Of all my strange and unusual creative processes this is certainly in the top five – definitely the longest interval between gestation and completion – over 37 years (from the drawing to the finished painting). This is over 10 times longer than the mere 3-year break between the initial and culminating sessions of Before the Fall.
The original drawing of the Self Portrait was penciled in the Winter of 1974 at the tender age of 23, a little over a year after my first oil painting, The Womb – the piece that ignited my irregular odyssey into oil painting – my initiation into the mysteries of art. Produced in the Spring-Summer of 1972 at the age of 22 that work convinced my internal judge that this Person of mine had some rudiments of artistic talent that were worth cultivating – but needed additional training.
Interrupted by my final Fall quarter at college, but ripe for education, the Universe accidentally introduced me to an Art Master via the Laurie (my wife to be)/ Becky (her sister) connection in December 1972. Living in the Park Theatre, an artist enclave (the last years of cheap rent before the oil crises of late 1973), Becky introduced me to Brad Wright (a Jungian with MA Degree from Otis Art Institute – who had to forget everything he had learned to study with a European oil painting master, specializing in the abstract).
Some irregular beginning art lessons the Winter of 1973 - my last quarter of college (graduating Spring 1973) – then a resumption of the sporadic instruction – not weekly or monthly – just whenever we were both ready (perhaps 10 to 15 hour long sessions altogether). Copied a woodcut by Dürer – used a calligraphy pen to create a negative space drawing – amongst other lessons. Then in the Winter of 1974 Brad gave me the fateful assignment – to do a self-portrait in pencil on appropriate paper, which he had personally taped upon a drawing board – as a potential sketch for my next oil painting.
Although my Person had never done much drawing besides a few scribbles and these assignments, he became obsessed with this project – perhaps due to the explosive force of our hero’s Right Brain breaking free after being confined in the Left Brain box of school and more school for so much of his life. Or perhaps it was due to a combination of psychedelics and pot. (Impossible to test – no real control group.) My Person spent many sessions and even more hours drawing, erasing and redrawing the intricate, weaving, interlocking lines to get them flowing perfectly, economically and naturally, into each other. (Evidently still inspired by the cosmic vibrating lines of Ngady’s Bushongo initiation mask. Finally completed after an unknown length of time (as it was created in the prehistoric period of my life – pre-Record Keeping (for the sake of the Books let’s approximate 10 sessions and 20 hours – a lot of time for a mere drawing)) I presented my accomplishment to Brad.
“Good. But leave it at that. Got a little carried away. Better as a drawing– too delineated for a painting. Only a rough sketch is necessary for a painter. Must leave yourself some room to move.” Or perhaps the intricate drawing was beyond my skills as a painter. For we then did a few rough paintings – “Avocado Leaves” and “VW Bug” (not included in the opus of my work for obvious reasons) where I was introduced to the Renaissance palette (a series of 5 or 6 both warm and cool colors – ranging from dark to light – whose opposites are mixed to create some marvelous evocative grays). This was the summer of ’74.
I imagine it was then that he suggested I do a copy of an oil painting by a primitive Russian painter – as Brad was attempting to cultivate and evoke an untrained style in me – uncorrupted by traditional artistic conventions. After a substantial beginning – a nice drawing on an appropriate surface (primed Gypsum board), a mixed palette, finished a few sections, then suddenly halted, without a thought of continuing – maybe never.
Perhaps the hoopla of marriage in December 1974 upended my creative pulse. Perhaps the intensity of the creative process, the lack of control. Painting has always been like childbirth for me – an excruciating, uncertain process, where I am out of control. Eventually completed the painting, Raking Leaves, over a year later, in the Summer of ’76 – another breakthrough, which has always motivated my art, and given me the hope that I will eventually complete my old projects (certainly an inspiration for this project).
A few more paintings, then the Otto experience, combined with the lack of external recognition for my artistic accomplishments, blocked my art urge for many years. Although incredibly impressed and overwhelmed by my own art (never had a problem with self appreciation), the outer world yawned at my art – eliciting self doubt and uncertainty as to whether I was on the right path to do something exceptional – something great. Perhaps searching for some kind of recognition for my talents from those around me I proceeded to a diversity of pursuits – back to School in 1978, Science, Astrology, Music, Writing a novel in 1979, and Modern Dancing. Then in the early 80s two daughters are born. The absolute intensity of the 24/7 of early child raising, eventually replaced by more Paintings, then more writing – Science, Politics, History, and Fiction. Ironically in none of these pursuits did I receive the adoration and praise that I was seeking.
An alternate and equally plausible explanation for my variety of diverse pursuits: at this early time in my Life I was simply aligning myself with God – the Tao, by responding to the erratic demands of my personal God, my genius, ma Musa, (See my manuscript on the Daimonic.)
Anyway months turned into seasons, which extended into years, then decades, as this drawing remained on the same board it was created on. Untouched (maybe just a few dents) as we transferred our abode from West Figueroa to Chiquita Road – the board moved from place to place as our house was rearranged in the process of raising our children from birth to college graduates – and as we aged from youth to old age.
