Last year my lovely mum, who still lives in my home country The Netherlands, told me enthusiastically that she had been to a workshop hosted by the Dutch best selling painter Ans Markus. With me living in the UK for the last 21 year I hadn’t heard of her art work. Still, my mother enthusiastically told me about her work and her background story. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to research Ans Markus straight after hanging up from our weekly phone call. Two hours later my children were still not fed and other jobs not been done as intended because I was engrossed and gripped by Ans and her breathtaking paintings. Whilst exploring the meaning behind her work I was at times smiling, then the other minute tears were rolling down my cheeks but more often I was nodding like the Churchill dog in recognition of her life story, her passion, her struggles, her insecurities and felt weirdly connected to this woman I’ve never met. A woman I hadn’t even heard of two hours previously. Isn’t it beautiful though how someone’s creativity and openness can grip you, just like that. Can inspire you, just like that. Can give you comfort, just like that. Can give you a sense of not being the only one having been there (on a different level maybe), done it and worn that t-shirt, just like that.
Let me tell you a little bit about Ans Markus. Ans grew up in a small town feeling she was not good enough, not pretty enough, comparing herself often to others who in her eyes were more worthy. This is where I first nodded frantically in recognition. From a young age Ans tried to hide behind certain type of clothing. Yet again I was nodding, recognising myself in her story though in my case I often hide behind hats, scarves and big sunglasses. She fell pregnant when she was only 16. In those days it was expected to get married and play happy families. Unfortunately for Ans and her daughter it wasn’t a happy family. The father of her child suffered with anger issues and often put her down making her feel totally worthless. Ans already having self confidence issues continued to believe she was no good and hence stayed in this loveless marriage for the next 11 years. Her divorce was not only a breaking point but also a turning point. A breakthrough! Ans, who had always been a passionate and extremely good artist, started to paint her feelings on canvas. At this time in her life she had to start from scratch, no money, a single mother and no career, searching for her identity (yes, I was nodding whilst reading this). She felt hurt, vulnerable and empty with a need to hide away (again I was like a nodding dog). However painting became her therapy. She started painting females wrapped in bandages. The bandages for Ans represented trying to hide her imperfections away from the world. However the bandages also provided comfort and safety. As time went on the bandages started to unravel. On her follow up paintings and a series of stunning paintings of women in bandages were created.
Although I mentioned before I personally recognise so much in Ans’ life story and paintings. My interpretation is of course slightly different, as are my own personal experiences and the way I deal with them. However a year or two before my 20 year marriage came to an end I started modelling. Modelling became a way to express myself. To explore. To push my boundaries. A hideaway. I could feel vulnerable but yet empowered whilst trying out various photo shoot themes. Exploring my identity. Modelling became without realising it at the time my therapy. Alongside that it gave me the opportunity to meet so many lovely creative people who helped me find my own voice and feeling good in my own skin again.
Anyway, last year I was invited to join a photo shoot weekender in Blackpool with a fantastic bunch of photographers. I got talking to Steve Haywood and told him a little bit about my struggles at the time and how I loved Ans Markus paintings. After showing Steve some of her art work we decided to set a date to try and replicate some of her artwork, with our own little twists of course. With us both being busy bees we only got around to shoot mid October this year. I was super grateful my makeup artist and friend Sharon Gertrude Ball jumped on board too. This shoot was at times very emotional for me. It certainly wasn’t a shoot all about looking uber glam, or fiercely urban, instead it was all about capturing an emotion, my interpretation, my way of dealing with a crappy time in my life and my own demons and struggles.
I have in the meantime contacted Ans Markus. Whilst writing the previous sentence I am broadly smiling because in the new year I will be going to one of her workshops to meet this creative person, who was brave enough to open up and inspire others through her art. I will be posting a series of images with a write up or quote representing my own feelings around the images. I am very proud of this shoot. I am also very grateful to have been able to do it with a lovely team, because I believe photo shoots always require teamwork. I am also very grateful to realise how far I have come on a personal level, after first seeing Ans’ paintings, how I have grown as a person. I hope some of my words and images will help some of you out there going through turmoil and tough times. You see whether you decide to paint, use photography, write, play music, talk to a friend or hit the gym hard. With the appropriate outlet you are able to move on from sad and difficult times. Grow as a person. Learn from past experiences. And if you are lucky like Ans, something positive and beautiful like her painting will be the product of a very negative stage in your life. Touching others and helping them to see beauty in pain too. Inspiring others so they can turn their lives around too. They can find fulfilment, happiness and a sense of belonging.
The image I have chosen to post first is her famous all bandaged up sitting on a swing painting. It’s very similar to Ans’ painting. For me this image means a lot of negative emotions. It represents feeling empty and raw, yet there is so much internal hurt, feeling too vulnerable to be seen or to speak about what’s troubling. Too scared to look ahead into the future, wanting to be left alone. Safe to say this wasn’t a happy time for me. It was a time before and after my marriage ended. A time my children didn’t need me so much. A time my dad had his first stroke. A time I had to start like Ans from scratch, no money, no career (as I had been a stay at home mum with the odd part-time job), with extremely low esteem and zero confidence. However I was very good when entering the real world for a bit by putting on a mask pretending I had it all under control and was feeling totally fabulous. Only a few of my closet friends, whom I am forever grateful for staying by my side in this difficult time, knew about how utterly sad and lost I felt. Broken even. I will post more images over the next couple of weeks and share some of my experiences how I slowly started to find that inner confidence, started to love myself that little bit more, accepted my flaws without putting myself down constantly or comparing myself to others.
I know it’s all bit heavy all this, isn’t it? However I know now that from extremely difficult, lonely and sad times, you can flourish, learn and grow and often something beautiful can come out of it.
I like to end with one of my most favorite quotes:
Every single thing that has ever happened in your life, good or bad, is preparing you for the best things that are yet to come.
Lots of love always,