"A Poet's Voice"
Pastels on 18"x24" medium weight paper.
Portrait of Erykah Badu, March 2015
(for an easier to read format: http://fav.me/d8logr3)
As you can imagine, there is a lot of content in my description for this piece because I've been on such a long hiatus. Feel free to skim or pick and choose what calls out to you .. personally, I just really needed to share some broad ideas before I went any further with these left-handed pastel pieces! I've so ssSSOSOossososososOSOSOSososooooo missed making things!
The process: It’s been about 5 months since I could paint without pain. It’s been over 8 months since I’ve been able to work on my large-scale portrait series. All my requests were put on hold. I’ve had to say “no” to more opportunities than I ever I imagined.
I’ve been relating my recent mental state to a factory assembly line — as the conveyor belt carries pieces of my thoughts through aisles of workers, ideas are typically processed at a very consistent rate. The main line that usually results in me making art …. however, that aisle has a sick worker who is trying to keep pace and isn’t doing that well. The thoughts are coming at the same rate, but not being processed nearly as fast; in fact, they’re piling up and spilling off the sides, and only a few moments of clarity are ever reached.
Basically, not being able to paint has made it really difficult for me to keep focus. I still feel so inspired, but its to the degree that I’m being overstimulated, to say the least. This overstimulation is both good and bad — it’s great when I can find an outlet for it, but not so great when it leads to tantalizing joy withdrawals…. The worst part has been the pain that accompanies happiness. It’s pain that is a direct result of love and inspiration. For instance, a few days ago I went outside to pay a visit to this magnificent daylight I saw outside. I went for a walk and felt so much peace and felt so grateful …. I started imagining how I would paint this feeling — how I could share it with others (as I often want to). I started looking at the landscape and the clouds and suddenly was overwhelmed by this urge to share and to paint, to create…. and then overstimulation.
At about this time, my cortisone shot had worn off early and my weightless happiness was being nagged by a very concrete pain in my arm. My spirit told me I’d be able to create, no matter what — my mind was (and still is) ready to accept the fact that I may not be able to paint again — yet, my heart became irate with the passivity of both conclusions. In exiting the presence of the sun, I let a few tears escape and … released a few more throughout the next three hours at my desk job.
That was the most difficult moment. When I went home that day, I pulled out a set of pastels that someone gave me a few weeks ago. I lit some Indian temple incense. I grabbed the biggest sketchbook I had and set it on my bed. I took some pain meds and wrapped my right arm in ice for a bit (to combat the oncoming phantom pain that happens when I use my left hand, oddly enough)… I’d been up since 4AM and, all day, was trying to see how close I could get to overdosing on coffee (maybe that was the day after …?). I started this piece…
I didn’t have any idea what the process would be like. I didn’t really care. I had colorful chalk all over my bed, smeared up and down across my arms and face and clothes; the combination of dust and incense in the room irritated my eyes and nose. I had music pouring through my headphones; the opening from Jesus Christ Superstar, songs by Frank Ocean, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, the usual... …
It didn’t take long… I think that, within the first hour or so, I felt addicted again. The process was almost dreamlike — as though nothing had changed, but there was something somewhat unnatural about it. I was doing everything with my left hand, which has a somewhat different style … in order to contain the messiness of the pastel strokes, I added dark lines around the edges of the image.
For once, I’m not sure why I chose the subject I did. Erykah Badu. I grabbed the first picture I saw on my desktop and went with it, I guess, which is not my usual method….. I really just wanted to see if I could still create something aesthetically beautiful. I wanted to do something with a visual impact.
Towards the end of the night, I got something of a miraculous phone call. I was in tears, I was excited, I was overwhelmed, overstimulated….. I’m still processing.
Finding a voice — a means of expression: therein has been my dilemma. However, I had a few epiphanies recently that made me think of this a little differently. I’ve interacted with people whose circumstances made me realize something very poignant but hopeful, and I as a gradually get back into creating artwork with my new medium and my challenging physical state, I really hope to go more in depth into how much they transformed my perspective.
One person I reflect on is someone who physically lost some of her ability to speak, but whose willingness to communicate regardless was completely inspiring to me. Another is a girl I became friends with who has a boisterous personality beyond compare, but whose barrier in expressing that joy lies in being able to translate it to English. The third person gained a very great voice, but I think is very much in the process of cultivating it and finding ways to make it effectively echo in the right directions. Kids … I’ve been around a lot of kids lately, their means of communication has also inspired me.
