Today I have a very strange headache. It's piercing. It feels like a skewer has been tucked behind my right eye, just above the corner of my brow – a very sharp, thin, flat skewer, the kind that has a ring at the end. I can almost mentally see it protruding out of my head. Sometimes it doesn't hurt, just looks weird, and other times it's being gently twisted and the pain is excruciating as it scrapes along the nerve endings of my eye. This headache has been brought on by stress and grief. I have spent the last few days, in between every other waking thought, trying to understand and come to terms with death.
On Sunday morning I was happily staring out the window on the 53rd floor, idly plotting and planning my last days in New York, when I received a phone call telling me an old friend had been found dead, hanging from a tree, apparently a very beautiful tree. I was suddenly propelled mentally from the here and now to 15 years ago when everything, in comparison to now, was careless and free.
I have always liked to think of myself as philosophical when it comes to death. And I have been touched closely by the deaths of people who I love dearly. I have suffered excruciating pain thinking that I couldn't survive the feeling of grief but part of me has always known, or felt, that there must be another world, another world where we are light, where we become light. Part crystal, part sun, part raindrop, part rainbow, a beautiful place where we shine.
All of these beautiful thoughts, this beautiful place, which exists partly in reality and partly in my mind, doesn't really help at the moment with the loss of a friend. All the things I didn't say, all the things I forgot to say. Why didn't I write a postcard saying that I thought his last show was good? I meant to. Why didn't I just be more of a friend? Why do we take people for granted, especially the good, kind, lovely people, the people that have never done anything wrong to anybody? How do you say goodbye to someone when you didn't know you were saying goodbye? Almost everybody I know is now connected by grief. Everybody's minds are going round in endless circles.
Death makes no sense when it happens, but of course it makes perfect sense. It's one of the few things in this world that we can rely on 100 per cent, no matter how it comes. It really shouldn't be a surprise. Sooner or later, or whichever way, it's coming.
Tonight I am in a show that's opening. It's a group show and all the works are based on some aspect of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, a man who made a career out of death, but the darker side. I have only ever read one Edgar Allan Poe story and to be honest I'm actually scared to read another. Life is difficult enough as it is. There is darkness all around – pulling at us, punching, tripping us up, pinching, thumb and forefinger tightly biting into our sides. Darkness can be an angry place that we have to fight our way out of. My painting, which I made especially for the show, looks dark. In one way it appears to be a demonic self-portrait, skittish and psychotic, something heavy and malevolent to behold. On the other hand it could come across as being gothic, cartoonish, something from the Hammer House of Horror. Not so unlike Poe himself.
There are lots of artists in the show. One of them is Angus Fairhurst. How will we look at his work? Will we see his work differently? I know some of us won't be able to look. Death transcends everything. Nothing can ever appear the same. I have been reading Angus's obituaries and I wonder how it is that people give so much thought after someone has died, and so little thought before. This doesn't just relate to Angus, this relates to all moments after someone has passed away. Every little drop, every moment, every ounce of someone's being is remembered, rethought and sometimes reinvented. With Angus, nothing need be reinvented. Angus was good enough. More than good enough.
Now I'm sitting round trying to finish this column before I go to the opening. But instead of writing, I have been thinking, trying to weigh up the good souls against the bad souls. Which is the heavier? Am I being stupid, is there such a thing? This is not a thought I usually judge others by, but something I direct toward myself. Am I a good person? Have I got a good soul? How pure is my heart? I'm talking about the true essence of any being. The stuff that when you stare long enough into the mirror, appears, and then the image of yourself disappears. When we die, how much of us is left behind? At the moment the strange thing is that it feels like Angus hasn't even left. Maybe the thoughts and collective memories of him that all his friends share are a way in which to say goodbye.
You Dig the Tunnel, I'll Hide the Soil runs until 10 May at White Cube, 48 Hoxton Square, London N1 (020-7930 5373), and Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1 (020-7739 6176)Reuse content