art, Books, sketchbook

‘If you’re lonely, this one’s for you’

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.

Andy Warhol

“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”

Andy Warhol
David Wojnarowicz

“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.

Looking at Strange Fruit by Zoe Leonard

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
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drawing, Food, Life, sketchbook

A study in skins

I was 8 when I copied my first Cezanne, in the drawing class we used to attend, held every Sunday in the parish hall at the local church. There was no looking back after that. I was mesmerized by the color palettes and the compositions, though I didn’t know all these terms then. I went on to copy the old masters for a decade, running through all of the teacher’s copies of Cezanne, Renoir and Van Gogh prints, and later from my uncle’s fabulous Great Masters’ collection at home. I’m not sure what I learnt, back then, but I became familiar with the artists, their colors and lines and brush strokes.

These onion studies are a far cry from those days. It’s been decades since I attempted any color studies but oh what joy!

Inspired by the this lovely poem by Harryette Mullen:

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Life, sketchbook

An hour is not a house

Last year I discovered the poetry of Jane Hirshfield. Award-winning poet, essayist and more, she set aside her writing to study Zen Buddhism for many years.

Reading poetry is a deeply personal experience. What resonates with me in her poetry is the minimalism, the spirituality shorn of all excess, and the “moments of insight” that every poem reveals.

Sketches while reading An hour is not a house

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Books, sketchbook

Books of 2020

Like everyone else, I probably broke my all time record for reading in 2020, so this is going to be the first of a series of book posts over the months.

Spring 2020 – Grapefruit by Yoko Ono, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, Michael Rosen’s Book of Play and Keep Going by Austin Kleon.

Grapefruit was an experience – I found that it was an “early example of conceptual art“. I go back to The Book of Play and Keep Going again and again, both are inspirational and great for sparking ideas.

I don’t remember much about Daily Rituals, though, except that it gathered the routines of a large and diverse set of people, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, or whether you get up at 5 am like Medium articles recommend! Here are some of the sketches I had made while reading it – about Patricia Highsmith and Frederico Fellini.

Some other book posts from 2020: Sputnik Sweetheart (So many vaccine puns :P), a bit from Ruined by Design in The Difference between Friday and a Fried Egg (mustread for designers today) and Letters from Tove in Fjords & Islands

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Books, Life, sketchbook

The difference between Friday and a fried egg

Monday arrived with Max makes a million. Which of course reminded me of Swami on Rye: Max in India which has one of my favorite love poems.

Tuesday was busy.

On Wednesday and Thursday lunch was even better with Ruined by Design.

Friday began with us reading Who ate my book.

Saturday ended with this insight from Yo-Yo Ma:

“But the mental process, the emotional process, the psychic investment, in trying to make something easy is infinitely hard…”

Yo-Yo Ma

So now you know the difference between Friday and a fried egg!

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People, sketchbook, travels

More people watching

Here’s another trip from last year. I’m one of those people who always reaches early for flights, and now you know why…

Traveling is such a great time to draw. So many people of different kinds and origins in one place.

Also random thoughts: How much does the mouth extend when you yawn? I can feel it but not really observe it.

On this particular day I may have been feeling quite charitable:

Drawing is a way to observe, Watch without judgement. I think you can see the empathy in the lines when you have drawn without prejudice…”

More people watching in airports: Travelers (Del-Mun 2013), Airport people (CPH 2010), More airport people (Del-Hel 2010), Flying (Del-SFO 2017), and the more recent People watching in Kolkata and Own your presence Bengali 2020.

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List

From Novembers past

And just like that we’re in November 2020. From the blog archives I find that Novembers have either been prolific with travel and conferences or dry and desolate as the Gobi desert. Here are 3 favorites ones over 2006-2019.

This is from 12 year ago, about missing the brown boy when I lived in Sweden: Why Skype isn’t enough

and this one is about a color: A ray of grey from 2011.

Parenting, and your sense of self from 2017 is a letter written to myself, trying to find myself after becoming a mother.

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