In reading some of my old poetry, I’ve written frequently about losing my voice — or rather, trying to find it, wondering if I ever had one, etc. I’ve felt especially robbed of my clarity of speech this past few months; I used to be so introverted until just a couple years ago, when I found ways to communicate and focus my ideas through color. The one, consistent means of communication I had in my life was art … as a result, I dedicated 20+ hours every week towards creating things so I could maintain my voice.
Since that stopped, I’ve had to find different ways to rediscover this voice.
….I’ve found it most effectively in joy.
“Substantial things deaden a man without suffering; love awakens him with enlivening pains.” - Kahlil Gibran - “A Poet’s Voice"
Pride and control: Under the circumstances, I did the best I could do on this piece ... I feel like I could go a whole lifetime stubbornly unaware of the my own pride ... or just overcome it now and be less afraid of trying something new. It may not be a painting, nor is this a style I'm comfortable with. It's a slower process with a lot less control and a lot more mess. Losing my language, my voice, my colors … everything comfortable that I built up … it’s been the worst. But if I have to relearn everything, then now is as good a time as ever. In the meantime….
Thank goodness for creative pluralism.
There’s creativity in all processes - in finding what you believe, in taking grandiose steps to circumnavigate, in adaptation through direct intervention (shoutout to the Goody Night artists I got to work with who taught me this!)… Creativity in healing and starting over, learning new mediums (I’m still ecstatic I got the chance to help with film projects this month!). There’s creativity in being kind, in describing happiness, helping others and finding ways to pay it forward.
[Sidenote: Goody Night is one of the most incredible, ongoing stories in my life. I could record my experience here and probably triple the length of what’s been written, but I think that’s something for another time. I will say that it was my reckless, rogue excitement for the show that actually caused the issues with my hand. In the same breath, all the healing I’ve underwent can be traced right back to Goody Night and its mission as a catalyst…]
Epiphanies in both aloneness and in social immersion: I’ve been fascinated by the revelations people have in solitude … I’ve talked with a few people recently who reached similar conclusions to me with regard to the world (and unconditional love!)… but have done so by means of complete isolation and solitude. I’ve substituted all my ex-painting (isolated) time with extreme social immersion and am finding that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the end effects of each circumstance….
Another epiphany I’ve had is that I’m still invisible — I’m still very invisible to the community that I grew up in. I had an interesting discussion about people gradually melding into the background/scenery over time as long as they choose to stay there; as with anything, how do you decide if that is a good or a bad thing?
[“And ere my soul spoke to me, I imagined the past as an epoch that never returned, and the Future as one that could never be reached. Now I realize that the present moment contains all the time and within it is all that can be hoped for, done and realized.
My soul preached to me exhorting me not to limit space by saying, ‘Here, there, and yonder.' Ere my soul preached to me, I felt that wherever I walked was far from any other space. Now I realize that wherever I am contains all places; and the distance I walk embraces all distances.” - Kahlil Gibran - “My Soul Preached to Me”]
We all laugh, cry, emote in the same language… it’s human…. we can express emotion through music and art, and have the capacity & potential to feel and connect on such a profound level through these mediums: Wow, has this idea come full circle…. it’s beyond words.
Process/art of making mistakes: That’s what it’s all about. “Tears have cleansed my eyes, and / Errors have taught me the language / Of the hearts."
Unconditional love: Probably the last idea I'll leave you with is this evolving notion of unconditional love. I think a lot of people are latching onto this idea right now; it seems so foreign, in a sense, because it’s the exact opposite of what our society is built upon. Furthermore, it's something that people don’t really come to experience or understand until it’s made obvious to them.
I think about the struggle to say “I love you” — so many people need to hear it, but it so rarely gets to be said (despite how universal it is). We’re conditioned by fear — we’re conditioned to worry that our notion of love will contaminate those we share it with. It’s the same systemic suppression we see manifested in all kinds of art exhibitions. We’re told to keep our hands away from artwork — don’t touch the paintings, don’t touch the sculptures, observe only with your eyes. This is done in a neurotic effort to preserve, which ultimately ends up implying that inanimate, artistic work is to be held in high esteem, even against human life. It’s suggested that if we make attempts to connect, to engage with …. to feel and to experience that which is born already of loving hands, we are only contaminating it.
I couldn't be away from art any longer. I can't stop making things. I am so inspired. I am so grateful for my friends -- so grateful for the conversations that you've had with me. So grateful for healing thoughts and prayers, actions, distractions, gifts, memories ... kind words, support, and love. My appreciation is beyond words!