Welcome back to the continuing saga of “The Artist’s Journey”.
In the previous post “Supernatural Aid”, I talked about coming to a crossroads where I was at the point of giving up art altogether. By this time, I had spent about 5 years running around in circles trying to figure out what ‘sells’ in the fine art world pursued closely by the wolf at the door. My simple goal of making ‘a living’ out of my efforts seemed ridiculously impossible and I started measuring money in terms of “badges” or “postcards” and cringing at how hard it was to make enough for a coffee let alone groceries or mortgage payments. I spent my days experimenting with different styles, subject matter and mediums and I spent my nights researching the elusive popular sale. I Googled, I Instagramed, I Facebooked, I read white papers and listened to podcasts on art trends, I looked at online galleries and offline galleries. I was like a hamster in a wheel, going nowhere. Eventually it beat me. I could go no further. We had moved to Tasmania not long after the end of my career in video games and had been living on one income since. During this time my family was faced with some major financial difficulties. I lost my job and my entire career because of the Global Financial Crisis and now I was having a debt crisis of my own and was utterly powerless to help us out of it despite my former glittering career. It was as if everything I had achieved had been simply written off and the world turned its back on me.
At the lowest point of my desperate struggle I decided that there must be a disconnect between my perception of what was artistically ‘good’ and the reality of the world. It was like I had woken up in the Matrix and realised that my previous life had all been a lie and that I was really a novice who needed to start again from the beginning. I tried to tell myself that it was good for the soul to undergo some humility but in actual fact I felt the most intense sense of betrayal and bitterness followed by a deep emptiness. I also had a number of other factors at the time contributing to a ‘perfect storm’ of unpleasant events. It reached a critical point where I had exhausted any kind of will to continue. I sat unmoving in a chair and I couldn’t form one positive thought. This frightened me because never in my life had that ever happened to me. I had always been able to push back against adversity and win and I had faced adversity more times than I care to say.
I was prescribed anti-depressants. Sad but true. I would not have been able to continue without it.
In my Matrix-like state of awakening where I believed I was a shit artist and had to start all over again, I decided to make one more last-ditch monumental effort to improve my art skills from the beginning. It didn’t matter what I did, I would just start anywhere and build up some painting and drawing hours. I started going to life drawing sessions and when that got too expensive I created my own sessions at home using internet pictures displayed on my TV and I did about an hour or two every day without fail. I read a pile of books from the library on painting and drawing techniques, artist’s anatomy, drapery and art theory, I watched YouTube videos on artists’ techniques. I gave up my spacious rented art studio and shared a small space with another artist on a wall facing away from the public. The lower rent meant I could relax a little and pay the rent just from my card sales. I forced myself to forget about selling and debt and concentrate on learning and doing. I worked and I blocked out everything else as best I could. It wasn’t easy being in a co-operative space with a dozen other artists all focussed on selling so I went dark and stopped talking.
After a few months of doing small pieces, tests and quick studies, the first major piece I committed to doing was a drawing 2.4 metres long by 1.2 metres high. I thought if I needed practice, I would tackle something large and challenging and lose myself in its creation. I picked a subject matter that interested me and didn’t care if I was the only person on the planet who liked that. I love pencil drawing (even though it was resoundingly clear the art world considered it passé) and I love fantasy (same thing – dead in the water) and I love trees. I chose to do a tree-woman who had weathered the worst that life could throw at her and fallen to the ground in her suffering. Perhaps a bit of a self-portrait in hindsight. The drawing filled my entire studio. I bought the largest piece of MDF board I could find and supported it across two easels so I could clip the paper onto it. Consequently, the drawing became the exact size of a piece of MDF. I didn’t even think about what I would do with it once it was finished. It was ridiculously large and would be impossible to frame. But it was large because I wanted it to have impact. I wanted to make a statement about suffering and what it felt like to be on the receiving end of it. I wanted to make a tribute to all living things that had suffered at the hands of selfish, careless people and a blind, unthinking society, to all those who had been ignored, bullied and abused. But more than that I wanted to pour all of my hollowed-out resentment, outrage and sadness into it and show that at the end of all that, there was still beauty. I wanted so much to prove that beauty would prevail despite every bit of crap that life could throw at you and that the scars of suffering could tell an honest tale for all to see.
It took me 5 months to complete this drawing. During its creation I shared with no one what I was going through. I was medicated, numb and utterly beaten but I began this task with a silent determination. Soon I found a natural rhythm in the routine of the familiar pencil strokes. There was a sort of bittersweet sadness in the labour of bringing the scars of lifelong weathering and hardship into being as meticulously and reverently as I could. It was a long project and at times I would find myself wanting to take coffee breaks a little too often when the enormity of the task threatened to overwhelm me. I pushed through this by wearing headphones so I could further block out the world, drown out my thoughts and focus single-mindedly on sculpting this form from my imagination into reality. The task was arduous but I enjoyed that. I needed some time to ‘just do’ and not think. The result was “The Fallen” and as it turned out, it marked the end of my ‘commercially-minded’ artistic life and the beginning of a new and more serious chapter. I crossed a threshold into the unknown.
Incidentally, ‘The Fallen’ became so popular that I had to auction it. It came as a complete surprise to me that others would like my twisted, weird torturous creation regardless of its ungainly size and unpopular medium and it is still my best-selling piece today. It also was the catalyst for my current series of work. More about that in future posts.
Next up: “The Belly of the Whale”.