Where does your artistic voice comes from? It’s your story – and your story could have anything, from memories, obstacles, truths and morals. It’s important to know yourself and listen to yourself – even though it hurts. And also, hours and hours of craft and expression so the craft becomes part of your body and your expression can break through. the journey to finding your voice comes with a lot of risks and failures – but trusting that you will always find the way to your voice.
If there was ever a book for the pandemic, it was this one for me – Olivia Laing’s Lonely City – Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Though written in 2016 I could not believe it was not written about the early days of the pandemic, our first experiences of living through a lockdown, and a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure…
Simply put I just loved this book. I read it first on Kindle, then bought a paperback and read chapters multiple times. Olivia Laing is a genius and a master of art and language. She skillfully weaves her experiences of being lonely in Manhattan, through the stories of these artists in Manhattan who had used their loneliness to create, and derives the most definitive insights about loneliness and art.
As always I keep drawing as I read.
“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”Andy Warhol
“Art was a way to bear witness; to reveal things I’d always felt pressured to keep hidden.”David Wojnarowicz
One parallel to our present time was of course the loneliness that people felt as they stayed shut up in their houses. We often overlook the smallest social interactions we have in shops, with neighbours and so on. It’s even more pronounced if you live by yourself and then these small interactions are also missing. There is a universal human need for connection, for reaching out, for just being seen. I remember my first few weeks in Sweden when I didn’t know anyone. Swedes are wonderful, gentle people, but terribly shy, and they really respect each others’ personal space as well. For most, it means not even making eye contact. So you can imagine, even a smile from a shop assistant was a special day for me. For the first time in weeks, I felt seen.
The other parallel was the onset of the AIDS crisis in the States, and how the gay community were shunned and excluded. India’s Covid Relief has by default excluded multiple marginalized communities. (If you want to help, take a look at #DesignUpForACause)
Despite, or maybe because of all the pain, I found the book so uplifting and inspiring. I would read a few pages every night, these moving accounts of the pain and suffering that gave birth to so much art, and how they created what they did, and feel inspired and grateful.
There are so many things art can’t do…but it does have some…odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and…of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly…Olivia Laing, Lonely City
One evening in San Fransisco from a couple of years ago has been on my mind for the past few days. Deez was celebrating her birthday with some friends, and I joined in, glad to have caught up with her on this the trip. Here are my journal pages from that day.
“How many times in your life do you meet strangers and they have read your blog? Nothing like a surprise burst of celebrity-dom to bolster my ego!”
“In full entertainer mode I regaled everyone with stories of how the brown boy and I got together, and how did our little tornado come into our life.”
“We went for a long moonlight walk through the streets of Mission, took in the street art and curiosities peculiar to the culture. Arati told us stories of how the Mission came to be, and Deez her past selves that had moved through the area. We had awesome Mexican food and laughed so much.”
“There was happy birthday flan and we remembered all the stories of a dragonfly childhood. Remembered all the missing friends and how important they are.”
Here are some of the street art I saw:
At the ends of long days what a pleasure it is to sit and draw…
Sometimes it’s important to just to get out of the daily grind and recharge my soul by looking at some art. Way back in 2017, this was one of those days.
Just the ability to do this, which I’ve also done while living in Bombay and Malmö, is a pleasure and a blessing.
I read a lot, and these days I also draw about the books I read. In 2017 though, my reading didn’t feature as much in my drawings. Here are 20 from 2017 in no particular order and the drawings.
The Best, not in order
- A year of magical thinking (Joan Didion): sketchbook drawing posted earlier here
- You must change your life: Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin (Rachel Corbett): Loved. Saw a different perspective of the Letters to a young poet author.
- Lives of the artists lives of the architects (Hans Ulrich Obrist): I loved this book, and drew (and literally drew) a lot from this book again and again.
- Reclaiming conversation: Sherry Turkle
- M Train (Patti Smith): Sketchbook drawing posted earlier here
- Liminal thinking (Dave Grey): Must read, like his earlier book Gamestorming that I return to again and again.
- Felicity (Mary Oliver)
- A woman looking at men looking at women (Siri Hustvedt): I’ve been a fangirl of SH since I read The Enchantment of Lily Dahl and The Sorrows of an American, and I enjoyed this one more than Living, Thinking, Looking, not least because of the essay she wrote about sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who I was just getting interested in.
