I sometimes ask questions that inspire profound but unexpected trains of thought, and therefore unlocking deep-seated concerns that were probably best left forgotten, but which nevertheless merit further questions and exploration – if anything, because I’m an inquisitive sort. I’m also fiercely political, though I doubt you’d notice from the works of art I produce. You might have come across it in my writing and my photography and caught whiffs of it in some of my jewellery designs, although during my childhood and teen years you will have seen it a lot in my sketches and the few pieces of art that I produced at the time.
I was particularly inspired by the works of Salvador Dali after visiting his museum in the town of Figueres, just outside of Barcelona at the age of 12. I was strongly enamoured with photorealism in art at that point, coupled with the fantastical/satirical element of Dali’s work I began developing aspirations of becoming a surrealist artist myself, though many of the sketches I created during that time have vanished into obscurity, as has much of the teen angst poetry, and no doubt countless political songs I wrote about racial and sexual equality. I forgot about the music too. I’ve forgotten about a lot of things, if I really think about it. Like I said, there was probably good reason for that.
Last night I was watching a documentary about hailed genius artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and, found myself asking a lot of questions about what art is and what makes certain genres or styles more successful than others. It also made me question my own voice as an artist and whether I felt able to fully express myself in my own work or not.
Controversial subject matter teamed with a lack of actual artistic ability seem to be successful parings if art history is to be observed in earnest, not that I’m one to pass judgement on a work of art, but I do know what I like and what inspires me. Basquiat, Warhol, Pollock and a raft of other similar artists fall into the category of talentless hack in my opinion. Though it does seem to boil down to a question of artistic ability versus the kinds of conversation that a work of art can inspire. I guess art is highly subjective in that way and so, it comes down to personal preference as to what is considered ‘good’ art or not. However, this isn’t meant to be a retrospective on Jean-Michelle Basquiat or the neo-expressionist-pop-art movement that spewed up from the 1960 onwards in particular, nor my opinion of such, though I do believe that art should inspire people in a positive way.
I understand the need to harness all forms of art in the expression of deep-seated political and social concerns; that sometimes, it is the only way of getting people to sit up and pay attention. And I ask myself whether I have wrongfully obscured my own artistic voice by choosing not to focus on the struggles that have suffused my own life. Would I have been satisfied with being successful on the back of exposing so much of my own pain and socio-economic dis-ease – would I have been more successful as an artist had I beaten that particular drum?
This morning, my head is full of potential drawings and paintings of a surrealist, political nature. I find that if I open a line of enquiry I am suddenly overwhelmed with ideas and inspiration for potential projects that further explore that particular thread. I think of my own struggles as a female ethnic minority and how I would depict that now on canvas or as a piece of three-dimensional art, given all that I’ve learned in my life to date. It’s not pretty, and that’s what concerns me. Though it feels strangely cathartic to realise those concerns as potential paintings. I think of recent dreams I’ve had that seem to echo the sentiment I’m currently experiencing, where I’ve made a very dramatic stand against the oppression that has marred my own life, and that I know mars a lot of people’s lives still. It concerns me deeply how women have been portrayed and continue to be portrayed in art, for example, and it conjures a vivid image in my head of a canvas that I’m wondering whether to paint or not in retaliation to that.
I can admire the works of Basquiat and others like him for the freedom of expression they were able to convey in a classical artistic format, although I’m not a fan of his particular style per se. It is a style of art that is retaliatory however, and strongly propagandist in nature. It’s a language that socially we have all become rather used to, and as such, the language of visual expression has never been as powerful or as pervasive as it is now. A reality that equally intrigues and disturbs me.
The kind of artwork I’ve been producing of late is rather tame if considered in the light of my actual political stance and the potential for causing a stir that it has. However, do I want to continue to give people the warm fuzzies or do I want to wake them up?
I don’t like horror films because I deplore the use of shock tactics as a medium of entertainment. The work of Basquiat and those of that particular ilk fall into that category, as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps I’m wrong, but art that makes you want to vomit or punch someone in the face is not conducive to fostering a positive social dynamic. As an instrument for sparking revolutionary change it can be powerful indeed, though it should not and cannot be sustained – as is the nature of a spark. ‘Shock and awe’ as a motivational tool should not have become the norm, though it has, and it has because of people like him and those who are willing to pay ridiculous sums to perpetuate that reality – I understand that it might not be their prime motivation, but it is the reality that is perpetuated as a result. Do I really want to be a part of that – because that’s what I’m really asking here – or do I wish to continue playing it safe and instead try to bring moments of pleasure to people’s lives?
I do realise I am talking as if I might actually be a successful artist some day, and that my opinion and my works of art will matter as historical artefacts. I realise the absurdity of that, although I guess anything is possible, no? A poignant slogan for our current socio-political climate perhaps: Anything is possible.
It’s an interesting conundrum and one that has left a not altogether pleasant aftertaste in my mouth.