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Immaculee Ilibagiza: The Heroine’s Journey

Researching further works has led me down many avenues but none so dark, disturbing and remarkable than Immaculee’s story.

This ‘About’ extract is taken direct from her [rather spectacular] website [no disrespect but she is evidently under management…], I would challenge anyone, male or female, to read her story without horror. Whilst personally not a ‘believer’ in some guy in the sky it is her sense of self and strength of character I find so incredibly moving. Very unsure that this is anything that could ever be the justification for a painting but inspirational none the less…

‘Immaculée Ilibagiza was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. Education was very important in her household, so it was no surprise that she did well in school and went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 that Immaculée’s life was transformed forever.

On April 6 of that year, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculée’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughtering of men, women and children.

To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculée’s father told her to run to a local pastor’s house for protection. The pastor quickly sheltered Immaculée and seven other women in a hidden 3 x 4 foot bathroom. For the next 91 days, Immaculée and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country. 

While in hiding, anger and resentment were destroying Immaculée’s mind, body and spirit. It was then that Immaculée turned to prayer. Prior to going to the pastor’s home, Immaculée’s father, a devout Catholic, gave her a set of rosary beads. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the anger inside her, and the evil outside the house. It was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Immaculée.

In addition to finding faith, peace, and hope during those three months of hiding, Immaculée also taught herself English. Immaculée was always a good student and already fluent in Kinyarwanda and French. Using only a Bible and a dictionary, she spent countless hours in that cramped bathroom learning her third language. 

After 91 days, Immaculée was finally liberated from her hiding place only to face a horrific reality. Immaculée emerged from that small bathroom weighing just 65 pounds, and finding her entire family brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. She also found nearly one million of her extended family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rwandans massacred.

After the genocide, Immaculée came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, Immaculée was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”

Find her full story here:




Initial sketch for painting; My oh My is this girl upset…



Looming as the are for my younger son, I will take a break from here while he is on study leave at home….

See you after hols and results in September.


As one painting closes…

There but for the grace of God

There but for the grace of God

Finished, based upon my sister, but painted from memory.

New Commission

New Commission

Started, and this is about all you will ever see of the work.

A private commission for a private residence.

Exciting surface!

This is such a great time; considering where to start, putting off the first mark.

In my minds eye it is already there.

Now begins the process of getting to what I already see…

Women Beware Women

Women Beware Women - work in origress

Women Beware Women – work in progress

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last year, Hannah Betts, unwittingly helped me with my research into a phenomena I had witnessed firsthand in my social circle, something that is anathema to me as a woman who has outgrown the playground; namely ‘divide and ostracise’ and a subject first visited by me in paint 15 years ago in The Three Muses, now in a private collection in London:

Three Women

The Three Muses

The events leading to and fallout from the spectacle were felt rippling through the entire village, to a lesser or greater extent, for years and things have never, and may never, be the same a gain.

Women Beware Women is a Jacobean Tragedy by Thomas Middleton that deals with several episodes/facets of ‘female transgression’ and has not one likeable girl in it. To be fair the men are all pretty bottom dwelling too, however, the play is notable for its scathing description of female motives and reasoning. Admittedly a period piece, where the concerns of the protagonists bare not a lot of resemblance to first world 21st Century issues, the idea represented here of woman colluding with man to bring down her fellow female is seen to be both laudable and villainous at the same time. However the girl on girl crime is the real crux of the story, the men manipulated by the women to enact retribution upon their sisters.

Hannah Betts wrote under the headline:

Women are being bitchier than ever – where’s the sisterhood gone?

Women have always judged each other – usually in private. But overt bitchiness seems to be on the rise as everything from weight to wardrobes is harshly judged. Are we all Mean Girls now?

……the Daily Mail website’s notorious right-hand column, aka the “sidebar of shame”, a diet of celebrity sex scandals, fashion faux pas, reality television and incredible weight-loss stories, with judgment of women’s bodies and behaviour the underlying theme. One of the kindest people I know, a mother of teenagers and friend to all, describes it as her “dark addiction”.

“I ‘right-hand’ constantly, day and night,” she says. “No matter what is going on in my own life, there is always solace to be had in fashion fails and bikini bodies. It’s a compulsion.” Many who openly despise the body baring of Page 3 are covertly devoted to the bodily critiques of Mail Online.

This compulsion – as with the compulsion then to let rip – originates with childhood, according to Dr Frankish. “Something happens that triggers a relatively infantile response, belonging to the pre-socialisation stage of development. Not all women attack others, so the implication is that those who do are insecure in their attachments and are triggered by what they see as someone being better than them, or getting more attention than them.” We justify ourselves with the delusion that it is a victimless crime, the subject as virtual as the medium.

For my part, I see the escalation of bitchiness as a symptom of the overall rise in and currency of misogyny. Not only do people – women included – get lured into replicating its manifestations, feminism has become a live issue again, and with this liveness comes a backlash and sense that it can be used to foster divisiveness. There have even been reports about a Reddit group that may be striving to seed infighting among feminists, encouraging them into ever more “extreme” stances.

The effects of this girl-on-girl sabotage can be still more concrete, affecting women’s relationships in the workplace and their polarisation into mother and non-mother camps, each virulently opposed. They divide us into ugly versus pretty, fat versus thin, small-breasted versus large, fashionable versus unfashionable – all enforcing the stereotype that a woman must be pretty, slim, buxom and stylish rather than, say, bright, healthy, happy and fulfilled.

