Monday, December 01, 2008
I first travelled to South-East Asia two years ago, shortly after the opening of an exhibition of my first watercolours, Venus In Hell. I went without a plan, without any preconceptions. I wanted to wander off the map and just look. I'm sometimes asked what I found there, at the sordid margins of the sex trade, to inspire me. Certainly, it wasn't a proto-feminist activism about the exploitation of young woman, although I was always repelled by the the hundreds of pale-skinned, late-middle-aged men who haunted the noisey street bars and discos by night and the air-conditioned shopping malls by day, looking for young flesh with which to tamp down their palpitating consciousness of cholesterol-choked mortality. I began to recognise a kind of magic-realism in the myriad, random encounters I saw in the gaudy, neon-lit alleys of every city and resort town. I imagined the young women and men offering their bodies as supernatural beings, benign demons if you like, no different to the ghosts and demons so readily seen everywhere in Asia (except by foreigners). They lurked as incorporeal shadows, almost invisible until they reached out to touch the humid skin of a passing tourist. Then they took on the human form most likely to draw the tourist to them – nearly always lithe, slender, barely dressed in shorts and a tight tank-top, regardless of sex. As the tourist lingered with them, tricked by the illusion that their vitality might be restored, the young demons began to suck the shallow residue of life from their aged, damaged souls.The strangest thing is that I never saw anything sinister in it. It was sometimes sad and desperate for those tourists who were deeply entranced and seduced into thinking they were once again young and in love. But the demons were never unkind. They always gave themselves with laughter and little sexual restraint before retreating within an hour or a day or a week back to their shadow-world, out of sight of curious farangs, who couldn't begin to understand it.