I had a good relationship with my Dad growing up, but he had a full-on job as a hospital doctor, while I had pop punk lyrics to learn and cry to. As a teenager he’d give me lifts to parties but the conversation would be pretty non-existent, covered up by Chris Martin’s mellow drones, I mean tones. Then moving into my early twenties when I came home from University he would always say goodbye with a handshake and slip me £20; this continued probably longer than it should. Phone calls were short with Dad - I remember when my heart was broken for the first time and I called the home phone (remember those), he answered and I blubbed down the line “…he broke up with me” to which he quickly responded, “I’ll get Mum”. We lived parallel lives that rarely crossed over, but as I became less self-absorbed (hopefully) and my Dad retired we both began to have more time and a mutual nurturing of each other’s creative endeavours.
My Dad has always written poetry but it was not until his retirement that he had more time to write and gather more inspiration by being in nature and observing the world around him – these subjects being more palatable than poems about gynaecology. He would email me his poems all typed out neatly in Times New Roman; numbered and dated and some struck a chord while others I must admit I skim read – but they all revealed a person who used his creativity to express himself and a deeper understanding of the world and through these poems I also learned more about him.
A few years ago, whilst on a residency in Wales, an amazing Botanical artist - Sharon Field, was talking with me about displaying her works from this trip with some poems and I suggested she have a read of some of my Dad’s poems – they are both Australian and responding to British landscapes so I thought it might be interesting to connect them. The result was a stunning exhibition by Sharon and each work of art was accompanied with a poem by Toby Fay. It was moving to see how excited my dad was about this project and it gave us the idea and inspiration to begin our own collaboration.
The more poems I read by my Dad (who has written over 270 now) the more I saw the connections with my own art practice; our mutual love for walking and exploring nature, the effects of the seasons and the cycle of life, alongside current world issues about immigration and climate change. It became a project which drew together words and art. The poems were written and a lot of the etching plates (I am a printmaker) were made and now it was time to match them up and to print them properly. It became the project that always was on the back burner, something in the back of mind that I avoided getting on with because it required thought, patience and precision – all of which are not my strong points.
Last Summer, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer – it was not until my Mum had a quiet word with me that I should “really get on with that book” that the gravitas of the situation hit me and made me confront the realities of getting older and the inevitability of death. That ‘cycle of life’ that we collectively responded to in our artistic practices was happening to us. The thought of leaving the project unfinished any longer left me with that hurt feeling in your nose before you cry (do you get that?) and a sinking notion of disappointment, it did however, make me get on with it, that’s for sure! I printed all the etchings on thick Fabriano Cotton paper and cut them into A5, then printed out and formatted the poems to set alongside of overlap the images with tracing paper. We talked a lot about how the book would work and come together, how we agreed that using tracing paper links again to the connected themes of journeys and memories and whilst he was recovering from his operation we put together a contents page, order and at one point I attempted to bind them myself…. But before totally ruining everything, with the help of google we realised that there was a small business bookbinder only two streets away – the strangest of coincidences. So together we ventured into this tiny workshop stacked with magical objects and books, and talked through our ideas with Marysa, (who is exactly as you might imagine a book binder to be) and she whimsically agreed – my dad had to return several times to confirm some of the details but the project was moving forward and now encompassed someone else’s creative practice.
Time passed, my Dad recovered and the book was still unbound.
Then it was Christmas and at last my father collected the two volumes of the original prints with leather bound covers embossed with a stamp made from one of my drawings alongside five excellent copies all bound by hand with an open spine so the pages can lie flat when you open them, it was worth the wait… I think…
because this latest lockdown has meant that I have not had the chance to see my Dad or our beautiful books. The photographs look great but there is nothing quite like the comfort and pleasure of opening and delicately fingering the pages of a newly bound book. If this lockdown has taught me anything however, it is about patience and how important it is to observe and enjoy the small things; the smell of a new book, the sound of a crisp page turning and the touch of someone’s hand whom you love, treasure and have come to really know. I cannot wait to read them together with my Dad.