Feeling is crucial to understanding a work of art. “Einfuhlung” coined by Robert Vischer in 1873 is “a way of feeling oneself into a work of art,” which ultimately becomes “empathy” in English. The meaning of an object influences the feelings it evokes.
- Re-read Redesigning Leadership (John Maeda): As always I go back to reading John Maeda’s books at crucial times in my life. I was so happy to read this book while struggling with the leadership role. I think what I liked most was another way of approaching leadership – the artistic approach which I really resonated with. This was drawn on a flight layover.
- Make it new: A history of Silicon Valley Design (Barry Katz): One word: Awesome.
- In Other Words (Jhumpa Lahiri)
- Re-read The end of the affair (Graham Greene): Listen to this.
- You and a bike and a road (Eleanor Davies): Inspiring and beautiful. Became one of my all-time favorite books.
- Kiki de montparnasse (Jose-Luis Bocquet and Catel Muller): Fabulous and engrossing.
- Re-read The Emigrants (WG Sebald): sketchbook drawing posted earlier here
And the rest
- Everything I never told you (Celeste Ng)
- The history of love (Nicole Krauss)
- A union of doubts (TL Uglow)
- At the Existential cafe: Freedom, being and apricot cocktails (Sarah Bakewell)
- Living, thinking, looking (Siri Hustvedt)
I read a lot of books in 2017 and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was one of them. I’ve always steered very clear of psychedelic fiction, being the straight-laced person that I am, but when I received the exact same edition on two separate occasions from two very close friends, I had to finally read it.
No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.
All the references to the Rolling Stones’ music and The Doors’ music was quite an educational journey for me – [who] steered so clear of all this narcotic-induced visions. This could be one of those “Read a book you hate” challenges!
I remember reading it and feeling quite hot, the language was so evocative of the Las Vegas strip and hot US highways in summer, and didn’t hate it as much as I expected to.
Here are some images from Google:
Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thomson had met once and it hadn’t gone too well: “A year later, Steadman was asked if he’d like to illustrate another, much longer, piece of Thompson’s for Rolling Stone magazine – about a drug-crazed trip Thompson had just made to Las Vegas with his Samoan attorney….Despite never having been anywhere near Las Vegas, he set to, and four days later sent off his drawings. “I was quite pleased with them, I remember. I thought I’d managed to complement the style of Hunter’s writing.” When the drawings arrived, Thompson anxiously unrolled them. “Ye gods,” he recalled. “Every one of them was perfect.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a huge hit and the two of them became friends. Under Thompson’s influence, Steadman’s work changed. “My drawing got stronger, less flaccid. He exposed me to the screaming lifestyle of the US.” But it was a friendship that came at quite a cost – to Steadman anyway.”
Have you read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Would love to know what you liked about it.
A year or so ago, I used to have a morning ritual of waking up and reading some poetry with coffee. Once in a while I would read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and during that time, I also read White by Kenya Hara. (It’s such a meditative, beautiful book, and it was rather a spiritual and other worldly experience for me.)
One of those mornings, I read this poem by Denise Levertov. Though it’s about immersing our human consciousness in the natural world, to me the last few lines evoked how we continue to voluntarily lose ourselves in the virtual world.
“No one discovers
just where we’ve been, when we’re caught up again
–but we have changed, a little.”
From the sketchbook called Finding Soo • August 2016.
Back in 2015, I faced a serious identity crisis. Most women sail through these transitional times like swans, I however was more sinking than swimming. Eventually I found a sense of self but it took almost a year.
In those days, I felt cramped by my earlier visual language, and struggled to evolve my usual ink lines into something else.
Friends recommended all sorts of media, but I just couldn’t break out of line.
I explored drawing with brushes, ink and pastels but the cloud wouldn’t budge.
The only benefit after all that, was the brown boy was happy.
“I wish I could be in this Amrita Sher-Gil painting. Everyone is so calm and restful – a calm that I have lost, and would dearly love to get back.
Oh Amrita, your paintings are so much calmer than your own life. Is that a sign that life is always more chaotic than art?
Yours truly, agitated Soo.”