Writing About Art Is Like Talking About Music (which is apparently like dancing about architecture)

I have drawing on the brain

A few months ago, I enrolled in an art course called Acrylics for Beginners. I had really wanted to do an oil painting course because I have never used them before, but alas! the oils course wasn’t running that semester. I thought, “Fuck it; I’ll just start here.” I am no beginner of acrylics, having used them extensively throughout high school and sporadically beyond, and I have had my work exhibited – but it has been a while. For the last few years, I’ve been moving around a lot to different towns, different states and even different countries. If I wasn’t half-arsed about painting before I began my wanderings, my nomadic existence became the most convenient creative cop-out. Money-wise, it just wasn’t feasible to buy new materials wherever I hung up my hat, and it has always been highly impractical to bring it all with.

However, I was never willing to break up with art completely. So instead of painting, I started drawing. It is much easier to create art with whatever is at hand – scrap paper, pens and pencils – than to set up paints and canvas, brushes, water and drop sheets whenever one gets motivated, because there is no time for the inspiration to be diluted. Drawing is truly a portable art form. I have drawn at the beach, in the bush, in the mountains and in cities; antisocially at peoples’ houses and at cafes; in buses, cars and trains, on trams, ferries and planes; on my way to and fro gigs; in work breaks; when I had nothing better to do and especially when I had ‘more important’ things to do. It’s even been a cheeky little icebreaker at times.

In the beginning, I never thought of myself as a good drawer (whatever that means). In fact, I had the idea that I could be a decent painter, but because I never had the time/space/money to get stuck into it I would never fulfil my potential. This is because it is practise, and not proclivity, that makes perfect. In hindsight, I would say that I’ve always had wonderful – wondrous! – ideas, but travelling was the perfect excuse to not even try to execute them. Drawing, however, became my foil. The ideas that I have can be quickly and basically outlined by pen or by pencil, and it is far less heartbreaking to screw up on scrap paper than it is to fuck up a pristine canvas. Yes, canvases can be painted over, but not without a prequel of guilty hesitation. Paper can be ripped up and recycle-binned without remorse.

And, may I say? That while I was apparently wasting my ideas on pissy little doodles, I accidently got pretty good at it. And by good, I don’t mean that I can draw objects realistically from memory or even by looking at the object and copying every detail. I can’t. Anyway, that’s what photography is for (which is what I started telling myself as a balm for my frustrated ego with such failed lofty goals). By good, I mean that I became proficient in manifesting on paper the pictures that swim around blindly in the deep dark grottos of my mind. Quite by accident, I discovered how much I love lines and shapes, negative space and suggestion, patterns and repetition, anomalies and deviations. Each drawing is an artistic fugue, with every line adding a more interesting layer and building the picture up, variation by miniscule adaptation. Straight up drawing, without worrying about materials and the ritual of setting up and planning and packing up and cleaning, for me, is true psychedelic art. Etymologically, the word psychedelic means “mind-manifesting” and so it goes with me – the pictures in my psyche are quickly projected onto paper. Whilst my drawings are a long way from photorealism, they do turn out exactly the way I want them to. There’s a giddy kind of freedom in that for perfectionist cunts like me.

I still surprise myself. I will start off with an idea; something that I’ve previously glimpsed and then gestated in my verdant imagination, that suddenly expresses itself in a dream or a vision or some other altered state. I’ll feverishly put down the lines and the shapes that suggest the image that I hold in my head, and I just keep at it until I’m smug and satisfied. Sometimes it turns out approximately the way I’ve visualised it, but more often than not it grows into a better version that I never could have imagined. I’m always amazed with the product:

I did that? Fuck off!” The astonishment is not with the level of shit that swarms my headspace; more so the fact that the execution always fits. It’s a fucking grand old feeling.

