted my life. When a lorry crashed into a wall as I was passing by, the full 10 ft concrete mass fell on top of me, crushing my right leg to smithereens. Only the quick reaction and medical skill of the trauma unit at St George’s Hospital in south London managed to save my leg, but in order to piece the leg back together, I had an illizarov frame attached to my leg. For anyone who doesn’t know what one of these frames is (I’ve enclosed as ungruesome a photo as possible of the leg a few weeks after the accident) it’s a series of metal supports which “fix” the broken bones from the outside with pins which insert the leg directly. I had to wear this complex frame for 9 months. It was the most horrific, painful period of my life, and convalescing with one of these monsters attached was by far the most frustrating and horrendous process of my recovery. I felt like a prisoner in this frame which could never be removed, and which caused so much agony.

In order to get through the long aftermath of my accident, I painted. The ten paintings which I completed at this time are amongst the most important of my current oeuvre because without the ability to paint, I don’t know how I would have survived. The painting I am focusing on today, and the one which Damien Hirst brought to mind, is this one, Convalescence Behind Bars: The Banoffee Blood-Press (2008, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas).

Convalescence Behind Bars: The Banoffee Blood-Press (2008, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

I thought the frame looked a bit like a French press caffetiere, so I painted it as such. But in this painting the frame presses not coffee, but blood. Blood which, as it percolates through the press reveals it’s true components – pill upon pill of the drugs I had to take at that time: Tramadol, Amitriptyline, Flucloxacillin, Temazepam, Paracetamol, Co-codomol, Ibuprofen, you name it, I was taking it. Then to the left, the humble banana, a nourishing food at a time when I could barely eat, and the fear of slipping, which would have smashed my bones to smithereens all over again.

So pills are beautiful, but they also represent pain. For me, I have a love-hate relationship with these colourful capsules, reminding of a time when my world was rocked by trauma, and a future in which my leg will suffer interminably. It’s a bit like my relationship with Damien Hirst’s work itself. More on that, tomorrow.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work 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.

Sunday Supplement: Merry Christmas, Goodwill to all (Gingerbread) Men

Following on from my recent Christmas tree posts, it seems suitable that for this week’s Sunday Supplement, I introduce you to the work: “Merry Christmas, Goodwill to all (Gingerbread) Men” (2008, oil on canvas). On it’s face, it’s a typical Christmas scene. Christmas trees hung with decorations and gingerbread men, snow scattered widely on a crisp winter’s night, Santa’s sleigh riding through the sky. But this is not a typical Christmas. Look closer and the images represented betray a sense of suppressed panic and bitterness. Off-centre, but at it’s heart, a gingerbread man with a broken right leg is iced with tears of apparent despair, while around him, he is surrounded by gingerbread men staring in his direction, their chocolate smiles still adhered mockingly to their faces. Also on the tree, candy canes are replaced with candy crutches, and where baubles should hang, pink ibuprofen tablets share branches with blue and red antibiotics and blue amitriptylene. On the tree perches the archetypal red-breasted robin, but he too appears menacing, caught in the act of murder of the still-living worm clasped in his beak. Between the two trees a further unsettling scene emerges, as a snowman struggles against the lit match which lays at his side, apparently placed there by whomsoever has left the footprints in the snow, footprints which betray a limp in the right foot because only the ball of the foot appears to impact the ground. Meanwhile above a British post box is cracked open, Christmas cards and other correspondence flying through the air, while above, a supposedly magical scene of santa and his sleigh is interrupted by the fall of one of his reindeers mid-flight.

Merry Christmas, Goodwill to all (Gingerbread) Men (Oil on canvas, 2008 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

This is not the stereotypical scene of Christmas. It is in fact one of ten paintings which I created in the direct aftermath of a very traumatic road traffic injury of which I was the unwitting victim in May 2008. Just as I was walking past a very large structural concrete wall, a lorry crashed into it, causing the wall to collapse on top of me. I sustained severe crush fractures to my right leg as well as various other, more superficial injuries. I was lucky to be alive. What got me through the months of severe post-traumatic recovery was, and continues to be, my art. When I painted 10 paintings based on my accident, I was able to pour out my personal grief and frustration onto canvas. Each of the 10 canvases I painted represent a particular stage of my recovery. In this festive-themed painting, I recollect my first Christmas experienced after the accident and in particular my insecurity at being surrounded by a busy city at Christmas time, when I was visually and physically impeded by a very large illizarov external fixator which I was required to wear on my leg for 9 months. As I began to return to London society, I became more and more aware that people would stare at my leg in horror. They would never speak to me about my accident, but just stare – it made me feel like a leper. And all this at at time when society encouraged “goodwill to all men”. I expressed my feelings in this image of a gingerbread man, his leg broken, and all the gingerbread men around him staring, unfeeling, making his suffering all the worse.

At the same time I was ever conscious that my social life had been destroyed by my disabilities, an image I expressed in the broken letter box, its lost letters a sign of my broken friendships and lost social ties. Meanwhile the snow, the baubles and the crutches are all representative of the multitude of medication and medical aids I was required to take and use at that time. The foot steps in the snow are mine. Am I then an agent of my own self-destruction? Or am I facing up to the inevitability of life’s often bleak, stark reality?

For me, the accident was a distinct and painful reminder that we all take things for granted. I took my healthy right leg for granted until it was too late. I also took my mobility for granted. After two years on crutches and a life of mobility difficulties ahead, I now recognise how difficult life is for those with limited mobility, particularly in big cities and on public transport. I also realised that for people with disabilities, the last thing they want is to be looked at differently by other people in society. The purpose of my blog is not to lecture, rather it is to share the art and culture and beauty of life. But what I would say is: enjoy your  Christmas, your new year, and your life. Never take anything for granted, and if you see someone hobbling along a street with crutches or a bad limp, don’t stare. If you’re interested, just ask… If they’re like me, victims of accidents and disabilities would much rather talk about their experience than be marginalised because of it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work 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.