The entire house was open to me, laid bare and naked. Except for the kitchen. The kitchen was dangerous. It had gas cylinders, knives, and hot pans. Entering it during the day, when my parents were at work, was like entering a tomb. The dry sink, the shut cabinets and closed lids, the black iron of the stove like a fire-breathing dragon asleep after a hearty meal, it all seemed…dead. But it was a living death – more like sleep.
I would wander into the kitchen in the evenings and watch my mom run around the kitchen trying to make food for all of us. I had been there hours before and the tiles had stared back at me. The squares had heaved like the chest of a sleeping monster. And here she was, moving, unaware of it quiet and submissive under her swift feet.
I would look on, from the threshold. My entry into this world of fire and sweat was only possible if she acknowledged me – only if I had the right things to say, the right things to ask. The kitchen is off-limits. To distract her would be criminal, to interact disastrous. My father would come and leave. He did not need her to be a part of this space that breathed like a boxer after 10 rounds. He was an adult.
Walking in, proceeding with caution, my arms and legs telling her that I knew that I must enter this space with great care, I was like Lazarus coming out of the tomb wrapped in cloth – slow, scared, and bound at the mouth of a tomb. I was screaming to be reborn, to become what my parents were. I ask her something in my best voice, I put my choice warrior to task. I find the rhythm of the kitchen in the sound of the metal hitting the cast iron pan. My words fit right into the spaces. They cut through the mix the way incisors cut into cheese and cake.
But she ignores me
In that moment, I am in the void. Lost, in a space where I do not belong. The chimney is old, struggling to swallow the heat. The fires blaze and I bake next to the stove. I can’t scream. I become lifeless like vegetables before they are washed. I become meat prepped for the grill. I become food.
What if I can’t leave the kitchen? What if the door is shut?
What if I can’t run away like I always do?
Am I to bake in this heat?
I need to grow. Faster.
I need to be able to go in and out as I please.
Panicking, I grab an apron. I extend my limbs, stretch out the straps and cry out – “I am not a child. Please don’t cook me”
Yesterday, around 3 a.m. I was in my room, spread out like jam on bread walls, white like canvas and smooth like skin.
When you spend 2 years in the same room, you forget where your body ends. I know every inch of this room. I’ve cried in all corners, banged my head against the walls, and spent my nights under the bed. That’s why part of me exists as a heavy mist that fills every nook and cranny of this room. It came down heavy last night, moving like a river that flows from Armageddon. It starts from within the Mountain, comes down with great indifferent speed, and rapes the valley. And then it slithers onto the sea, its hubris hidden by the rubble flowing across the floor of my bedroom.
It was not a pleasant night.
It was into this bright abyss that the Song entered, a spear with a taper that turned my concrete box into a balloon drifting in the backyard on a summer afternoon. Inevitable release, uncomfortable absorption- the osmosis of the night. The explosion was silent, the suction pleasurable. My mist had escaped the room and seeped into a world beyond that was growing with every note. I felt my body becoming smaller every second. I was being consumed, to new life through death.
Then in the corner of my eye that was too heavy to keep open anymore, I saw a stack of my old comics. An epic sigh. Oh, what tragedy! There was a time when I enjoyed life, when I thought it was worth something. Where is the teat from which Lethe flows? Where is the comfort of chains?
My ailment, like music, has a way of taking away my past and my future. A couple of old comics had turned things around. The past had become accessible. The mist returned, the music stopped, and my body found its place in my room once again.
Inspiration was complete.
Loneliness, as I realized, was always in temporal isolation from all that I was and will be. May it remain so.
Sucked into the narrow middle at the last hour, the horizon where we will meet, surrounded by death, with one foot in the door to infinity. The sand will fall through into dead space and if we join hands and hold them out into the void, the dirt of our grave will graze our pale skin. There, you will hand me the pen and I will write on the door, frantically scribble the only things that matter, poems for those who come after, who dare to see death within the face. Creak, creak goes the hinge, grace our shoes with crusted paint that falls but never fell. There is no time at the door to infinity, in the middle of the glass that contains the hour.
