The Empress of All I Survey – Part 2
When I decided to commission a portrait it was Tenby seascape artist Anna Waters who suggested I contact Nina Camplin. Nina currently lives in Cardiff, and her work can be seen in many locations; but the work she has done for the VC Gallery in Haverfordwest and other commissions she has undertaken means that her work can be seen all over Pembrokeshire.
Essentially Nina is a mural artist, but when we spoke, she said she would be delighted to work on something with me. I had some ideas which I explained to her, but because of the lockdown, we couldn’t meet in person.
I began by sending some images. I knew I wanted to be a mermaid and I wanted the sea, and as we talked Nina, asked what else was important to me. I am proud and bossy and wanted my inner empress to show through too. I had recently shaved my hair off to try to raise some money for Homeless Pembrokeshire, so I was quite bald. We discussed if that was what I wanted and I felt it was, because it was exactly as I look right now and it felt oddly and deliciously powerful.
I began by sending a number of images and Nina also looked online. We needed some sea, and a throne to start with and other ideas started to flow. I am not an artist. I wanted Nina to come up with her own ideas, and it was really important to me that she enjoyed the process. If I was going to be living with an image of myself, I wanted to feel that she was able to use her skills and would be happy with the result. She knows what would work and what wouldn’t .
We FaceTimed about four times during the weeks that followed, with Nina emailing me with her progress. She was endlessly patient and kind as I thought of more and more things to include, and between us we searched out images that we thought might work. I promise you my list was way too big to include here.
The image began to evolve. At one point I asked friends for their input. What did people see in me that I might represent in the finished portrait? I didn’t mind if some of the comments indicated things I ought to work on… like most of us, I am not without my faults and annoying habits… but everyone was kind, and eventually we came up with a few symbols that would have meaning for me, but which wouldn’t concern Nina’s sense of aesthetics. After all, Nina is the artist and she was putting something together that had to look right for her too.
The subject of nakedness came up. I had sent Nina various shots but an image of me about to swim ,with my arms outstretched seemed to be a favourite for us both. I was going to have a tail but it looked weird to top that off with a swimsuit and even strategically placed shells looked twee. In the age old tradition of mermaids it was going to be bare-breasted.
It’s interesting that people who know me who have followed the process don’t have a problem with my decision, but some people who don’t know me have commented that I am brave.
I would like to think that they are tuning in to the innate courage that it takes for all of us to survive in this weird world into our sixties, but I have a niggling feeling that it’s about my being old and fat.
Admittedly, it takes a great deal of courage to embrace later life with anything like enthusiasm, but I suppose I feel that perhaps if more people felt free to celebrate what time and experience has etched onto their bodies, we would all feel a bit happier about being seen, just as we are, right now.
What say you?
Look out for Part 3: The portrait revealed…