Dead Dads

Dead Dads

Dead dads comprises of 2 tales that merge due to an exhibition I was priviliged to immerse myself in years ago.

Ron Mueck…

this is your fault, I blame you for giving me goosebumps!

In 2004, when I was studying Fine Arts at Nepean TAFE and we had to go on a class excursion. You might be thinking “what does this have to do with dead dad”? just keep reading!

We had to see an exhibition at the Art Gallery NSW by a sculptor named Ron Mueck. I remember my immediate reaction “never heard of him, probably some wannabe”.

I do like to be punctual so I caught an early train just incase there might be line works. State Rail were notorious for track works during the week to the irk of commuters. I arrived about 45 minutes early and the gallery was still shut so I went to Terrace On The Domain which was parked just opposite for a coffee. I figured it would be my only one for a few hours so I ordered large.

I was sitting there admiring the views of the parks when the waiter plonked a soup bowl down on my table. I was about to object when I realised it was full of coffee. It took so long to drink I needed to pee before I could finish it. And by the time I had finished I was on hyper drive with body twitches firing regularly.

In due cause the teacher had arrived, the doors opened and in we went. I remember walking into the space, a dedicated exhibition space of 4 rooms for this sculptor I had never heard of. I was overwhelmed by what was presented. I was in awe, I was shocked, I was in disbelief. Ron Mueck was from another planet. His human ceramic sculptures were hyperrealism taken to the next level. The scale of his work was also outrageous. I walked up to a naked pregnant woman who towered over me and I was so intrigued by the astonishing level of detail achieved. Because she was naked, she had goosebumps all over her body. I found myself staring at the bluish veins just under her skin that were cleverly painted so realistically with acrylic paint.

I stood back again and started thinking about being pregnant. With her scale was so large and her belly bursting with baby it made me realise the heaviness of child bearing. Even her feet were swollen! I spent 15 minutes with the pregnant woman and left her filled with empathy.

I walked through another doorway with a lone sculpture on a raised wooden platform right in the middle of the room. My heart skipped a beat. There was a tiny naked man lying on his back. I didn’t want to get to close because he was so exposed and vulnerable, I really felt sorry for this man. But something took hold of me and I felt compelled to go to him.

So Lifelike

As I reached the edge of the platform I crouched and read the plaque Dead Dad. Oh my goodness, it was a sculpture of his father and he was stark naked for the world to bear witness. I started to analyse why the artist would immortalise his own father in such a brazen way. I got to thinking “We enter this world naked and when we die, all is stripped bare. All our achievements, all our possessions, and even our bodies are left behind”.

I started focussing on all the intricate details. Ron Mueck even plucked thousands of individual hair strands from his own body to populate the anatomy of Dead Dad. I was deep in the zone, admiring the extraordinary details of this work of art when inexplicably Dead Dad turned his head to look at me. I impulsively staggered backwards with a sound of supressed shock escaping my mouth. I quickly left the room with eyes upon me. I was completely shattered that day. The sculptures were all so compelling you could imagine having conversations with them. I left the Art Gallery that day with Dead Dad sitting on my shoulder… he followed me home.

I urge you to look up his work after reading this story. Because of copyright issues I couldn’t find royalty free images to add.

That was the prelude.

The Worst News

My own father got sick soon after the Ron Mueck exhibition but it took months to get diagnosed. The worst news, terminal cancer of the Duodenum (stomach). My father only had months to live.

Dad Mum wedding

Mum & Dad’s wedding with mothers at their sides

Mum and dad were retired and living in Forster and after spending a short time in John Hunter hospital dad asked for palliative care so he could be at home when he died. It was an extremely difficult time for the entire family.

I will skip dad’s demise because it was so agonisingly sad and not part of this story. But this is where the story starts.

After dad passed, mum asked her sons to come visit her to discuss what to do with his ashes. Dad had expressed his wishes to be cremated and have his ashes scattered at sea. Prior to coming up to Forster, mum had told me (via phone conversations) of some strange phenomenon happening around her home. She would tell me about books disappearing only to be found in another part of the house 2 weeks later. Or she would hear dad talk to her, that kind of stuff.

Triptych oil painting expressing grief and loss

Cruci Fiction 505 (triptych) is an oil painting I painted in 2004. It is about pain and loss but also includes fond memories of dad. The shadowy figures represent life diminishing and becoming spirits. The bars symbolise jail whilst the hourglasses deal with time. Together they are a metaphor for a life sentence, the crosses are tombstones. Doing this painting helped me grieve!

Anyway, Steve came up from Canberra and we (Nitcha, Pim & I) came up from Sydney. After unpacking and some light conversation I turned the tv on for Pim. It was time for a conversation about scattering dad’s ashes and I didn’t really want Pim hovering around the table. Dad’s wishes were for all of his boys to be present when the ceremony was performed. However, we knew the difficulty of getting everyone together. We decided it was time. Dad’s ashes would be released from the Tuncurry Beach breakwall in the morning. Suddenly the tv went to static. “That’s odd, it was working before” Steve said. We tried turning the tele off and on but we kept getting static. We gave up on the television and told Pim to play with her toys.

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The view from Main Beach Forster towards Tuncurry Beach breakwall

The conversation then turned back to mum and her strangely disappearing objects around the home. I left the table momentarily to put my mobile in the bedroom. As I was about to come back down the hallway, I heard a dull humming noise coming from the bathroom so I turned left instead. I found Nitcha’s electric toothbrush to be the culprit. The toothbrush was vibrating away yet it was actually switched off. Bemused, I brought it back to the dining table as a curiosity. We were all bewildered that switching it off and on would not alter the vibrating at all? I started thinking about what had transpired since we arrived. The tv static, the talk of missing things, now a toothbrush that will not turn off. “I will fix it, watch this” I said. I grabbed the toothbrush and ripped the battery out… holy shit, it kept going!

Dad’s Spirit Lives On

Horrified I threw it in the bin where it continued vibrating without a battery.

We were all stunned and to be honest, all the strange events mum had been telling me about over the phone the last few months started to ring true. Something weird was going on. Mum said “see, I told you. Jimmy is talking to me. I don’t think he wants us to throw his ashes out to sea, he wants to stay next to me”. As mother finished her sentence, a pair of sunglasses moved from one side of the kitchen benchtop to the other. It was a completely still afternoon with no wind outside whatsoever. The benchtop was about 3 meters from where I sat and the distance the sunglasses moved was around 2 metres.

This totally freaky paranormal activity happened in the middle of conversation lull so we all heard the sliding noise and turned our heads towards the sound. It was unnerving. We all looked at each other in disbelieve and mum proclaimed “right, that’s it, Jim doesn’t want to leave so I am keeping his ashes”.

That was back in 2007. To this day mum still has dad’s ashes.

Dad Mum

Happy days. Mum & Dad at the Chinese restaurant inside Wentworthville Leagues Club

Rest In Peace Dad.

We love you and miss you… so please behave yourself!

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