Long ago in September 1964 when I was seven, I took my mother’s watch after she died suddenly in a bedroom apartment in a Spanish fishing village, El Campello. We were enjoying our first family holiday abroad when she caught an infection which escalated rapidly into pneumonia. After burying my mother in Alicante, we drove home and didn’t mention her again.
I kept the watch hidden throughout my childhood, occasionally taking it out from my secret hiding place to touch. Did my father know?
The gold watch stopped at 6 past one in the afternoon. Its nylon strap, a replacement for a black leather one if I remember correctly, was worn from wear.
Even as an adult, I kept the watch hidden. Our family never talked about my mother and it felt like illegal contraband.
After my father’s death in 2009, the spell was broken: I was able to acknowledge, talk openly about and search for my mother. The watch came out and I drew it many times.
It is my mother. I will never be parted from the watch. I will be buried with it.
Fay Ballard is an artist. The search for her mother became her central enquiry for nearly a decade, resulting in drawings shown in ‘Breathe’, an exhibition held in collaboration with Judy Goldhill at the Freud Museum in 2018. Informed by psychoanalysis, Fay believes creativity is a reparative act. She made art with patients at Hammersmith hospital in 2017 and 2018. Fay sits on Imperial NHS arts committee, talks regularly at art schools and exhibits widely. She also draws plants, most recently for a conservation project in Transylvania, culminating in two publications and an exhibition held at National Gallery Romania.