Friday, 5 July 2013

The art of being less selfish

My first 'official' portrait

Most artists are pretty self-absorbed. At the end of the day you work alone, creating a substantial image from the nebulous one that forms in your mind. My paintings are mostly just about me: about what I think is meaningful and harmonious; how far I can stretch myself creatively and technically. You could call it selfish, and I am definitely not beyond reproach. Now I am also writing about this process, again, a somewhat self- absorbed, solitary exercise. However, both writing and art, at their best, can be about connecting and communicating. I can assure you, ‘writing’ and I were not always big buddies. The fact that I have begun to write regularly is in itself a near-miracle. 

As many of my family and friends can attest to, once upon a time I was pretty slack at answering emails. There was a standard waiting period of three months, if not more. Self-absorbed? ‘Yes’. Selfish? Again ‘yes’. That changed for the better a few years ago when I travelled alone for a few months through South-America. I was newly hooked-up to Facebook and Skype. I discovered that the computer was a wonderful means by which I could stay in touch with loved ones. So when I travelled through Argentina and Chile, I was able to stay fairly well connected with them. Even whilst working in an animal-refuge centre in the Bolivian jungle, there was an internet-cafĂ© with a high-speed connection. What I found was that the more I reached out, the more came back. What a pleasant surprise. Being less selfish definitely has its perks. And at low cost, I might add. What a contrast to the travels I made through Australia 17 years ago. A fax was the 'bees knees' for me, and a $5 phone-card ran out before 5 minutes passed.

My grandfather

With my artwork, it wasn’t technology that helped me to reach out. It was family. When I make a painting, I certainly hope that some people will connect with it in a positive way. However, it is not the starting point for me. Instead, I have to connect with it. But, as some people will have noticed by now, besides my paintings I also draw portraits. I absolutely love it. Portraiture for me is a way to give and reach out to people personally. A portrait is deeply personal. How many people have an anonymous portrait on their wall? Not many. Mostly it will be about people you love or adore. 

My history in portraiture started when the mother of an aunt died. She sadly died relatively young from cancer. I was given a photo with a kind, gentle and sensitive, request to, 'give it a shot'. I was studying fine art, so I was the woman for the job. And indeed, about six months later (procrastination and I are close buddies), I returned a lovely hand-drawn portrait and got 'rewarded' with some teary eyes. A few years later I was asked to draw my own grandfather when he passed away. A family tradition was born. I technically got better, and I was still rewarded with rather emotional responses. There is a point in the process where I make a small change in the drawing. I either darken something, or move a feature ever so slightly, and suddenly 'someone' stares back at me. It is often an eerie experience, slightly akin to an A-HA moment, and highly rewarding in itself.

When I was 10 years old, my mother commissioned a portrait of me. It became a lovely pastel drawing and it currently hangs in my parent's home. I emigrated 13 years ago, prompting my mother to lend it to my grandparents, in an attempt to compensate for the loss of me leaving. The story goes that my grandfather would greet the portrait every morning before saying good-morning to his own wife. We never saw each other again. For my grandmother, the portrait I made of him became a source of comfort. So, when you'd ask me if portraiture is meaningful, I can whole-heartedly say: Yes! If you'd again ask me if a portrait helps you to 'connect', I would again say 'yes'. Not in the way of a phone call or Skype or a letter, but it can connect you to a loving memory, and fill a space with its presence.