Upwards And Onwards

Edwyn Collins is that cool Scottish guy who was the singer in Orange Juice. They were one of the best and most original British pop bands ever.

Dec 2 2008, 12:00am

Edwyn Collins is that cool Scottish guy who was the singer in Orange Juice. They were one of the best and most original British pop bands ever. He also did that song “A Girl Like You” that has been used in a million commercials and movies, especially in montages of women trying on clothes at fancy stores.

In 2005, Edwyn suffered two major brain hemorrhages that left him unable to walk, talk, or use his right hand. He was not even able to read anymore. His brain had lost the ability to work out letters and words.

Over the next three years, with the help of therapists and the encouragement of his wife, Grace Maxwell, Edwyn started drawing animals, primarily birds, with his left hand, as a way of teaching his body and mind how to work again.

Last month in London, Edwyn exhibited his bird drawings, from his shaky first attempts to the recent works, which are remarkably more accomplished. Walking around the gallery and seeing his recovery charted in pencil drawings of birds was really moving, and it prompted me to buy the first and last of the series because I am a big softy with tears perpetually streaming down my face.

After the exhibition I talked to Edwyn and Grace about the drawings. His illness has turned his voice into a peculiar British/Scottish staccato, which regularly breaks into laughter. Go on YouTube and watch the recent BBC Scotland documentary to witness it for yourself. If you can get through the whole thing without blubbering at least once then you are a stone.

Vice: Hi Edwyn. Can you tell us about these bird drawings?

Edwyn Collins:
At first it was difficult for me to draw. My right hand doesn’t work anymore so I had to train myself to use my left hand. But I persevered. The first one I ended up finishing was the duck.

It was not exactly perfect but I kept persevering and I’m getting there. It’s much better now. It’s going slowly but I’ve come to the conclusion that drawing is exciting for me again.

When did you first start drawing again?

When I was in hospital. But I can’t remember which one. I was in a few.

Grace Maxwell: He didn’t really draw much in hospital. It’s difficult to describe it to people. The healing process was so long but eventually he’s got back to being his bossy old self.

How did you get him to draw?

I put a pencil in his hand and a pad. At first it wasn’t even a scribble. He didn’t even seem to know what to do with the pencil. Then he started drawing a cartoon guy. Who was he meant to be, Edwyn?

Edwyn: He was just a guy in his 20s.

Grace: You gave him an age.

Edwyn: Yes. Ha ha. Yes, I did.

Grace: And he was doing this guy every day for about six weeks.

Edwyn: And everybody else was thinking: “Bloody hell, he’s mental!”

What was it like to come back home and start your life all over again? You could barely walk or talk, right?

He couldn’t do anything. It was quite a scary time. It was just a blank. We were desperate to get him home from hospital. And when we did it seemed to be the beginning of the recovery period.

Edwyn: About the duck drawing you have, I thought: “This is rubbish, but I know I can do better.” It was a start.

Grace: After he’d done half a dozen drawings, it was interesting to see him start to enjoy the process of getting better.

Edwyn: It was a pleasure for me. It’s like therapy, I suppose.

Grace: And he’s very particular. He would only draw on the cheapest paper money could buy. I kept trying to get him the fancy paper but he wouldn’t accept it.

Edwyn: The cheaper paper was much better to control the pencil with. I can’t use my right hand. It doesn’t work. The left one is working better all the time, though.