It has been years now since I wrote an entry here and here I am, sitting in my pants in the middle of the afternoon, listening to ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ by The Avalanches, which may even be ironic, given my circumstances.
Yesterday evening, the first warm August soiree we have had since last summer, I was unable to relax on my own patio or even in my own lounge, as my beloved firstborn had invited a group of his nerdy friends round to drink, eat pizza and play cards against humanity.
I adore these kids, they’re so perfectly BUDS. Ready to bloom. None of them have blight, nor need fertiliser to eke out another bloom. They’re lively, and full of joy. However, they did not want me in the corner of the room feeling proud of them, and so, lacking a social life that would take me out (this is a happy thing), I opted to have a drink and paint.
Sometimes I paint because I am moved by a scene. I witnessed something special in a moment, caught it on my phone and then.. artistic licence and manipulation using the Willow lens brings you an image I want you to see. Not usually much like the original photograph, but that’s because anyone can take a photo. I want you to focus on the things that made me stop the car, or made my skin tingle, or made me fantasise. I want you to see the world the way I see it.
Nothing has brought me more joy recently (kids aside) than knowing that people are looking at my paintings, and they are taking something of their own, from what I drew from the original subject. It is so meta: I don’t even know what the term is for a transference of human visual testimony.
And other times I paint because I want to tell a story, or I want to reveal something. A gorgeous landscape might evoke serenity or adventure, but a self portrait reveals something about the lens itself.
This summer I made some discoveries about my own needs and have been content to fulfil them. These included sexual self discovery: not the primary level excavation of physical fantasy, because I know what I like and don’t, but more fundamental about the way I wish to live, and how that compares to how I have attempted to manage my needs previously.
This image began as an attempt to resurrect a sexy photograph I took of myself. I flirted with the camera, using the suggestive phallus of the bottle neck to tantalise. This is a photo for the male gaze. I know what heterosexual men want to see and it’s not me, it’s me approximating sexual invitation. I don’t have a problem with this, the engagement is enjoyable.
As I became more engaged in painting, I was thinking about my own sexual history of underage promiscuity, of exploitation by adult men who knew my family, of finding near constant external validation from men in my life, and worse, women too. I reflected on my experience of abuse, multiple rape, childbirth, relationships that depend on sexual acquiescence, such as my financial stability, or at times, my physical safety. I thought of lost loves, and of friends with whom I enjoy a deep intimacy due to having shared sexual relations.
I began to see my coquettish expression as a mask and the smoother, more attractive woman I was shaping with the brush was left behind. I dropped the canvas to the floor and leaned over it, ready to fuck her missionary style, and smeared the scarlet paint around her neck directly with my thumbs, the white of breast under my palm, my nails through her hair. I needed to leave the eyes, for I was looking in a mirror, yet I impulsively added the clown like cross, and to enhance that imagery, smeared the paint around the mouth.
I love the story of Dorian Grey: his eternal mask of public facade, the reality decaying in the attic. This is what I fear when people ask me if I make self portraits. A selfie on the phone is not a crime but I think most people know that when we smile alluringly at our pathogen ridden screens, we are doing it to maintain the facade. We are frightened that a photo of us taken by someone else will reveal the double chins, the broadening waistline, the grey hair. Well I am, anyway. This is why we find them vaguely odious; we know they’re lies for one another. Games that we play.
The portrait I can’t fake. When I paint, I can only paint what I interpret of what I see. And who do I see most clearly when I look at myself? It is a narcissistic circle of self appreciation, the truth knocking from one retina to another. Of course, I can leave things out… and I have. I don’t know that I am ready for the responses that might come, if I were genuinely explicit about myself.
I feel vulnerable, without a mask. My sexual history has been agonising at times, and for the most part, repressed. I don’t talk about how rape feels. I don’t talk about being forced to fuck. I don’t talk about feeling like a slab of meat whilst enduring sex on my knees whilst pregnant, or smiling bravely through sex with a french man in Paris, who had lied to me about where we were going, and acquiescence was safer than fighting him off. I don’t talk about the fact that I cry afterwards, nor that I have discovered I enjoy dominance: (don’t get excited, I am no Madame, and there’s no red room). I also don’t feel that I can talk frankly about the aspects that I do enjoy, or equally, my insecurities. I am not confident to be vulnerable anymore than I have been.
Sexual relationships are rich, basic aspects of humanity. We measure one another’s worth by their sexual preference and activity, their reproductive choices. We curtail basic animal need with promise of eternal salvation in the sanctity of a capitalist arrangement to ensure one woman can become pregnant by one man only (marriage, in case you are confused). I have no desire to be married, particularly on the name change possession issue, and actually, having done most of my adult life fairly independently, (or having been abused by the institution) I now find that the idea of sex with only one man for the remainder of my life (no matter how wonderful he is) is actually really bloody dismal. Sex has never been just about pleasure: It’s a communication of the most fundamental type. Which makes self portraits a sort of masturbation. I am going to wash my hands.