A Graceful Death started with the death of Antonia Rolls's partner, Steve, in 2007. She painted him to help her find a way through the distress of seeing someone that she loved, fold up and disappear into cancer and death. In 2009 she tentatively staged the first Graceful Death exhibition in her home. There was a mixed reaction; some loved it, and some didn't. The paintings were raw, powerful and moving, showing the human body as the cancer changed it, right up to the hour after death, when all the tension in the body was gone.
The response from this first exhibition led to other people asking if Antonia would paint them, or someone that they knew, who was dying, and so, the Graceful Death exhibition began.
Antonia paints people facing the end of their lives. The idea is to see someone who is dying exactly as they are, changing nothing: the skin colours, the lack of muscle tone, the fragility, the power of life still in the eyes. "When I paint someone, I cut to the chase, dispense with the give and take of a normal social interaction, and ask, "Who are you? What are you saying? How do you approach your death? What is happening?" And people want to tell us the answers. They want to be listened to and most of all, they want to be seen. "
The exhibition highlights dying and death as common, daily, normal and deeply human. Antonia will include much written text and some film in the exhibition, in order to capture words as well as images. The exhibition contains 52 paintings, including poetry donated by the public and written at the Graceful Death Poetry Workshops.
Antonia will be talking about the journey she travels as she paints people nearing the end of their lives or living with complex neurological conditions. She will be joined by Mike Hardy who lives with Motor Neurone Disease and who is featured in the exhibition.
*The Wellcome Trust funded London and Brighton Translational Ethics Centre.