My mother Hilary Gialerakis, born Carter, was a talented artist who lived a tragic, tempestuous and colourful life from 1924 – 2003. Before she died, she sent me a pile of loose papers containing material she had written about her experiences as a child and as a young woman, as well as a diary recording day to day experiences during a period of intense crisis in the 1970’s.
Hilary asked me to read them in the hope that these writings might bring me to a deeper understanding of her. In many ways they do. While being both painful and at times shocking for me to read, they are also a lovely reminder of her sense of humour and razor-sharp wit, particularly in her dealings with lovers, family and friends.
Hilary suffered a lifetime of illnesses, mystery afflictions and treatment by doctors, psychiatrists and therapists from a variety of different disciplines. Around 1974, I believe she was advised by one of them to write about her early life and start keeping a diary. This diary covers a few short months, and is clearly an attempt to achieve some kind of clarity regarding her condition.
Perhaps Hilary was seeking to find the answer to her perpetual question: “What is wrong with me?” before arriving at a final decision herself with regards to who she was, and why she was so tormented by illness and pain, imagined or real.
I am still seeking an answer to her question about herself.
When my mother died, I inherited her remaining paintings, many of which were painted in the 70’s and a couple of which date back to the 1950’s. I shipped them over from South Africa to London, with a view to exhibiting them in her home country as she would have wished. Experience of people’s reactions to Hilary’s art over the years showed me from a very early age that her work instills profound interest and curiosity about the woman who painted these pictures. Thus, finally in 2008, five years after her death, I was able to put together an exhibition of this work at which I successfully sold paintings and was pleased to find how well they are still received. Alongside the exhibition, I resolved to self publish her writings in a book which I titled: Hilary: an Unquiet Spirit.
In February, 2012, through a very dear friend of mine, Janie Ironside Wood, I was invited to a meeting with Naim Attallah, Chairman of Quartet Books. Having read my self published book, Janie was certain that this piece of work would be of interest to Naim.
On the morning of my meeting with Naim, I arrived at Janie’s beautiful apartment in Little Venice, to collect her and to share a swift pre meeting glass of wine. Having worked with him in the past, Janie knew Naim well, and I was grateful to hear of him in advance of the appointment. We arrived in Shepherd’s Market in a taxi. While I was excited and curious about what lay ahead, I remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the drive. I was fairly deep in thought. It had been a long journey to this place.
As I stepped across the threshold of Naim’s extraordinary premises in Mayfair I made a mental note of how very ” Hilary ” this setting was, and how very well she would have blended into this environment. Characteristically, slightly the other side of sober, dressed in her trademark understated style, I envisaged her stepping deliberately in that slow, slightly swaying motion she had, moving across the entrance hall of this house, pausing to gaze at the impressive array of art adorning every inch of wall, shelves crammed with books, colourful carpet and fabrics draped across furniture. These were the impressions I had of the room – it may not have been quite so, but this is what I absorbed of it. I could imagine Hilary deliberately avoiding glancing at herself in the mirrors ( she loathed her own reflection ) and I could easily picture her stepping very carefully up the narrow staircase into Naim’s study. The moment I set eyes on him, I knew my mother would have been delighted to meet Naim Attallah.
After a brief introduction and all the pleasantries associated with people who know each other of old, Naim leaned back in his chair and, picking up my self published version of the book, he tossed it across his broad desk to me, saying: ” Beautiful! Beautiful picture! ” He followed this with:” Your mother! She is OUTRAGEOUS! ” Clearly entertained, amused, moved as well as greatly impressed by the beauty of her photograph on the cover of the book, Naim immediately resolved to publish the book ” properly ” himself.
The result of this meeting is that An Unquiet Spirit: The Memoirs and Diaries of the Artist Hilary Gialerakis has been published by Quartet Books and was launched to the public on 8th October 2012 at the Gallery Different, Percy Street, London W1, alongside a major retrospective exhibition of Hilary’s art and drawings.
Some of the paintings exhibited and sold may be viewed on this link. Drawings are here. There is also a Hilary Gialerakis page on Facebook, where you may see and read more about the book launch, as well as public comments and crits on the art.