One must not be naïve, of course, we are never all going to get along merely by merit of possessing two X chromosomes and a vagina. Equality means equal opportunities to like and dislike rather than exist in some Pollyanna universe. But neither should we turn against each other because of possession of said attributes. Not least because in sisterhood lies strength.’ [source; The Daily Telegraph 21 February 2015]

Hello boys…


….it’s been a while. I started the concept of these guys a few years ago but  other themes and imperatives cropped up. Things have a habit of emerging again, truer and stronger, though and on the back of my six female archetypes it was just the time to return and attempt a resolution here also. So here goes, one day in and fairly pleased. I will go at it and see what occurs…

Mmmmmmm WARNING!

As I have been a little poorly I have not had a helluva lot to say. However, on returning to the studio this morning I discover why one should never let your 16 year old son ‘borrow’ your studio in your absence…

IMG_0152 (2)IMG_0153

Although he can be forgiven for this…IMG_0154


Burning the Bacon

Half term and the studio have kept me absent from the keyboard too long and it is proving difficult to order my thoughts into something worth writing.

Time necessarily divided between the paint-face and nagging teenagers to revise is completely different from that spent with hours ahead in which to mull, apply, remove and scratch,; but strangely, wonderfully so.

It has provided me with a new perspective, probably (and possibly – for environmental reasons which may become clear) fleeting.

Painting with imperative is good.

I like it, it produces a more visceral image and marks are necessarily kept when they might otherwise be reconsidered and even obliterated.

Painting with reflection is also good.

I also like it, it produces an altogether more measured image. Subject matter that, as ever with me, lacks subtlety is rendered more viewable. The anger often present can be supplanted, somehow, in the beauty of the paint.

Not to say that instinctive marks are not beautiful, I frequently excavate my surfaces to reveal their trace, but on their own are they enough?

I am minded, again, of Bacon and his endless search for truth with his marks. He describes his deep loathing of illustrative marks. Any painting he felt he had spent too long upon, so that his workings had strayed into decoration, he would put on the fire.

He describes the need to have work removed from his sight so that he may not touch them further and begin to ruin what he saw as all that was necessary. Like countless writers and composers before and since, paring down work to only the essential words and notes.

Should all mark making only be indicative therefore? Illustrative painting forgot?

At what point does a mark move from indicative to illustrative? If, by our reckoning, an indicative mark does not hit the ‘nail on the head’ does an overlaid, secondary mark, then become illustrative?

Is the luxury of consideration bad for our work? Should I buy an alarm clock and strictLy limit time spent at the face? Artificially imposing the time constraint that has created this dichotomy?

How many paintings did Bacon burn?

Yours, currently planning a bonfire,



Cliff Notes

What attracts most about Deanne’s work are the layers of engagement and response it demands of the viewer. I am drawn into the physical nature of the paint while encountering stories of vulnerability, playfulness, absurdity and the deeply serious impact that relationships have on our mind and body

This often comes across as an intense tension, bearing witness to a moment in time, a narrative, a play. Yet the psychological drama that is unfolding has been caught or frozen, not so that it loses the context of what happened before (or will afterwards), but maybe as with a polaroid, in that it processes, changes and reveals before your eyes.

When I look at Dawn Peebody it typifies my whole viewing experience. Drawn in, seduced by paint and flesh, discomforted, protective (of) and unnerved (by) vulnerability – what has happened, with whom and why?

It is always interesting to observe the structures artists use in constructing their stories in paint. Deanne, in setting her stage (as Francis Bacon did with plinths, cages and furniture), frequently separates foreground and background and by doing so emphasises further the sense of seeing the figures in an unfolding scene or drama. This has an effect, as with the analogy of a polaroid picture developing in front of you, that can be almost filmic; you are waiting with trepidation to see what might emerge next.

Deanne’s use of paint compounds this effect. Often she uses milky translucent washes, as in Dawn Peebody, that make the figure look as if it is emerging from freshly developed film, and yet could just as easily fade away if over exposed.

At other times the canvas is stencilled, embossed, paint and lines tattooed. It forms, as in Jane Doe, a background for startling light and dark contrasts. The body almost becomes functional, sometimes displaying an enveloping controlling maleness, or a female vulnerability that confronts aspects of itself and others.

Overall I love these paintings, the bewitching, sublime and complex responses they evoke. Like a satisfying debate, they start by tempting and luring me in with paint and light, consolidate by playing out the theatrical psychological drama, and then finish with the need to return the gaze.

Visceral, physical and perfectly disturbing.

Written by Cliff Free in response to a studio visit, January 2016

image Dawn Peebody


There is lots written about naming a painting.

For me the painting appears in my consciousness, pretty much already done, bar the screaming. A complete idea, already in the room.

The title, less so, slowly follows. It swims into focus and is essential, to my mind, to my intent. Some works take years to name themselves.

Almost as if my subconscious is pointing out a lesson I have yet to learn.

Titles can be misinterpreted, obviously, as can the works themselves. However original intent is notoriously difficult to have stick. Look at communism.

So, what is in a name?

Something particular to original intent.

Even when just a number; it imbues the work with something of the author.

History tells us that some of our most famous masterpieces are not now known by their original, intended, name. Has this meant that we have subsequently read them wrong? Not individually, never personally, but culturally and pandemicaly?

Well, here is Zombabie. First sketch. Plus a very amusing link I stumbled across when musing on this post. Please rename as you see fit, happy to consider alternatives….not!