I have been spending the bulk of my dk time lately producing a series of paintings for the soon to be updated website. With TWO in the hands of the merciless editing machine Belinda, and ONE on hold until the New Year, it has been a nice to get out of the coalface for a while and swap out my keyboard for a brush…well mostly…
I am using combination of watercolours and inks, a process that saw me begin to ditch the brushes in favour of various sized cut outs of foam. Why am I talking about this? Well for no other reason than this process led me to conclude a rather amusing personal cycle that I thought might be fun to share.
I was redoing our Ruth cover art, a piece that I felt highlighted the need for an upgrade. The pencils, bless their leaded sols, just don’t cut it in terms of contrast and thus fail at offering an effective “pop,” ink on the other hand is bloody glorious at doing just that and so it was that the piece was completed using almost entirely this medium. Once I had finished I placed the canvas on the bookshelf and frowned, gaped and then sat amazed on the chair.
No it wasn’t my ability or lack-there-of that had stunned me, rather that I had just unwittingly reproduced a piece that I had ink-swipe/painted nearly twenty years ago, that was in fact my first attempt at a painting. A highly contentious work that was a source of extreme frustration for me way back in 1992 and a seminal experience in terms of my understanding of art.
This had all happened at High School, where looking to capitalize on an education process which consisted of me mostly doodling when I was supposed to have been finding the remainder or memorizing something about someone or other, I took an art class. Now I considered myself a pretty handy little drawer and figured I would not only have a lot of fun but also enjoy a well-earned break from social/legal studies, which lurked cruelly within the confines of my schedule.
Boy was I wrong.
My teacher for this class, perhaps locking onto the rather dubious claim I made for her “not to worry, I’m good at this stuff,” proceeded to ride me relentlessly for the entire first semester. A somewhat ironic turn of events, as this same semester had begun with her own dubious claim that we could paint ANYTHING that we wanted.
Awesome! I thought and immediately set about laying out my incisive critique on modern corporate agenda by depicting a giant suited man perched atop a skyscraper like Donkey-Kong, turfing rubbish down atop my helpless protagonist, represented by a naked female attempting to protect a rose growing through a crack in the pavement.
Even now one can only admire the amount of cliché I managed to cram into this baby.
Enter Graceypoo (name changed to protect the…err…well-intentioned teacher trying to do her best with a cocksure novice), who nodded sagely throughout my explanations before offering her own take on what I was about to do. How are you going to represent the buildings?
Repre-what? I’m just going to paint buildings.
What’s with Donkey-Kong guy? You don’t need him.
Huh? But he’s the whole point!
Here…here’s some ink…turf the guy and try this…do it this way.
Okay long story short, I was putty in Graceypoo’s hands and after roughly ten weeks of systematic sculpture, my teacher managed to produce by agency of me, a work she no doubt deemed it would be appropriate that I produce. Looking at the thing afterward, I was greatly annoyed. I couldn’t stand the darn thing! Not only this but I couldn’t stand the idea I had just wasted my time producing something that had only a tenuous connection to my vision at best. How had this happened? Had I honestly been so brow-beaten by this woman that I had wiped every idea that I had had to end up with something that looked like a mirror captured rainbow landing square in a junkyard?
Short answer? Yes. So it was that I ignored everything Graceypoo said for the rest of the year and produced two more works that whilst were decidedly average, were nonetheless exactly what I wanted to produce. And so satisfied, I threw invisible Donkey-Kong in the bin and grumbled to myself for years about how I had struck a blow for following the heart, fighting the power, believing in myself and so forth…
And yet to quote the mighty Frank Herbert: “A short term solution is never a long term one.” Enter long term realization…
When I popped my redone Ruth up on the bookshelf to admire her I pretty much shat a brick. Here was the same female protagonist, protecting her dream against a relentless and slowly encroaching economic reality; lovingly represented utilizing the very technique insisted by Graceypoo during that fateful semester. Here, almost twenty years later, had occurred the exact teacher-student harmony Graceypoo had originally intended reaching out of my unconscious like a ghostly hand.
I say harmony not to protect the integrity of my work here, but to illustrate the warmth I felt as this impossible event revealed itself to me. The fact was that the elements of my original dream had remained the same, yet I had gone on to use those same colours in practically the same way, as if Graceypoo herself had been guiding me. Even Donkey-Kong had of his own accord vanished into the mists of unnecessary depiction like an elusive Grey Man. All this and yet my memory had managed to secret this story from my day-to-day awareness so completely, that it wasn’t until I was staring at the piece complete that I remembered…the orange sky…the dragged collage of blues and browns out of which emerged the impression of a skyline…and that God-awful piece of crap that I had binned twenty years ago for daring to compromise me so.
Quite the gestation period! And yet, thinking back over that time as a grown man, rather than the passionate fury I had forever associated with this whole saga, all I can see now is the simplicity of a communication breakdown. The fact was, I was unable to hear a darn word my teacher had said because back in the days of High School my experience of what made art Art, or perhaps more correctly for me, what made a picture a picture, was it’s realism. Nothing more, nothing less, any meaning to be deciphered could be done so via the characters or settings depicted, what the hell about brushstrokes, medium, the courage one draws to execute and the ability to tighten or relax accordingly?
So standby then…as I present the fourteen billionth and no doubt somewhere along the line plagiarized definition of Art or rather, what I have learned coming full circle on the futile guidance of a well-meaning arts teacher.
Art is the measure of our limit. We have not the science or tools to reproduce the work of our senses, our Earth, the sun, the rhythm of the moon and the mystery of its void canvas and so we retreat within to our memory and dream. Art is the fruit of this retreat, where we seek the essence of our character and offer it a voice, an image, a name, all food for a more elusive sense.
And so Art, more than anything, celebrates the way that we as humans fall short.
Art is not a search for reality nor the isolation of its reflection, but rather the rabid delusion or glorious surrender of an imagination seeking to be framed. As Don Juan said to his student, even if your defeat the three enemies of knowledge, the fourth and final enemy is always Old Age.
Art is courage.
The courage to celebrate flaw, a celebration that cultivates hope that anyone may choose to share. No you cannot win…not everything is for everyone and our mediums are as diverse as our tastes…but do it anyway, maybe in the long run one of us will cross the great water and send word of just the right method for you. Just as Graceypoo had done for me, even though it took me twenty years to decrypt her message it has been wonderful to finally meet her now in my memory.
So thanks Gracey.
* Here is the old piece, a combination of pencils, pens and digital editing, though we will front our website with a piece from TWO to celebrate its release…
the new inked piece will be edited by Belinda before becoming available as a desktop for download along with other scenes from the trilogy.