Confessions of an artist in remission.
For the last 10 years my artwork has been forced. The effort to make it was enormous emotionally, physically and financially. I started to create to offset the loneliness I experienced as a child after my father died and my mother went off to work. I taught myself chess and how to play the guitar. I made sculptures out of tin foil and installations (only in retrospect) by weaving kite twine around furniture as if some giant spider had moved into our walkup. I combed my neighborhood for anyone to talk to bothering the painters and sculptors who lived in the adjoining buildings. It wasn’t unusual to have a door opened a crack and then closed without any verbal exchange. I wanted to be like them because they seemed different like me. My own early attempts at art were more to kill time until my mother returned from work. After a few years I no longer reacted to the familiar sound of her key in the door and her accented English; I had become fully engrossed in some project and forgot I was alone. I had finally found something that I needed in order to take my place among the bigger, stronger and more popular kids. Art justified and exorcized the darkness that consumed me. Jeffery Hawk could do more chin ups than me. Alan Issac had already made out with a girl. Donnie Hill was taller than all of us. But none of them could draw for shit. I was the artist.
Early on it was noted that I had talent. All I knew was that I could do something others couldn’t and I finally stood out. In high school and college I excelled creatively and that only reinforced my desire to create. Awards and exhibitions followed. There was even some pre-graduation notoriety in that I was part of a small show at a New York gallery.
The first inkling I had that there was a bell curve of any kind was when I wasn’t accepted into the only graduate school I applied to. I stepped out of the comfortable womb of academia and was mugged by reality. I was unemployed, penniless and socially inept. Employment, housing, relationships all lay ahead of me and it was painfully apparent in the eyes of the “real world” that I had been languishing regardless of how hard I had worked for perfect grades and a personal aesthetic. Art school was a social coma and now I was awake and scrambling to catch up with the very people I wanted to separate myself from. I put aside my art for thirteen years to pay back loans and make enough money to set a course for stability to ultimately get back to creating.
When I finally came back to art, it was no easy task having made a name for myself in another career. I started from scratch and once again reclaimed a certain level of comfort with my long dormant inner voice. The time away did not leave me unchanged however. I had to relearn how to draw and not “indicate” as I was taught as an art director. I had a few friends who were full time artists but I was suspect, perhaps viewed as a poseur. The road ahead would require complete reinvention and reclamation for any credibility. At the same time I found myself dating different women. I could no longer be with the vapid beauties who would check my bank balance with regularity. I finally married someone who understood my desire to pursue an artist’s life and we were soon married. The devastation of a divorce eight years later forced me back into survival mode. I redoubled my effort, but by now I was a veteran practitioner of the “loneliness = work” method of coping.
The economy was tanking and started to derail me. I could no longer make the kind of work I wanted to and switched to cheaper materials. The resultant new art was not impressive and my gallery stopped offering me shows and commissions were drying up. Yet this was the least of my problems; something far worse had happened. I had burned out. My studio grew dark and I could no longer muster the energy to even open a sketchbook.
Some artists are graced with incredible energy and focus. They are continually excited to be right where they are at any given point. I suspect others are afraid if they were to look out from behind their day-to-day machinations they might find what I found. It had been there all the time, replete with innumerable variety of choices, outcomes and potential. A world of possibility where you didn’t have to be a slave to a caste you created. I did not know there was any other way to live other than the life of an artist. I was in servitude to a religion that I created with a work ethic that would rival Calvinists. I was still poor and alone and exhausted. Time had taken its toll and now I was in my late forties. How given the circumstance I found myself in, could I ever explore any possibility other than the familiar existence I had lived until now?
Two excruciating years later I met the woman who would become my wife. We had nothing in common except the desire to experience as much of the world around us as possible. Like a syringe plunger she forced me back into life despite my resistance. Suddenly I found myself happy, in love and financially stable. I now had the freedom to go back to making art without the wolf at my door. I assumed this would be my course of action and would immediately return with a full head of steam with a landslide of work. Wasn’t creating at my core after all? But there was revelation in my reticence - I had always created out of pain. Now suddenly without it, “cured” if you will; art appeared as a symptom of the deeper problems I lived with my entire life. I was no longer operating under the same set of circumstances. I found I could survive and even thrive without my familiar creative touchstone. I discovered so many other pursuits I wanted to master with the same dedication I had given over to three decades of making art. I was excited again.
It is a terrifying proposition to abandon what you and others identify you as. Like a brain surgeon deciding that ukulele is his passion. I see my wonderfully creative friends steadfast and on track making their art. Is there something aberrant in my behavior that I cannot persevere? Do I have the attention span of a knat? Was it wrong to allow happiness in and not stop it when I saw the obvious decline in my creative output? I have had to come to terms with who I have become. To my peers I may seem less serious, maybe even a dilitant. But this much I know: people create in their own way. Some are perfectly linear while others riff visual jazz. My process happens to be in another category altogether. I seem to be reaching for another instrument.
Sitting on my motorcycle as a now accomplished rider, bassist and in the best shape of my life, I find myself happy and without any guilt about it! With a beautiful wife and loving family my circle is broken. I have rocketed out of orbit and am heading into the unknown. Relative time in space will return me much younger, or is it simply the freedom of it all?