We opened the exhibition on Saturday 15th April to a large crowd. Friends family and art lovers alike, enjoyed wonderful food and a glass of wine and commemorated the life of this extraordinary artist in the best way possible; by acknowledging her prodigious talent and in many cases taking the opportunity to purchase her work for the last time. Here is a tidied up version of the opening speech for those who could not be there.
Valerie McDonald Retrospective – Opening Speech
by Mikaela Castledine
I would like to welcome you all here this afternoon and thank you for coming to look at this wonderful work and help to commemorate the life of this artist.
A few years ago I went to the funeral of the artist father of an artist friend of mine. In her eulogy, Karen said that burying and artist was not like going to an opening. I really liked this line and wrote a poem about the ways in which those two events were similar. Now here I am, opening this exhibition of work by my mother who we buried last July, and thinking about death and art again.
I had been interested in putting together a retrospective exhibition of Valerie’s work for some years. She stopped painting in about 2011 after she contracted Alzheimer’s disease and became aware of the lessening of her skills. I use the word contracted deliberately as it is a disease which shrinks you, it limits your horizons and diminishes you in every way. I wanted to collect together work from the entire span of her career to show her the size, the length, the breadth and strength of her career and of her talent to counteract this shrinkage and to remind her of things she was forgetting.
At that time, however, it proved too hard to mount an exhibition as simply caring for her with my father and brother and supported by our siblings in the Eastern States took all our time and energy. But once she had passed away and we were downsizing my father and selling the family house, putting together this collection of work became an important marker in our long goodbye and a way to catalogue and preserve her memory and pay tribute to her talent.
Burying an artist is not like opening an exhibition and yet… here we are honouring and enjoying the work of someone who has passed away.
But one of the things I have discovered through this thinking about art and death is that artists never die. Creativity is immortality. Creativity is not something we do, it is a river we jump into or float upon, a breeze we set our sails against. It exists before we do and continues on without us. The creative work we produce is often the best of us and it remains long after we are gone.
As I said at her funeral my mother taught her children to be both artist and parent long before we were either. As a legacy, four children who are all artists is a pretty good one but she never needed to live through her children, she lived and still lives through her art.
And I want to say:
My mother is dead
Long live my mother