I was recently very honoured to be asked to create a portrait of a young man who had tragically lost his life whilst travelling in Thailand. I never knew Billy Abernethy-Hope, but I knew one of his best friends, Sam. Sam was hurting a lot at the sudden loss, and his wonderful mum, Anna turned to me to see if I could in any way help.
It was a tough ask. To create a piece of art that might ease pain, might celebrate a life, might bring smiles and comfort. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Trawling through Billy’s Facebook pictures, I found handsome and moody shots of the man, but there was one that stood out to me. I wasn’t sure how appropriate it was, but I presented it to Sam. There was a voice loud in my head telling me ‘THIS one is about my life’. Sam gave me the go ahead to use the picture and from that point on, I invited Billy into my life. His picture stayed in my studio and as the painting developed, the spirit of Billy grew in my heart, and his voice grew in my head. As it turned out, I really had got to know the young man. I discovered his love of music and cars – so he was quite comfortable being painted in my noisy studio which doubles up as a car body workshop. I later found out that had even detailed his car in the same blue line that I had outlined him in.
When I presented the painting to Sam on his 21st birthday, I was in for a bit of a shock. Billy’s parents were there and Anna had made an enormous copy of my painting to present to them too. Billy was entirely ready for the move from my workshop into the arms of his friends and family, but I have to admit I was pretty overwhelmed.
From afar I have watched Billy’s incredible family and friends find healing through some amazing feats of creativity. They recently held a mini-festival in his honour, and no less than Professor Green turned up to perform in his honour. Billy’s amazing sister, Megan, had appeared in his music video, Photographs, after the musician appealed for pictures of lost loved ones. There is a great article in Somerset Live which describes the event and Professor Green’s involvement.
We are not meant to die this young. I was 21 when I lost my first husband – I had no idea how to grieve then and admire so much, how tragedy has been turned to creativity. One thing is for sure and that is that the arts CAN help. As an artist, it’s hard not to feel like you are being self-indulgent. But creativity is not just a frivolous pursuit – carried out with love and sensitivity, it really can make a difference to people’s lives, and even in tragic circumstances help people be remembered for the shining lights they were.