And while I’ve grown to love my drawings, I’ve felt for some time that some important thing has been missing. I’ve secretly been yearning for something to bring this up to some next-level shit. I live and breathe beautiful colours and textures; anybody who has seen even a tenth of my dressups can attest to this. Coloured pencils just don’t cut it. They’re too soft or too streaky or too unpredictable in their texture. And while texta is pretty decent compared with pencils, there’s no subtle blending allowed. It’s all solid blocks or nothing, which is comparable to art fascism. That’s fine sometimes, but the shit that comes out of my imagination is too intensely layered to be represented in colours that are just this or only that. In-betweens and fade-outs and subtleties and fierce vibrant rainbows are more fitting embellishments for my style.  My forays into colour thus far have been tentative and cowardly at best. Some things I am happy enough with, but most I feel could have been achieved more beautifully in a richer, more pliable medium…such as oils! And here, in my roundabout way, I have come full circle.

I moved to this city six months ago with the intention of staying at least a year – an intention I have not had for a few years now. I moved out of my ghetto beach shack in early 2010, and I’ve moved residences a lot since then. I slothed on Mum’s couch for a bit, then I moved out bush, then back to the beach and on friends’ couches for a few weeks, then I lived in hostels in London, a huge share house in Brixton, back to the coast and on Mum’s couch again, then briefly at my Auntie’s house in the west, and here I am in [insert city name here] – a set of keys, suitcases unpacked, a real-enough bed, and a door that closes on my own room. The gypsy lifestyle was awesome while it lasted (and I must confess I still yearn for the open sky, where my roots are firmly planted) but it is nice to have a place that I know I’ll be at for longer than a few months. Here we go! Did I just accidently take you on another revolution? I hope you’re not too dizzy by now, and you have my utmost gratitude for staying with me on this literary merry-go-round.

I decided to start painting again – seriously this time. But a few weeks and then months went by and I hadn’t yet made room in my busy life to splash around in paints. One day I walked past my local art supplier and picked up a brochure for art classes, and the Oils for Beginners course caught my glittering eye. After enquiring within as the text requested, I learnt that the oils class would not be running that semester. So, I had two choices: I could wait nine weeks or start a different course straightaway. And so, I chose the acrylics course, knowing full well that I otherwise wouldn’t put brush to palette in that two-month interim. The class was on one evening per week for two and a half hours per session. At the time I started writing this, I had just finished my final class and although it wasn’t anything revelatory, I was actually painting again on a regular basis! The exercises were basic tasks: playing with tones, shades, lines and composition; mixing colours and using different mediums; and interpreting masterpieces, still life, landscapes and painting from photographs. It was a decent socialising date too. There were some lovely characters in my class and at the end of my solitary research days it’s nice to have a yarn and interact with flesh and blood for a while. Most importantly though, it was a time and space in which I had done what I had wanted to do for such a long time. I work well within the boundaries of vague routines; ‘a time for everything, and everything in its time’. And, regardless of the exercises that I would not have attempted if left to my own devices, it was fucking nice to just put some colour down again – to defile holy white canvii with maniacal brush strokes.

Now I have the background trout out of the way, I am going to get to the point of this. This is a story about wishful thinking and blessed synchronicity and good things coming to those who wait work and happily ever afters.

A few Sundays after my last art class, I was down at my local markets buying my weekly food the way it should be bought – direct from the farmer, fresh, organic, in the open air and with the lonesome sounds of a proficient blues slide guitarist soulfully licking my eardrums.

(Fuck supermarkets. Fuck fluorescent lighting; fuck crowds of unhealthy and stressed-out drones; fuck 90% of the ‘food’ being wrapped in plastic for ‘freshness’; fuck the other 10% of unwrapped food coming from interstate or overseas, grown from clones, watered with chemicals and sprayed with pesticides to preserve its already subpar colour, texture, flavour and nutritional value. Fuck government subsidies for farmers who pollute the earth, fuck the cheapness of this ill-gotten produce that shuts down small businesses and drives the price of real food up, and fuck the middle-men who profit at the expense of the farmers without doing any real work. Fuck the Coles-Woolworths duopoly. But I digress.)

I actually look forward to my food shopping; the whole experience soothes my soul and the feeling is refreshed momentarily throughout the week whenever I bite into a crunchy and juicy apple, and when I create gourmet feasts from my happily purchased and lovingly grown organic produce.

