Tuesday, March 23, 2010
After The Crash, Part One
For the past several weeks, I'd been resigned to the ineluctable fate of someone who had crashed and (quite literally) burned. Everything was at an end. I was trapped beneath the wreckage and I had no idea how – or even if – I'd manage to get out.The clinic's psychiatrists advised a quiet life – a regular, highly structured, nine-to-five life, in which emotional stability would evolve through predictability, a life of work-free weekends and frequent social interaction. The way to happiness, they insisted, was to mimic a suburban everyday, albeit modified with psychoanalysis, hardcore pharmacology and the medically induced seizures of electro-convulsive therapy. There is no cure for bipolar affective disorder. There is only tentative relief achieved through treatments with serious side effects. Most people consider the side effects (including internal organ damage and the risk of memory loss) a small price to pay for peace of mind, a modicum of stability and contentment. The more I've thought about what I want, the more I realise I don't care that much about contentment. What I want to be is highly functional – to be consistently imaginative and productive, to be very successful. What I want requires long hours of self-disciplined, hard work, hours filled with uncertainty, obsessive commitment and an active and intact (if flawed) mind. It leaves little time for a life outside art. It discourages conventional relationships. But this is OK with me. For better or worse, I prefer it.What drove me to a break down last year weren't the rigours of making art (although, I concede, the toxic enamel I used was enormously detrimental to my physical health). Rather, it was always trying to do what others – family, friends, doctors, even collectors – kept telling me was 'right'. This herded me into a stultifying, bourgeois existence: I lived in the same area for five years. I set up a home and separate, large studios. I employed staff. I tried to keep regular hours. I even thought about having children. I ended up losing any sense of myself. Ever since I was a teenager, I'd made art as a way of processing my life. I ended up making art to make ends meet and to meet the shifting expectations of long lines of collectors, many of whom really had no interest in my work and were solely concerned with catching the market and getting a high return on their investment.I shouldn't have been surprised. My work has always dealt with commoditisation – of art, of women, of myself. In irony (and sugar-coated anger), I painted candy-coloured enamels of idealised women using myself as a model and argued for the role of artist as producer and of the art work as product. Of course, my collectors began to demand the after sales services associated with any well-positioned brand or product. I was expected to advise on, create and deliver my art – and sometimes repair or clean it before it was re-sold – without ever encumbering the 'customers' with the messy personality traits that are typical of most artists. As far as my collectors were concerned, being emotional, anarchic, fragile and unbalanced worked fine for my image but it wasn't good for business – even one as well-organised and seamlessly managed as mine was until about a year ago.I can't say I didn't see the crash coming. But the suddenness of the impact – and its devastation – were traumatic. In just a few days, I lost everything. I defaced and burned every work in my studio, including several already bought by collectors, then I destroyed my studio. I left a note on the door telling my assistants to find another job. Thankfully, instead, they called my best friend and my mother.I'm still clawing my way out of the wreckage. Even when I'm discharged from the clinic, there will be significant challenges to face: I've been made bankrupt, I have no home, I have no art to sell and no money to buy materials to make new art. And yet I can't help thinking that I've been given a second chance. This is not the end. This is the beginning.