Art as Liberation

Charismatic and flamboyant local artist Fruzsi Kenez is running a series of illustration classes, so I’ve signed up. A couple of years ago I carefully broke down all my business expenses at the end of financial year and discovered that art lessons are one of my favourite things to invest in. Private art lessons rather than college art lessons are balm for my heart. I don’t need to prove anything or agree with anyone. I can come and connect and take what suits me and wrestle with it, love it, hate, reject it, refashion it. At no point do I need to parrot it to pass assignments or mimic it to graduate. Those running the classes tend to be highly engaged and engaging, they don’t have a captive audience they can denigrate or reject. Considering that my art was largely loathed by tutors in uni, this is refreshing.

These art classes are about illustrations in journals. Creating fast, loose, fresh illustrations of items and people around us in ways that bypass careful planning and tap into fearlessness and the joy of markmaking. It’s the artist’s version of automatic writing and just as playful and intriguing.

I used to art journal ideas in ink with the hope of one day having a studio where I could translate them into ‘real art’ – paint. I had the opportunity to show the journals to a couple of established artists visiting the shelter I’d stayed at one day. They were kind and encouraging and told me the ink paintings were themselves ‘real art’. It started a train of thought I’m still exploring today.

Recategorising my journal work as real art – and later cutting images out of the journals to display – was refreshing, a change of perspective that liberated me from restrictive ideas of what ‘real art’ is (large, painted, formal). It helped me treat my passion for ink and paper as a genuine avenue of exploration and has largely created my current arts practice. However there was also a downside, which is that my arts journalling practice froze up. If any artwork I made might now be ‘real art’ that I wanted to exhibit one day, it had to be made using quality materials and with that end in mind. Tension exploded into my arts practice. The combination of pressure to make each work ‘real’ and poverty meaning resources were so limited killed my arts journals. I couldn’t play or practice or pretend. Worse, I became bound up in a need for each artwork to be entirely individual and refused to allow myself to replicate my own works – feeling that this was somehow vaguely theft and plagiarism. How could I sell an original and then devalue it by painting something similar? Not that I could sell those originals, because the first years of artworks were made with inferior products that are non archival and I wouldn’t ethically sell.

There’s not much play in that space, not much riffing off themes or techniques, or even really learning. Art becomes a stab in the dark, sometimes coalescing into something amazing and sometimes falling far short. It carries my heart and rides those winds with so much vulnerability. There’s no second take, no confidence, no mastery. It’s like painting in the dark.

I love painting in the dark. It’s raw, wild, unpredictable, unsafe. It touches things I would never have consciously brought to light and tells stories I don’t know the end of. It is linked to my survival, my psychosis, my deepest self. I tell secrets, break rules, speak unspeakable things.

It is also painful. Sometimes sanctuary and sometimes hell. I have learned that some days craft is better, more what I need. I use my hands in something creative but without the vast emotional risk. I mend clothes, embroider, colour in. My arts practice has this vast gulf between the pleasure of using my hands and the taking of huge emotional risks. Journaling might be a third space for me – personal, playful, creative, mindful, safe. There’s more shades to explore than just palest and darkest.

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