Thursday, October 02, 2008
Play It As It Lays
Joan Didion once wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." My story has always been a pretty simple one: I grew up poor and peripatetic and when I decided to become an artist, I offloaded some of the emotional baggage of my upbringing into works that were accessible but subversive.The subtext of that story line is usually glossed over. My mother moved away from my brother and I, and I grew up without a female role model. When I did have contact with her, I felt her unsubtle hand on my psyche, pushing me to become a version of her: an impoverished, serious, feminist academic who shunned make up and hair waxing and who put other people's – well, not her children's – needs before her own. As a young child, she cut my hair short and dressed me in 'sensible' clothes and shoes. As a teenager, when people approached me in the street about becoming a model, she'd blanche and tell them, "But what about her mind?" She always supported me being an artist but only a far as my work reflected her unspoken terms.For too long, I let those terms dictate my character. Almost too late, I realised, recently, that I am not at all the woman my mother wished me to be.I am smart and serious, yes, but I am also someone who embraces her wilder femininity and enjoys fashion and style. I wax my body hair and have regular facials. I seek out subtle perfumes. I pore over fashion sites and spend my hard-earned money on sexy clothes, shoes and accessories. I care about my body and get bothered when it isn't quite as firm as it should be. I am a sucker for celebrity gossip.I also embrace my own celebrity and the glossy, brightly coloured controversies that swirl around it from time to time. I make no bones about being an attention whore who has a knack for promoting herself and her work. Like a Hollywood starlet, I'll even get naked for the right part – maybe because I work with a director (me!) I trust. I'm not promiscuous – not at all – but my emotional and sexual inclinations are... intricate.Just look at the work. It's all there. I might tell myself stories in order to live but I don't tell myself stories in order to make art. I always tell the truth about myself, no matter how intimate, troubled, detestable, foolish or self-defeating it might be. In other words, what you see in the art is what you 'get' with me. Except in real life.This has been hard for me to accept. For too long, I tried to pull the narrative of my art into line with the character my mother tried to mould me into and it caused me nothing but confusion and hurt. It's about time I embraced who I really am. It'd be a lot easier on me.It's no great mystery why I've always judged myself myself harshly. Leaving aside my mother, it's something that appears to be programmed into most ambitious young females. It's not apparent in males. We talk slyly about Tracey Emin's sex life or her increased bosom but we say nothing about Julian Schnabel's penchant for sunglasses at night and stick-thin model-actresses or Francesco Clemente predilection for tailored Yamamoto suits and hand-made leather shoes. No-one trash talks male artists about the size of their dicks but even in comments to this blog I've had men make snide remarks about the size and shape of my tits or my unsettled neuroses. They're usually worst when I've been forthright or just plain honest.I don't give a fuck anymore. I'm going to stop telling myself stories in order to live and start living the stories I want others to tell about me. It's going to make my art even more imaginative and ambitious. As a well-known Hollywood producer once advised a friend of mine, "Play it bigger. Always be damn sure they notice what you do."