“I feel like I’m Margaret Olley for the night,” I told my friend Kate as we wandered around, enjoying the current exhibition at the National Art School in Darlinghurst. In common with the renowned Australian artist (who also hails from Lismore), l love attending exhibition openings. In her later years, she walked with the aid of a walking frame, and was quite a sight as she made her way, cutting through the crowds. Though without her gravitas, I similarly maneuvered in a wheelchair for the Elizabeth Cummings exhibition opening.
Elizabeth is an Australian landscape painter. Her current exhibition, “Radiance,” spans two floors and features paintings mostly based on South Australian locations. While depicting landscapes, the artworks go beyond mere representation, capturing the landscape’s essence with a variety of color palettes.
Kate and I have been attending exhibitions for as long as we’ve known each other. If you explore the art or arts tags on this blog, you’ll find records of the numerous exhibitions we’ve attended, including some curated by Kate herself. For a decade, we were also part of the Hawkesbury One art collectors group.
When she mentioned her visit to Sydney this week and asked if she could see me in the hospital, she also mentioned her plan to attend the opening afterward. “Maybe I could attend, too?”, I wondered.
In preparing for the outing I needed to think about the best way of getting there on the sometimes uneven footpaths of Darlinghurst, and which way from the hospital to the gallery had the most gentle incline. I also neeed to look around much more for the unexpected movements of both people and traffic.
I needed approval (and sign an indemnity form) for a “leave pass” from the hospital, based on safety considerations. A phone call was all it took to confirm with the specialist, Simon that it would be okay. My mobility has significantly improved even from a week ago, and activities like attending an exhibition opening probably help in my rehabilitation. In fact, “going to art exhibitions” is one of the goals I’ve been anticipating for next week’s meeting with the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme). Goal achieved.
“Don’t I know you?” a random woman asked me as we wandered the exhibition. It turns out she is an occupational therapist working at the hospital. Although I haven’t worked with her, she recognized my face. “See you in the hospital tomorrow,” she said.
I also recognized and spoke to a few other people at the opening. A former colleague did her best to make me feel at ease about being seen for the first time with a missing limb and in a wheelchair. I could still perceive the hint of surprise in her eyes, as if she were thinking, “What the fuck happened to you?”
It was intriguing to navigate through the crowd and experience the exhibition from a different perspective, being a couple of feet “shorter” than everyone else, and unable get around with the ease I would have experienced previously.
On the positive side, we received assistance getting in and out of the exhibition. There is a small step at the entrance that would have been manageable in a “standard” wheelchair, but proved slightly challenging in a “hospital” wheelchair, designed for hospital floors. I also managed to get good positions in the chair in front of people to take a closer look at the works without obstructing others’ views. Yet, being so close to the ground, I sometimes went unnoticed as I moved through the crowd, leading to some “delays” getting through. But mostly, it was a positive experience, and a good sign for the future.
Experiencing this with my dear friend of thirty years made it truly wonderful.