The death of Robin Williams has got the world of social media buzzing. Most people are, quite rightly, commenting on how a small slice of light has been taken out of the world, as a man who made so many millions laugh found himself in a place where he felt he had no option but to take his own life. A small but noisy few are filling the internet with the normal hate filled crap about a suicide being selfish. Some of the comments directed at Robin Williams daughter by trolls has meant she has had to remove herself entirely from social media. One of the other crass remarks has been to presume that mourning the death of Robin Williams is somehow indulgant and misguided when so many lives of innocents are dying in multiple conflict zones across the world. This is illogical. Every death is a personal tragedy for the friends and family of the deceased. If we are compassionate human beings then we are capable of feeling empathy and sadness over the death of a celebrity whilst at the same time feeling empathy for, as example, innocent civilians dying in Iraq or Gaza. Must we choose? People are sad about Robin Williams because his films, for many, were bright spots in the cultural landscapes of their lives. They might not, of course, know Robin Williams, but that does not mean he was not a part of their lives.
Depression is a terrible illness and suicide is an all too common outcome. If you have never suffered from depression or have never seen someone close suffer from it, then you have no idea how crippling it is. Personally I have moments where I clumsily use the word depression to describe how I am feeling when I am at a low ebb. It is a bastardised use of the word because luckily I have never had to battle with depression the illness. I have, though, seen first hand, how tough the struggle is. It can grip hold of a person and physically and mentally cripple them, making them unable to engage, to articulate their feelings, to act or to find a way out. It is a psychological maze in which each decision a person takes requires a huge amount of will power and strength and might just result in them getting further entwined its dark passages.
I recently completed a triptych of paintings which are an elegy to Francesca Woodman. This is one of them.
Francesca Woodman was a brilliant American photographer. In 1982, aged 22, she tok her own life. She left behind over 800 photographs. Someone suggested the other day that my paintings of her are somehow glorification’s of suicide. There is nothing glorious about having suffered so badly from an illness like depression that you saw no other option but to turn out the light from a last time. The paintings, if they have any worth, are a celebration of Francesca Woodman the person and the photographer and to pay tribute to an incredible young artist whose candle burned far too brief. They are hopefully images which somehow tap into quite how unbearable it can be to suffer under the weight of depression. They are paintings which don’t look to celebrate suicide but which try and find empathy and understanding. With Francesca Woodman, as with Robin Williams, we should stop judging, stop trying to come up with neat answers and instead just remind ourselves that if we are lucky enough to not suffer ourselves then it is our duty to offer compassion and empathy, in the hope that it might possibly at some point offer some small relief or a chance to recover of someone who suffers.