"And Their Hearts"
24"x24" acrylic on canvas.
Reference photo bu Chi Mordu.
This was definitely the most challenging piece I've done thus far, both in regards to its technicality as well as the thought that went into it. For the sake of convenience, I've decided to break up my thought process into segments, categorized by topic for this description -- if you feel like reading everything, I'm positively flattered! If you feel like picking and choosing the aspects that interest you most (or not even reading further at all), that's fine too, you're under no obligation. Ultimately, the process of painting is relatively therapeutic for me and I do a lot of journaling along the way so as to reflect when all is said and done ... you don't spend nearly 60 hours (half of them consecutive around sleep) creating something and then simply pretend it wasn't significant, haha.
So ... why Tupac Shakur?
That's probably the main question I've gotten since starting this piece. It's a relatively long story, but it has a lot to do with my feelings towards matters like poverty and wealth, appropriation, identity, distance, music, perspective, etc. And on a more personal scale, all those things manifest in relationships and people that I've met this past year or so...
And FYI -- if you're looking for a biography on Tupac, this is probably not the right place! My pieces are not biographical in nature, they're more or less extensions of ideas ....
Poverty: Getting back to that in a moment, I chose Tupac initially out of a fascination with what he represents. He "made it" as a person of notoriety, but he never fully escaped the circumstances he grew up in. He was living evidence of how ascribed exterior circumstances (i.e. poverty) can act as parasites on the whole of our lifetime; we always carry with us a part of the past that is unshakeable because of how it shaped us as people. Poverty especially has the tendency to infiltrate parts of people's lives where they least expect it, and it's something that few actually understand unless they've felt it. As best as I can describe it, poverty is a consistent fragility. It is a latent nearness to nothing, despite how far someone manages to travel (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.) to escape it.
What I find just as fascinating is how perspective of proportions work between the wealthy and the poor. In poverty, quality of decisions and efficiency become the only thing that keeps a person afloat -- every action equates to something exponentially grand. Every movement is, again, fragile. This is somewhat contrary to the lifestyle of the affluent because, when a person has money, endless amounts of action can take place without necessarily impacting the self-circumstance -- their circumstance already has so much to offer. I think we can agree money is also a way people vote, and not having it means not having a voice in society.
Tupac was an undeniable talent -- however, what I've noticed lately is how much talented people tend to struggle in the "real world". Then I think to what exactly the "real world" is. People act as though it's a tangible, concrete place, yet it's not exactly definable (ironically, most things that feel the most "real" are the hardest to define).
I think their struggle lies partly in the fact that the real world doesn't allow for singularity of passions. It demands that the majority become candidates for menial positions in order to maintain the pace of society as a whole.
My final thought on poverty is how it's become a culture in and of itself. It's possible to be poor enough not to afford the luxury of a conventional identity within one's community...
At the same time, it can inspire a person to be creative and develop their own, individual sense of self.
Idolatry, Image, Death & Appropriation... Everything!: My second reason for choosing Tupac (besides the usual, coincidental hunches) was based on my feelings towards people who find ways to capitlize on the dead. One of my pet peeves is people who take someone's image and sell it or commercialize it to the point in which the person is no longer remembered for what they represent. The same goes for people who appropriate imagery from different cultures without even thinking about the consequences to the culture they borrow from.
At the same time, I won't deny that I'm guilty of a least using representations from cultures outside of my own in order to communicate my own ideas/interpretations. In this way, art becomes tricky ... my heart teeters on a cultural fulcrum in which any direction I lean has consequences. I'm in a unique predicament in that, I am an indigenous person, but based on the lightness of my skin, not many people jump to that conclusion. I grew up identifying myself as a native person, yet I feel like sometimes I'm expected to disown my heritage because I no longer look the part. Other times it feels like the only reason I am accepted as indigenous is when I "prove" myself in some way, be it academically, artistically ... basically, if I do anything that puts me or my heritage in the spotlight. This isn't true all the time, but they are honest feelings I get every so often.
In a nutshell, I want my art to open dialogues with people across all cultures.
I also read The Rose The Grew From Concrete (HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT), which is a collection of poems written by Shakur when he was 19. In the forward (page xvii), a woman by the name of Nikki Giovanni writes about an interesting scenario ... how the Postmaster General of the United States held a mass competition between artists to create an image of Elvis to commemorate his life on postage stamps. The Presley family and public were asked to vote and chose how they wanted him to be represented. The opposite was true for the image taken of Malcom X. At the end, Giovanni states, "I want an image of a thoughtful Tupac with the words: C U in Heaven." This was definitely something that sort of spoke to me as I started to paint ... it made me realize not only the struggle of people to have equal representation (which is a big thing in the indigenous world right now), but also how we revere our heroes (though to Tupac was known for denying his role as a "hero"). How delicate image is, especially with regard to people who die young. It's especially eerie how young heroes, young martyrs ... those who pass when it's too soon, we'll say .... are immortalized. Their face is never necessarily undesirable or aged. We remember them as the kids whose greatest accomplishment, perhaps, was their fixed legacy of achievement prior to an early death.
I thought it was time for there to exist a neutral image of Tupac, but one that wasn't lacking in thought or passion. I wanted to do him justice and reiterate thoughtful ideas.
Projecting and Distance: I'm actually exhausted from writing right now, haha I might save this one for another time ... but basically, I think about distance in all forms. Distance from people you miss. Distance from harm. From another person's reality ... the whole shebang. Check out my other piece, http://fav.me/d7pt1jn for more. Also .. dealing with the dangers of turning people into concepts or ideas with regard to projection ... the face of movements (particularly the recent marijuana movement), demographics, etc. etc.
Process and the creative experience: Ultimately, this piece took a looooong time to complete. He's made up of dots (for the most part).
Pieces of the process felt like when you listen to your favorite song over and over again -- it loses the insatiable and instantaneous magic it had initially. You're long longer swept away by the sense of wonder or longing or love the moment you hear it, but rather, you harness your feelings toward it. In painting, this happens with repetitive thoughts. I meditate over problems and solutions, daydreams and people ... I put it all into the brushstrokes.
The result is not a loss of connection. Actually, it's a stronger connection and a freedom from obsession (as best as I can describe it). I'm able to both move on and revisit thoughts, they're just no longer clouded by the instant gratification -- the sensitivity -- that artists especially have a difficulty handling.
Painting this was also a testament to completion. I paint with a sort of urgency as all the people around me walk into different siutations. I feel a pressure to keep going. .. to complete things in time to catch people when they need to be inspired. It's hard for me to lose good people to poor habits or decisions; my heart feels so weighed down somedays, but it's the weight that motivates me to push further. The end process of painting is a lot like making it through the force of heartbreak, for me, too~ it's a "I would rather be anywhere but here" sort of feeling, but once it's over and I look back on all that I put into a piece, it's competely worth it.
SOOOOOO....This was a learning experience.
There's a lot more I wanted to write, but it's more personal in nature so I'll refrain from overwhelming ya'll any further. "A Love Unspoken" is another great poem from his book. I'd recommend some of his music but we'd be here for DAYS (.....certainly won't be recommending Lil Wayne .. anyone who follows my IG or Facebook probably saw my rant, haha).
Regardless, there's always more to come. I hope you enjoy! And to all the people who I may not address directly: all of the "you's", you... and YOU inspire me. I wish you so well.
Limited amount of prints available soon!
More inspiring things:
The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Interesting video I just came across: http://www.upworthy.com/she-wore-a-pretty-pink-halter-dress-to-graduatio...