Every pain is a new day. It washes itself in Lethe and comes to me in twilight wearing the clothes of yesterday. Like a baby, it falls into my arms, wraps its hand around my finger and squeezes it until white starts to show. And I…ah…I squirm like a boy because I can’t father it. And yet, peace is with me; in the way it drools, twitches and turns, in how its eyes never look at the same things I do because it has no notion of betrayal or death. It will never question my arms. It looks at me and for a vicarious moment, the world becomes my oyster. I sigh, reassured.
This piece is about how pain feels new every time. It’s so easy for me to find security in this self-destructive low that I’m going through by devaluing life and finding peace in not caring about my existence here.
This is so because it brings me down to a place where all the lights go out and I’m allowed to be truly myself, or rather forced to be so. My pain gives me the luxury of not caring about anything else. I don’t have to worry about what people are going to think of me if I am who I really am because life’s not that great anyway. And in facilitating this perspective, the dark thoughts become my greatest ally as an artist.
This piece is basically about how I’m like the father before I allow myself to feel the pain and how I turn into the baby after I do. And I always choose to feel. Because just like a baby inspires a father through an effortless expression of near-perfect isolation from all that is so wrong about this world, my painful self like a babe in “yesterday’s clothes” reminds me that if I allow myself to feel pain, I can get to a place where I only need to be seen and not complimented, where I can be myself without worrying about what other people are going to think. It enhances the need to express and brings out the artist in me. It gives me purpose and peace. That’s why I never hold back. I feel it all.
Pain/ my painful self will torture me, make me create things that are honest to my experience, and then it bathes in Lethe and forgets all about what it did to me. The creation of art is where that baptism takes place. That’s what puts the face of a babe on pain. I’ve always said that the art I make does not necessarily heal me, that it solely arises out of a necessity to express. Maybe it does heal. Maybe it’s just that I go through the cycle way too fast. This could be because of many reasons. Like how little rational thought is involved in these escapades down rabbit holes that lead straight into hell or the abundance of new associations and pathways that I create every day, new ways to get to the same bottomless pit. Same liver, new eagles.
If you’re not a musician or familiar with music production, you probably won’t know what I mean when I say ‘reverb’ or ‘delay’. But if I ask you if you’ve walked into a church or a giant cathedral and felt like the sounds were bigger, lusher or “spacey”, you probably know what I’m talking about.
Reverb and delay are effects that are used in music production to simulate and manipulate the reflection of sound (links at the end of this post if you want a short history). You don’t sound the same in all the rooms of your house. Even if you might not notice it, you do. Certain instruments and vocals sound right or fit into a mix well when they are recorded in certain rooms. This is why the studios that bands like the Beatles used to record their music are often talked about as having the potential for the creation of a certain kind of sound.
But as technology has developed over the years, people have tried to make it possible for you to infuse the songs that you make in your bedroom with the magic of spaces far far away.
I can put a certain reverb/delay effect on my song and make it sound like it’s being played in a cathedral on a Sunday morning. But that’s not the only mind-blowing thing here. You can listen to my song as if it was being performed in a certain space without actually being in that space. This was not possible a little more than a century ago.
I can sit in my small bedroom and listen to the latest Contemporary Christian Music release, which is usually full of lush reverbs and delays, and I can hear what I’d only hear in a much bigger space naturally.
What does that mean for the experience of music?
Well, there’s a reason why Cathedrals are the way they are. You walk into one hosting a choir or a morning service and you feel like you’re walking right into God’s chest. You feel small and insignificant but you also feel like you’re part of something larger than life. Concrete branches arch and meet above you as if you were walking in a forest encrusted in cement. Like the sun breaks into a thousand lines at the tip of leaves covered in morning dew and seems to displace itself to your arm’s length, light breaks in through the coloured glass and brings God right to you. And as you stand within reach of what seems like the great intersection of life and light, the sound of angels wash over you like a wave. The air feels wet and the ground grabs hold of your feet.