It was within this mellow high that I accidently wandered into the art gallery at the markets and was warmed to my very cockles to see an entire room adorned with the beauteous art of some Eastern Arrente women. What a fantastic surprise! May I advise the uninitiated that this art is magick, pure and sweet. Not only do the designs look gorgeous, they also tell the most important stories that only symbols can describe – those of eternal and creation and dissolution, breaking and healing, living and dying, ad infinitum, played out simultaneously in the past, the present and the future; known to many as Dreaming stories. It is almost impossible to describe, but the canvas shimmies and shimmers right before your eyes. Two-dimensional planes come alive and create depth in your perception, thus forming the holy trinity of our known three dimensions. I highly recommend appreciating such art for yourself in person. Try not to be enchanted in the physical presence of such art, I dare you. Small-scale images on the internet flatten and render the music silent, so the Divine Matrix just won’t cut it this time I’m afraid.

I circled the room, drinking in the magic of these works. Each and every one mesmerised me, and it’s a memory that I will carry in my eyes forever. It was in this heightened state of stokedness that I mused to myself, “I would love for my art to decorate public spaces, and for people to stop and to get lost therein.” That desire sparkled within me for a while and then danced away into the ether, and I made my way home soon after.

Later that afternoon, I went to my favourite café in the universe for a late lunch. I noticed that they had painted the previously garish acid-pink walls a crisp and soothing white, and this pleased me. I felt less harried there, and I enjoyed my ramen at leisure. Whilst digesting, I took out my sketchbook and I got working on a design that I’d been fucking around with. Soon the bubbly manager approached me. We had a little yarn, then she asked to look at my work and I obliged. She asked if I was “an artist”. I said, “yes, in a way”, because I still find it supremely difficult to define what I am and describe it to others in minimal words (have you noticed?). She told me that they had painted the café white because they wanted a mural to decorate that space. They wanted a big cherry blossom tree painted upon those virginal walls. Then, she asked if I would be interested in making this happen. Oh!

I skipped home and sketched. Trees are my forte, and tree is the metaphorical meaning of two of my mother- and grandmother-given names. They are an absolute pleasure for me to draw. My Dharug ancestors grew and lived and died under the ancient darani (ghost gums) on the banks of the Deerubban (Hawkesbury River). My Lebanese ancestors grew and lived and died beneath the strong and fragrant cedars of Lebanon. They were tree people, all of them, and therefore I am too. I dream of them more often than not. They are spiritual guardians for me; the shapes and the colours and the textures and the scents make me feel balanced and whole. One day I will live in a tree house, and when I ride the lightning on my final trip out of this dimension, my body will be sung back into a tree where it belongs. But in the meantime, I drew some sketches and wrote a geeky little introduction letter to go with, and dropped it into the owner that week. He told me he was impressed and we discussed timeframes and materials and rates of pay and other unimportant niceties. And so, I was casually commissioned to create my interpretation of a thick and gnarled tree in cool dark browns that burst forth sprays of pale pink cherry blossoms from their fingertips in airy clouds like fairy floss. I started my sample paintings a few weeks ago. The first brush stroke was drawgasmic, and every day the tree grows in these preliminaries, branch by branch, as my psychedelic design comes more alive. There has not yet been any further talk about the whens and wherefores of the painting, but even if this mural doesn’t blossom on the wall of that café, the seeds of self-belief have germinated and taken root in my mind.

Make of this what you will, dear reader. Think of it as the law hypothesis conjecture of attraction if that is your proclivity. I personally cannot do the karma/fate/‘meant to be’ angle because in my understanding of my life there are no straight lines to just desserts; just baby steps in a marathon, monumental journey. All such fantastic coincidences have more layers of meaning than such a limited explanation will allow. But this is not a rant on spiritual lore (or is it?). If anything, it is just my writerly worship of things that are impossible to delineate in words, and an offering to you of one shining facet of my otherwise confined existence at the moment. And all that really matters is that I am fairly fucking pumped on life right now – the way it should be.

PS: to each and every one of my amazingly creative but devastatingly lazy friends, acquaintances and other passing readers – your apathy pisses me off. Have a go! Scare yourself. Pick up pen or paintbrush or musical instrument or whatever form your magic wand takes and create something new today. It will soothe you and make you feel human again. And if you die tomorrow, you can be at peace knowing that you have left something beautiful and tangible behind for us. Go forth and play. Solve et Coagula cunts!