Then in the Summer of 2002 I decided to tackle the drawing, my self portrait, in oils. It had only been a few years since I had completed Before the Fall (my first 3 Women), when I had the comforting insight that it would be easier and better for my art if I let go of Reality. (Ha ha. See essay on same.) This understanding gave me the courage to undertake the long postponed project.
Translated the original drawing onto tracing paper – cut and primed some Gypsum board for the purpose – copied via carbon paper the drawing onto the board – figured out an appropriate color strategy (palette and color scheme) – then, surprise of surprises, changed the upper right corner – the Venus Aquarius in the original (symbolizing my androgynous nature) replaced with the Sun/Moon face (symbolizing the integration of the inner and outer.) Then came to another abrupt halt.
Perhaps not quite ready technically, emotionally and spiritually as evidenced by the sporadic nature of this abortive endeavor – 10 sessions spread over more than a month with only 8¾ hours invested – less than an hour per session – unheard of for any of my projects. Certainly not gripped by ma Musa. Possibly hadn’t reached the necessary maturity and self-confidence, necessary for the completion of this vital project – daughter still in the excruciatingly difficult throes of high school, which includes the family insecurity about potential colleges and affordability.
So not quite ready – but primed to go my Person continued his hiatus from the Brush. (I would hardly consider the prep work of tracing an earlier drawing art – although it was a significant step on the way.) It would be another 6 years for the 3rd step in the artistic process.
Girls firmly established in college – then came the Breakdown – part physical (excessive lifting crushed my body, sucking my vitality), part emotional (a runaway obsession with accomplishment and recognition – excess of yang), and part psychic (ma Musa, my constant and long term companion on Life’s Journey, demanding her time – as evidenced by the absolute explosion of creativity immediately following the initial Collapse – Wednesday January 16, 2008).
This manifested as the completion of the old – those nagging unfinished projects that are begging, even screaming, for manifestation. First writing Celestial Singing– which eventually initiated the wrapping up and electronic packaging (via website) of my Southeast Asia Papers. Then the faulty Lyme’s Disease diagnosis – followed by a one night abortive return to waiting tables Friday the 25th. Then 3 days later on Monday the 28th less than 2 weeks after the Snap – my first real artistic ‘soul burst’ since January of ’99 – some 9 years later.
Begin a computer edit of a scanned image of my youthful self portrait – with total immunity from mistakes – as the image is just encoded in yes and no electronic bits – and easily duplicated - unlike a unique one of a kind oil painting – where each dab of paint is seen forever. A typical Artistic explosion, though brief, 8 days straight, 13 overall – nearly 3 hours per session (could barely quit – despite my weakened state). Perfected many lines – experimented with color combinations on the intricate drawing - quickly frustrated with computer art and pixilization – the impossibility of evoking the spontaneous and random - the subtle shading and blending of hues – the magic brush of the Renaissance palette. So faced with these limitation and not quite stable and strong enough to attempt this bold painting – came to another abrupt halt.
Spring ’08 – the inevitable return to waiting tables at the Wine Casket – the source of my physical suffering (the lifting) and my psychic suffering (its dreaded 4PM opening time). Fall ’08 – the Global Economic Collapse. Winter ’09 – the Cask closes its doors. Spring ’09 – hired at Café Buenos Aires. Hooray! Hoorah! 6PM opening time. No money – but my creativity returns big time - with the compiling and completion of an autobiographical novel - The Breakdown. The Muse & the Daimonic followed immediately – unfinished, but with a substantial and inspired beginning. Whoa! Grateful for the rejuvenation. Prior to the Collapse thought I was dying - or at least my soul was seeping out. Might as well be dead.
Summer ’09 – hired at Ca Dario. Yippee! Permanent 6PM opening. Fall ’09 – a family trip to Bangkok, Ayuthaya and Phi Phi Island. An aesthetic awakening. However still not quite ready to tackle the intricacies of the Self Portrait - no Brush combined with oils in over a decade. Seemingly as a warm-up for the big task (at least in retrospect) paint Maternal Love. Then as my 60th birthday finally passed – finished the painting along with the curse of my late 50’s, prophesied in my 20s - complete with a triple physical affliction – melanoma, crown and root canals, and hernia operation the day before my birthday.
Finally everything was prepped and ready to go – emotional confidence from prevailing through so many adversities – technical confidence due to the Maternal Love oil practice – and spiritual confidence due to Master Ni’s last mediation class, which revealed that patience was necessary for perfection – no need to rush eternity. Then in May 2010 embarked on the final stage of this lifelong project.
In the process discovered why it taken me so long to embark on this ancient project. It required the realized self confidence of old age to project the projected self confidence of youth – the inner joy of realized achievement to project the inner joy of potential achievements of my 23 year old subject – the upright posture of confidence to communicate the vibrant posture of my young man. And it had taken 60 years on the planet to reach this point – not a year, or even a season before – would have been premature.
Anyways 4 months later – 3 days ago I finished painting the drawing, which I had begun so long ago –– at the beginning of adulthood – finally completed at the beginning of old age – over 37 years later. What an accomplishment! Kalu Kalai! Hooray Hoorah! Quite the odyssey. Home at last.