Part of me feels like reverb and delay belong where I can not only hear them but also see them. But sitting here at home, isolated from the rest of the world with walls that seem to close in, I feel like my favorite shoegaze albums are the only way to push back against them.
I think the difference, for me at least, is that when I can see the sound I am aware of where my skin ends but when I can’t see it, it feels like it comes from within. In the latter case, it is a force to be reckoned with; one that can push back the walls of my room.
On that note, here’s a song from one of my favorite bands that does some pretty cool stuff with reverb and delay:
Hi again. I drew something today and I thought it’d be interesting to spend some time and gather my thoughts on a couple of things.
I won’t waste your time or mine by telling you how shitty my perspective on life is right now. There’s not much you can say that is going to help me or anything I can say that will do this post any good. Let’s just say it’s pretty bad at the moment.
If you’re one of the few people who read my posts, you’ve probably come across me using words like “the void” or phrases like “lonely barren land” in a lot of posts to talk about the space in which I create or think about creation. These spaces radiate an uncertainty of sorts. Words like uncharted, preserved, dangerous, etc. come to mind. But the artwork above is an abstract representation of the contrary. It is a representation of the known, which is made so through the consumption and creation of art.
I’ve often talked about how art, for me, is a way to dig deep into myself and find parts that would not surface on their own. While I don’t quite like phrases like “you are the universe”, especially since they’re used by people for the most ridiculous of reasons, I do believe that it is possible through deep reflection to use all sensation as a way to develop a powerful sense of self and to address that which often eludes basic observation.
I started creating artwork like the one above because their creation was driven by impulse more than anything else. I’d go in with the least amount of preparation possible. Sometimes I don’t even know what I want to say. I give in to every impulse. Contrary to what should result from something like that, which is something that would make absolutely no sense, I found that I was able to find the reason why I chose a certain colour or made a brushstroke after the fact. It was a very exciting discovery. Not only was I able to do this for individual pieces of artwork but I also found that there were consistencies across different pieces. I felt like I was very much in tune with myself to have tapped into something like this. I thought I was the first person in the world to have done it but then I found out about Abstract Expressionism and lots of other cool traditions that have theorized artistic creation as a similar exercise.
After creating every piece, I find more and more about this other person inside me, one who will only reveal himself to me in these brief moments of creation. Bit by bit, I am piecing together a reflection of myself in the quiet hours of the night when I’m alone and there is no need for conversation. I cast my net into the void and retrieve pieces of the broken mirror. It is quite a stimulating experience.
While creation of art is fulfilling in a way, it has not had any particular effect on how happy I am. As the days go by, I find myself stitching together a beautiful blanket from all that I consider human, things that I have found within myself, perspectives on the human condition that I have used to create a map of meaning and life. All I want to do is wrap it around me when the storms pass me by. But I can’t.
Why isn’t this beautiful journey enough for me? Can only people comfort me, keep me warm, and lend an ear?
I have come to hate people. They are cruel and I have found none who truly understand me. I am utterly alone here. Why isn’t art enough for me? It’s all I have. Maybe I still have God. But I don’t have the words to make that bring forth any sense. Maybe I will one day but right now I don’t.
Meaningful art has made my life beautiful. It has been the strongest force in the dark, in the bitter moments of loneliness when people have failed me without fail. It has given me context when people confused me. You see, art can take two things that are virtually unrelated, put them together in a certain way, and help you find safe haven in what might otherwise seem like a corrupt blend. This is why art can uncover the most elusive parts of human nature. That’s what makes it meaningful. It turns artists into cartographers of the human soul. And for this very reason, it hurts that I am not comfortable in my isolation. I need people who understand me and this need, I think, is not fitting for what I want to do in life. My struggle to get to a place where I don’t need people anymore, where I can be at peace in isolation, is slowly killing me. It has become so to the extent where I quite dislike waking up.