 

Defender Of The Faith – 02.09.12

Power Serj

I had a yarn with Serj Tankian a few years ago, for Australian Hysteria Magazine. I’m still pumped on it. It went a little something like this:

Photo credit unknown

 

Hello…hello?

Hi ‘Dot’!

 

Hi! How are you Serj?

Good! How are you today?

 

I’m alright mate. What are you up to?

Oh, just been working all day, out at the house in Los Angeles…besides interviews doing some, y’know, phone calls and all that good stuff…not a bad day.

 

Cool…sounds good.

I didn’t have to drive into the city…

 

Yeah…that’s always a bonus…

What about you? How’s your day going?

 

Oh not bad…I’m just trying to do this, and I’m on holidays so I’m enjoying that…

Cool! Enjoy…

 

Oh I will! So, I have a question. You have evolved such an eclectic and somewhat mellower style these days. Do you still have that manic metal maniac inside of you?

The manic metal maniac? (laughs) You know, at times I do, but to be honest with you I’ve never fully identified myself with one type or genre of music or anything that goes along with it, you know? When we first started people used to call System Of A Down a “metal band” and then later they’d call us a “nu-metal band” and then they started calling us a “rock band” and then an “Armenian-American political schizophrenic band”. You name it, we’ve been called everything and after a while you know, it’s like, either you continue making the same type of music and sticking to that category which is totally cool, or you can kind of just evolve as an artist and do what you’re supposed to do and let everyone else figure out what that moniker should be.

 

I’ve been listening to you throughout the years in all your various projects and the thing that strikes me the most is the way I still feel. On one hand, whether it’s with System Of A Down or your solo stuff, your music feels so soothing almost, but also instils in me a deep sense of anxiety. You mentioned the word schizophrenic before and I think that’s what your music is in the truest sense of the word; I usually feel like headbanging and pirouetting simultaneously.

(Laughs) Pirouetting, I like that, that’s awesome. That’s a good combination there. That’s what we’re talking about, the diversity of emotions, and the diversity of actions, and you know, the diversity of the music that complements it. Why not break the door down with an orchestra instead of an electric guitar and then end it with a clean acoustic guitar or something like that? There are no rules here. They’re not for us.

 

There are so many layers to your music, every time I listen I find something new and it’s nice to get lost in that kind of music for a change. Instead of spoon-feeding us, you take our minds for a walk – for some exercise, if you will.

Yeah, I’m with that too. Some of my favourite records are ones where I put it on and there’s something really compelling about it but I can’t put my finger on it and my mind doesn’t define it immediately. It’s not easily digestible, so I have to go back and listen and listen and listen and every time I listen I find something new in it. It’s like it takes me on a journey, it makes me feel different than any other record. I think those are the records we keep on going back to, and [Imperfect Harmonies] is such a record and I have to say that it definitely takes you on a ride.

 

You seem really contemptuous of the power that religious institutions wield, not so much of the spirituality itself, and you refer to Darwin and scientific themes – would you call yourself an atheist or do you “believe”, or are you not sure, or isn’t that important?

I wouldn’t consider myself an atheist because I believe that everything is connected, whatever you want to give that name. I like calling it the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things. But I mean you can give it any name you want. But at the same time I don’t believe in the typecast god of the Judeo-Christian faith. I don’t know where that lands in that spectrum.

 

Maybe it’s too important to be classified in that way.

Yeah.

 

It’s hard to tell whether you’re deriding or revering the idea of god. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel, or how you’ve changed in this sense?

The idea of god?

 

With the idea of god, in your lyrics, it’s so hard to tell whether you’re mocking that idea or if you have reverence for it…

Probably both. I personally don’t like the word ‘god’ just because it’s so abused. People have done so many horrible and nasty things in the name of god from all religions. So I have a hard time identifying with the word god. I like the Native American term much better – the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things, coupled with the Creator – it’s two different things. It’s a more balanced energy. It’s a different way of looking at things and if you look at what that means it says so much more than ‘G.O.D’, you know? So I think that there are a lot of things lost within modern religion because all organised modern religions were created within the city of civilisation, and therefore they all only know one type of existence. They were all created in the last ten thousand years, not over millions of years. Whereas indigenous religions were before that, and I think our indigenous past and our spirituality from our indigenous past contain the intuitive secrets of our existence that we have forgotten, and now we’re trying to relearn them through science, through logical means, through quantum theory, etcetera, which is fine, if we can only combine those two energies – the intuitive wisdom of the past and the kind of logical/technological strength of the present – we could really not just survive on this planet, but definitely make our home a better place.

