Last year I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, or M.E.). It is debilitating – the energy has been sucked out of me and in return I am left feeling confused and disorientated (what doctors call “brain fog”). The climber, Mason Earle, recently likened the experience of living with CFS to: “being a ghost. Witnessing myself slowly disappear”.
CFS has recently forced me to take early retirement from my job as a professor at the University of Aberdeen. However, for me at least, there is a positive side. My condition has given me the time to paint. Whilst I generally really struggle to concentrate, on good days I can paint for hours on end – presumably painting uses a different part of my brain?
So how does CFS affect my painting? I’m sure at some level it imbues much of what I do, but there are four paintings where I deal with it explicitly – see below. The first is a series of self portraits that try to show what living with CFS feels like. On good days I feel tired, but reasonably normal. On bad days, I am just a shell of myself, or a ghost as Mason says. The second painting expresses the anger and frustration of long-term illness. This is an intensely dark and personal picture, that is aggressive, fractured and bleak. The landscape is there, but it is a long way away. The third and fouth pieces develop these ideas of a broken relationship with landscape. I think this is similar to the distance I feel when I drive through landscapes or see them on tv. Such a different experience from the one I have with a place where I live and work and walk and spend time. CFS breaks the way we experience the world.
I am determined that CFS won’t define me but at the same time I feel that I have to write and talk about it, as it certainly influences my life and my art. Maybe I will really only be able to clearly look back on its influence at some time in the distant future?