Friday, April 11, 2003

My self-portrait went over well in class last Monday.

Since I missed one class, the night that the portraits were assigned, mine was a week late and not shown within the critique. This was fine with the teacher, who told me not to start until I saw the other students' self portraits. I was shocked at how good everyone's were. Not because I doubted their talent, but because self portraits are hard to do for beginning painters, and their portraits really looked like them. I enjoyed hearing how everyone accomplished what they did and the struggles that they went through to complete it.

One student, an Asian guy named Erwin who attends Johns Hopkins University, had us all in stitches with his self-portrait. He'd neglected to paint anything below the neck, as had one other student, so the two next to each other looked like two floating heads. Erwin's however, had a silly grin on it that captured his funny personality and we all just lost it. Luckily, that was his intent. Erwin has an infectious laugh that makes me smile every time that I hear it, something that I noticed on the first day of class. His painting managed to do the same. I hadn't remembered laughing that hard and that honestly in a very long time. I'm still smiling about it as I write this.

Every time, I'm astounded at the difference between the people in my art class and the human wasteland that I encounter at the store. I know however, that many of these bright people, just like me, are simply passing through Baltimore. It's too bad, but it is a fact.

As I neglected to work on my portrait during the week, I realized it was because I was uncomfortable with the assignment. There are times when you don't want to look at yourself in the mirror, much less draw yourself and therefore immortalize it. Currently, I'm growing my hair out from a previously very short cut, and it's in that "in between" stage, very much like myself.

My hair reflects that "in between" stage that I'm in. Some days looking good, other days stubborn and restless, refusing to mind the blow dryer and hair products. Every morning I wake up and it's sticking four inches straight up on my head, as if I've stuck my finger in an electrical socket. What it decides to do from there is anyone's guess, which is why I usually end up sticking my head under the shower. At any rate, it's one huge pain in the ass, and I'm waiting for it to take shape and drape more freely. To paint that, is to capture the clusterfuck of a work in progress. And it's that in between stage, that my hair reflects so well, that has become an image I want to avoid. But perhaps, that is exactly what a self-portrait should be. It is so intensely personal. And as not just an artist, but as a person, I have to be willing to explore who I am at that exact moment, and what it feels like to stare back at myself.

And it was that portrait of that person, which was well received in class. It is a reminder that while you are in a struggle that may feel hopeless and uncomfortable, to not focus on the struggle. You must work through that like a jungle explorer cutting through thick brush with a machete. Every swipe is hard, but gets you one step farther. Your goal is that next step, and the one after that. Eventually you get through to an oasis, where the brush ceases and the mist of a giant waterfall tingles against your face. The air is less thick, so you fill your lungs with a deep unencumbered breath.

Only then, should you look back and realize the struggle it took for you to get there.


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