I will stop now. Abruptly. But I think this is enough for now.
Today, around noon, I found myself spending a few moments alone with my imagination. Listening to Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, my mind filled with all kinds of colours and images. I was alone on a beach, my hand buried in the sand. A green beverage of some kind was pouring over me, covering me in translucent green. The green pouring over me almost felt like a hand, like I was caressing myself. It was passionate. For a moment, I tried to take control of the scene and bring a woman into the picture. It seemed fitting that a feminine presence be the reason for such passion. But when I did so, the picture almost burst into a million pieces. So I decided to let it go. I was to be alone in this.
While I’m not sure what this means, I thought it would be helpful to mention a few interesting thoughts that have occupied my mind for the past few days. I had a passing thought a few days ago of a chameleon in front of a mirror. It struck me that if the chameleon only identified itself by its colour and not its form, then the world would become its mirror. Imagine that- the conflation of perception of the outside world with that of self. For a moment, I wondered if that was what happened inside the void that I keep mentioning, that nothingness where I flail around and retrieve pieces of the broken mirror; the place where I create art out of necessity and learn more and more about myself. Was this exercise of existence a conflation of the kind mentioned above?
I believe I will be able to answer that better in time. For now, a record of thoughts will suffice.
About the artwork:
It is possible that the green in the painting and in my vision had to do with me reaching into the ground, into myself, and thus into nature itself. I had mentioned in a few other posts how I create art to “ground myself” and that no art except mine has the ability to make that happen. I have drawn from an earlier painting of mine that represents me burning in the void (from post ‘Why I Even Try’ which is linked below). This time, I chose to make the head red because recently I have found my thoughts taking a much darker turn, favoring the confusing and the self-destructive during introspection. However, my limbs continue to help me create art impulsively from the fascination I have for my pain and depression. So they remain yellow. The reason why the head is facing the sky and not the ground, which would have been more natural, can be found in my post ‘On Sublimity’ which I will link below.
Reading the following posts and looking at the artwork in them might be helpful if you are interested in dissecting this post further:
The other day, I found myself talking to another writer who follows me here. We were talking about how I bring together my artwork and writing. Our conversation touched on how skill and craftsmanship can affect the ability to communicate in such a way. I shared some thoughts in the conversation that I thought was worth revisiting for my own nourishment as much as that of all the lovely people who follow me here on WordPress.
I ended an earlier post with a few lines that I believe will help me add a lot more depth to what I am about to do because the post is about something relevant to the discussion.
The only way to ground myself is to dig in, into myself. This is why I try. This is why I make art. Because I am alone in the genius.
I wrote this about two months back (link to the post: https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/ ). At the time, I felt that this was a sentiment that was mine alone. However, yesterday night I was reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (which was recommended to me by one of my professors) and I found myself sharing in the above sentiment with another writer, a brilliant one. Rilke talks about how personal and lonely the journey of an artist is. He writes:
You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself.
In the final paragraphs of the earlier post of mine that I mentioned above, this is exactly what I was trying to say. Art, for me, is born out of necessity, and as such the function that it serves is essential and perhaps existential. I look inside for answers. It has not been long since I have found a space to create such art. At the moment, it is a barren land, the loneliest of places, where trees do not hide birds and water moves no rock. But I know that I belong here, whatever season awaits me.
Now that I have touched upon my understanding of the space in which artistic creation takes place, let us return to the main intention of this post which I mentioned in the beginning. In the conversation I had with this person on skill and craftsmanship, I shared my thoughts on why proficiency in a skill should not stand in the way of artistic creation.
