‘I’M NOT OK’ was made after a trip I made to the cemetery a few years ago. I’d been visiting my father’s grave and as we were driving out I caught a glimpse of a floral wreath that appeared to spell out the words ‘I’M NOT OK’. By the time I’d looked back to see if this was real it had passed out of view and so I was able to confirm in my mind a wreath that said those words – so let’s assume it didn’t really say GRANDMA or AUNTY BERYL.
Was it a joke? Who would commission such a wreath – the deceased as a last wish or a grieving relative? It reminded me of the words on Spike Milligan’s head stone ‘I told you I was ill’.
Grief or mourning is something that pops into my work from time to time (see Obituary stuff), I had to do something with this. I had to do something funny.
I made loads of drawings – I couldn’t get it out of my head. It became a mantra – I’M NOT OK, I’M NOT OK, I’M NOT OK…
It was going to cost £300 to have the wreath made from flowers so I decided to make it myself from paper mache. That’s what I’d been working with, it’s what was at hand and it was perfect. PM is associated in my mind with carnival crafts – bright effigies made in Spain or South America. It is solid but not permanent like stone but it would last longer than fresh flowers. I’d be able to play with it. My wreath needed to be ridiculously bright and jolly. These words needed to be difficult to believe – like their counterparts in the ‘How are you?’dialogue – ‘I’m OK’.
I was working to a deadline. I wanted it ready for the Bloc Open Studios to be part of an installation. I was turning my studio into a psychedelic grotto by covering every surface with fluro rawshchach printed newspaper. Would I’M NOT OK be a bit obvious in this space? I didn’t want to say look at me I’m crazy. It wasn’t even about me. I didn’t have time to paint the words – but this was OK. I let them blend in with the newspaper – maybe even get a bit lost.
Working with words is HARD. People read them and either take them at their face value or try to read more into them. (Of course – I’m not complaining). This means it’s harder to be flippant or just aesthetic or lack conviction. Words add meaning to other things. Putting those words in that environment meant people thought something was trying to be communicated to them. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. I wanted the grotto to be a bit overwhelming so in this respect it worked. Maybe I wanted them to be a bit more overwhelmed – to step inside and lose themselves. Its wrong to expect this sort of thing from an artwork.