The title of this piece comes from a recent conversation with my orthopaedic surgeon.
Your dancing days are over.
His diagnosis is clear, unemotional, matter-of-fact, final. My body is going to be cut and that is that. There are no other options. It’s all a bit obvious… almost mundane…from his perspective anyway. But from mine, it’s as though he’s forgotten he’s talking to a person who has any any feelings. There is no consideration of my former talent, my career, my memories, my passion for dance. There is no expectation that I might still have dreams and ambitions. There is no recognition that careless words spoken in a moment might bring overwhelming pain. I pretend to be strong and composed, adult even, but inside feel jarring loss.
But surely to be human is to uncover weakness and admit a cry for help?
So the painting exposes my emotions. I wanted it to be dramatic – stark – showing body parts that have been cut off; depicting a final curtain call on a much loved career; submitting to the disintegration of the human form. I wanted all the texture and colour and imagery of the work to represent decay and abandonment. It’s a view into my real world when those words were spoken: ‘Your dancing days are over’.
It is a bleak picture, because it faces up to the final physical dissolution that awaits us all. No matter how well we eat, exercise, and take only a moderate amount of strong drink, our bodies will fail us. Maybe our minds will fail us first: (the great novelist Iris Murdoch watched Teletubbies as Alzheimer’s erased her memory and mental capacity). It is going to happen.
I don’t know if Jane intended it, but the severed legs behind ‘her’ legs remind me of sixteenth and seventeenth century woodcuts of battles, executions and torture, where dismembering and disemboweling leave a scatter of limbs and body parts. Also, the stack of pieces behind her head bring to mind some of the mediaeval charnel houses and ossuaries, neatly stacked with the bones of those who have already undergone that dissolution.
Jane has given us a response to that question ‘what is it do be human?’ It’s an uncomfortable one, but an honest one.
There’s a better image of the painting here, but to get the full sense of it, come along to the Holy Biscuit today and tomorrow (24th and 25th July – 11 am – 4 pm) and see it along with the rest of the exhibition.