One thing is obvious: a painting does not captivate the eye by virtue of its resemblance to what the world actually looks like. Some of the greatest painters of all time have earned their place by distorting reality. I believe it is the obvious consistency, decorum, and evidence of conscious decision that comes across that people think warrants admiration. What is interesting here is that a painting only has to come across as the result of these things, it doesn’t really have to be.
I have noticed that if I sit down and watch a toddler scribbling on a wall with a crayon for more than 15 minutes, I can find a certain consistency in the way they draw. This probably has nothing to do with calculated decisions informed by thousands of years of art history but probably more to do with their muscle memory and the way they hold a crayon. Whatever the reason be, consistency can be discovered by those who are willing/gifted to look for it in all kinds of places. To a certain degree, that’s why I think the artist finds art everywhere. It is also why when I enter that lonely space that I mentioned earlier, I plug my ears. No matter what people say, and a lot of it may even be worth listening to, the recognition of art is a mediocre by-product resulting from a system of measurement that is highly dependent on a person’s ability to see. The artist truly doesn’t matter in the exercise if you ask me. Of course, that’s just one way to look at things. I choose to look at it this way because the art that I create in the void is a reflection of parts of me that all the light in the world cannot bring forth.
I am not very proficient at putting words together or making colors speak. If there is some classical way of measuring how steady my brushstrokes are, I’m pretty sure I’ll be very below par when compared to a lot of people I know. However, it does not discourage me from making art because I do not make art by taking into consideration how others see the world but by being aware of how I see it. Because, for me, art is a way for me to paint myself. I believe that the true joy of artistic creation lies not in other people seeing you but in you seeing yourself, especially the parts of you that have always remained hidden.
To do this, I must let go. When I make art, I allow myself to be a toddler scribbling on a wall. And the more I do it, the more I am made aware of the consistencies, patterns, and rules that I follow without intending to. And as I stare at them, I am made aware of my muscle memory, which is a metaphor for so many things. I am made aware of how I hold my crayon and why I hold it so. I believe deeply that this is what Rilke was talking about. To dig into oneself is truly the only exercise that will make art necessary for the artist. And art that is not born out of necessity, I think, will destroy the artist.
Sometimes, by virtue of us being humans and living in the same world together, another person’s art can make sense to us. Over time, it is even possible that the brilliance of an artist who is able to beautifully traverse those fine lines between the important extremes will bring people together. If that happens, it is the most beautiful of by-products. But that is all it is- a by-product.
Dig deep into yourself, find ways to be deeply aware of why artistic creation is at its heart a journey into the void. Be excited about reaching out into nothing and retrieving something. Be okay with flailing around aimlessly in the dark. In such exercise is the birth of all the rules and consistency this world seems to be hooked on. No matter how bad or good you are at drawing or painting, you will find that these things exist regardless when you look inside yourself. But even more importantly, it is in such habit that you truly see yourself.
About the artwork:
I continue to draw on mountains and gyres, my fancy for which you’ve witnessed in the previous posts. What the colours mean can also be found in my previous posts. It is an illustration of where I am at the moment, discovering the depressing yellow underneath as I truly see how I wear my skin. I’m leaving a lot of skin behind on this journey. I am also running away from a lot of things, which I’ve made clear with the outstretched hands and the running towards something at the same time. I’ve represented the latter by bringing the legs together as a person would if they were to firmly place themselves somewhere.
The sun shines right through some people. If you’re at the right place at the right time, you’ll see how they carry the burden of the joy that fills your world. It’s a very private burden. To know it feels wrong.
But if you hold her hand in an imaginary land where to know is not a crime, you’ll feel the water slipping through her fingers; living water flowing from veins ripped open by the world. It falls on the grass and makes words grow like tress and bear music.
She is what people call a muse.
In this world that I’ve made up in my head, where lions escort us through the wilderness of harsh and bitter reality, I am constantly reminded of how undeserving I am of the beauty that she inspires. Is she a memory, a meeting of the earth and sky? Am I in love? Is this what it feels like?