Sunday, February 22, 2009

No More Fingers In The Dyke, Part One

During my brief stint at art school, I fell in love for the first time.
M. was a young Indian-Iranian woman, with wild hair and a stylised tattoo of a grumpy face on her upper arm.
We developed a fast, intimate friendship, hyper-aware that we were openly expressing only the surface of our feelings for each other. Our relationship was complicated by my hesitance: I was scared by the idea of sex with another woman, even a woman with whom I was romantically involved. I wasn't even sure what such sex might entail. Nothing much happened between us.
Part of the problem was that I'd only just restored a relationship with my father. I'd been estranged from him for a number of years. Once, when I asked him what he'd think if I were gay – back then, I thought there was only gay or straight – he told me that he'd still love me but that he'd think I was stupid or, worse, that there was something wrong with me. It was as if he was talking about an aberration – I imagined a confused animal that didn't understand the natural, necessarily heterosexual requirements of mating.
The art I was making then – that I had always made – was messy, emotive, and unrestrained. I was experimenting with 'found' and natural materials and videoing myself (in one sequence, I stared unblinking at the camera lens for several minutes in some kind of emotional endurance test). Then somewhere in the middle of that year, my friendship with M. floundered. Impatient with my lack of boldness, she had relationships with men instead. I was heartbroken. I began to craft collages around fragments of women who looked sort of like me. Using ideas borrowed from advertising and 'pop' culture, the work gradually became slicker, more refined – and superficial.
At the end of that year, I created my first large enamel painting. Its glossy, seamless surface was intended to obscure any evidence of the personal, the emotional, the real. In other words, it hid any hint of who I really was.
M. and I parted. Like her, I began dating men. Most of them embodied the conventional ideals touted by women's magazines. They were young, good-looking, smart, and 'creative'. Most treated me well and tried to make me happy. But all I felt was empty.
I began to paint myself. These stylised self-portraits in enamel were supposed to look more perfect than I could be. Although originally I conceived them as a comment on how art and the artist are productised in a media-driven culture, they were actually acts of self-negation. I wanted to whitewash my real persona, to cover it with an impenetrable glossy surface. I guess I wanted to transform myself into something more 'acceptable' – devoid of deviancy, uncertainty, irrationality or imperfection. Over time, the paintings became a very weird sort of psycho-sexual cheesecake – sanitised 'pop' pin-up poses that sold out my sexuality along with most of my political beliefs. In many ways, they were conceptual works, not real paintings, bill-board-inspired pseudo-advertisements for a version of myself more palatable to everybody – including my father.
Ironically, the increased technical skills I acquired to create these hard, shiney, colourful surfaces paralleled the growth of new-found social skills. I became adept at presenting a perfect but entirely false public image of myself.
And yet the more I tried to smother my persona beneath a smooth but brittle surface, the more I found myself wrung out by a relentless internal conflict . Eventually, in 2004, I created an entire series of enamel on board paintings of pairs of bikini-clad women fighting each other. Titled Self Vs. Self, the lesbian under-currents (depicted in a way that would have made Russ Meyer proud) weren't hard to miss.
I painted this series while I was still living at my father's house in Melbourne. He supported me financially but the shifting, ill-defined conditions of his support – along with the constant pressure of trying to please him – started to break me. My psyche began to disintegrate. So did my ability to control myself. No longer willing to hide my real self – I was desperate to give it free rein – my relationship with him deteriorated into rancour and resentment.
I decided to run away. It was the only way I could break free – and, at last, grow up.


Anonymous said...

I want to run away. So badly.


RAWVOLTA said...

how similar.

I love your words.
so glad to meet you.