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Agnes Manners Photo by Aiden Zovic

Agnes Manners: Exploring grief from all angles

Trigger Warning: This article contains detailed dicussion of suicide.

As a species, we are incredibly bad at addressing our mortality. We’re told not to speak of death – to not even think about it – to instead focus on the positives; on life, recovery, or hope. As a result, we end up wholly underprepared to discuss it, leaving many of us not just sad and grieving when it arrives in our worlds, but confused, mad and angry at the sheer lack of dialogue available to us at such times.

So, when death arrived in the world of Agnes Manners, its usual counterparts of grief and sadness in tow, he wasn’t going to let these uninvited guests remain unaddressed. Instead, the artist otherwise known as Matthew Gravolin named them, quantified them and put them in their place as he compiled his new body of work, One As Beautiful As You, a two-part opus dedicated to a dear friend lost to the chilling cold of suicide.

Whereas grief is considered to be an individual, internal process, mourning is the social aspect. We feel grief, we show mourning. But for artists, who show what they feel, the two are interlinked which is why we, the creatively challenged, tend to look to our favourite artists in our lowest moments.

“I feel as though we’re all a little bit more at ease to speak about that sort of thing,” says Gravolin of the artist’s perspective. “Which was a blessing. I definitely don’t think that speaking about death or grieving should be stigmatised in any way. That’s pretty unequivocally unhealthy. Yes, it definitely needs to be spoken about, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t difficult to write about.”

While devastatingly personal, the subject matter of One As Beautiful As You is sadly all too common. Suicide plagues our society, made all the more threatening by its mysterious and baffling nature. Gravolin speaks to this, as he explains his dear friend’s story. “We thought he was doing well…He seemed like he had all of the trappings of a healthy life.

“A lot of people don’t survive what he had endured for a long, long time, which is clinical depression and anxiety. And just a lot of long nights, a few of us just staying around him and just doing what you would do for anybody that you love that’s in that state “

“We thought he was going to be fine…Then he wasn’t and he took his life.”

Gravolin then began crafting One As Beautiful As You using instrumentals that now had a story to be built on top of them, manifesting in delicate and somber ballad ‘Quite Ire’, originally written under the assumption his friend was recovering, and ‘Free (SKF)’, an up-tempo almost joyous affair that addresses the duelling emotions of loss and love.

“I knew I wanted to address his death and discuss it,” he explains on the early days of the project, “but I didn’t know how to do it. And we’d already done the ballad and I didn’t want to have all of these sad songs for him. I just wanted it to be more celebratory. It’s got to be accurate.

“We wanted it to explore the grief and the events from all angles, but…It’s important that we ended up in a place of celebration, as a real salute and testament of our ever-enduring love for him.”

The writing and recording sessions would serve a dual purpose; honouring the life and memory of his dear friend, while also providing a therapeutic outlet for the musician. “It exacerbates the grief,” even if temporarily, he explains.

“Because you’ve really got to plunge in and get your hands dirty and face it all, but you’re better off for it in the end. It’s like a self-imposed therapy. You’ve really got to think about how you feel about these things and assess the situation from all angles.”

This is all good and well for creatives and artists who not only have the ability, but the means to extrapolate their feelings. But there is a deeper truth that can apply to audiences too – that the healing starts with putting how you feel on paper. We may not be able to write songs, but we can write journals. “It might sound a little bit cliche or whatever, but I don’t know, for me, I find that it works and I really do recommend it.

“Sit down with a pen and paper and just let your hand go, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have a bunch of shit in there. It’s not going to be this big profound piece of writing or whatever, but really just let your hand go; for as long as it needs to. Let everything spill out onto the pages. For me, I’ve just found that to be it, and that has nothing to do with artistry or anything else.”

There are innumerable ways that we can feel grief and show our mourning. And while running full spring to our favourite artist will no doubt always be a part of the process, with One As Beautiful As You, Gravolin illuminates one of the few objective truths about how we handle this unavoidable reality of life – there’s no right way to process grief. The only wrong thing to do is to do nothing at all.

We want you here. If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available.

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14