re-imaging the mari lwyd 6

Tend

2001 – Conté on Arches Paper – 122 x 153 cms

Photograph by Martin Wakelin

All the years I’d known him Trevor had carefully attended to his appearance, keeping his nails manicured, his hair well cut and his moustaches neatly trimmed and curled. However toward the end such things were beyond him, and the nurses on his ward were too busy to keep him as well-groomed as he was accustomed to. He  had a couple of day’s stubble when I asked if he would let me shave him. He smiled broadly and said yes.

Never in all his years had my father cause to let anyone shave him, and I had never shaved anyone other than myself, so this was a new experience for both of us. Shaving another person is quite different to the familiarity of one’s own face and neck. I brought a bowl for hot water, shaving cream, a safety-razor, face-cloth and many towels, none of the latter seeming to be any impediment to my drenching him thoroughly. I stretched his skin tight to ease the blade, my soapy hands slithering about and the razor occasionally slipping out of my fingers and shooting across the floor. Everything felt back to front and awkward. Each time our eyes locked he’d giggle and that would set me off. I’m surprised I didn’t slash him to ribbons, but I finished the job with no blood shed, though he wasn’t as beautifully curled as had he attended his moustaches himself. It was the last act I was able to perform for him before he slipped into a coma, and he was dead within a week.

When I came to make the drawing I needed no reference photographs to aid my memory. By closing my eyes I could… and still can… summon his likeness from the memory of his face beneath my fingers during that last act of washing and shaving. However the drawing renders reality as an allegorical image. Though the razor is there in the naked man’s left hand, Trevor sits with patient dignity awaiting the approaching horror that must shortly be grappled with.

3 thoughts on “re-imaging the mari lwyd 6

  1. Clive, your beautiful drawing and description moves me in a very personal way, reminding me of the times during the last couple of years of my father’s life (he died aged 101) when I would occasionally shave him. A ritual which he much appreciated and which I took immense care over. When I’d finished and his cheeks were smooth and pink, he would say, in French:
    ” Tu est une artiste! ” You are an artist!

  2. This is tremendously touching,and reminds me of some of the small personal tasks I did for my mother in her last days. Ach! Difficult memories, but I’m glad to have been there; I’m sure you are too. This series on the evolution of the mari lwyd drawings has been fascinating.

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