 

That sounds exactly the way your music is, and it’s in those themes of nature and also that really high-tech futuristic stuff and the marriage of them. When you talk about ancient religions, not so much religion but spirituality, I suppose [I can identify with] that Native American spirituality. I’m from Australia and I’m an Aboriginal woman and there are so many similarities in these cultures, in the way we hold the Earth for example.

Absolutely. You know, for years I did informal studies on indigenous cultures including Aboriginal people, the Maoris, the Native Americans, and other different kinds of tribes and what I came up with is that because they were all nature-based cultures, they all contain a lot of the same truths without necessarily being in physical contact with each other.

 

Not a dogmatic truth, but a more interchangeable truth.

A universal truth.

 

For a lot of indigenous people around the world, those exact ways that our Elders knew are lost because a lot of our Elders didn’t get to pass that knowledge on. With music such as yours, it’s ecstatic; it doesn’t have rules, and it’s almost like we’re finding our way back.

That’s interesting…yeah…I think it’s important. This record for example has both classic elements that make it feel like it’s an olde worlde record and it also has very modern elements with the electronics and the kind of new touches and tastes. I think that it plays on that balance, you know? It’s quite interesting.

 

Yeah…it’s full of contradictions and counterpoints; from the title, to the suit you wear on the cover, to all the different musical styles going through the album. It’s an amazing balance that you’ve created, almost on the edge of a knife.

Thankyou. It points itself that way. (laughs) You know, you reminded me of something. Years ago, the indigenous Hawaiians, before a child was born, the women used to go into the forest and they used to sing a song for the child. They used to try and figure out what song that child had. Every child was connected to a song. That’s really beautiful, I think there’s something really beautiful about that; I mean, names are okay but I think to have a song representing you and that being your song from the day that you are born until the day that you die is quite special. If they ever wanted to punish someone for doing something harmful, if someone for instance stole something, they wouldn’t punish them physically, they would literally put that person in the centre of the village and go around him and they would all sing that person’s song and remind that person of who he is. Very powerful.

 

Almost like a sonic totem…

Yeah! Uhuh…yeah.

 

It sounds very interesting…I mean I don’t know much about the Pacific Island cultures but it sounds like something I’d like to look into more…I heard you became a vegetarian a few years ago, why not vegan?

I became vege in ‘98 when we first started touring with System because the food was so crappy on tour. Plus I think my body was starting to change, I was hitting my late 20’s/early 30’s at the time and so it was not just a conscious decision of mind but also my body. My body felt better with a lighter fare. Right now I’m actually a Pescetarian. I do eat fish, but I don’t eat any other meat, just veggies and fish. Why didn’t I do vegan? To a certain point I was vegan, there were points where I cut out dairy for a while and then it came back. Dairy never bothered me so much, I’ve never been lactose intolerant or anything. It’s a personal choice.

 

What kind of activism have you been involved with for the fight of animal rights? Or has it been more of a solo stance?

I’ve been involved with a few campaigns with PETA and some other organisations. You know I’ve been involved in so many different causes from Labour rights to genocide recognition – so many different things. Mostly to have anything to do with animal rights I’m more of an advocate than an activist. I haven’t gotten as involved as some people who have put their money where their mouth is for that cause.

 

I was reading a little bit about this museum project on your website and it sounds like a psychedelic feast for the senses! It sounds rad.

(Laughs) It’s still in fruition. We’re still kind of writing everything out and coming up with interesting exhibitions, single exhibition concepts around a whole museum theory. It’s gonna be quite interesting, it’s gonna be very dramatic and theatrical, and it’s also going to be very interactive. It’s going to interact with a lot of your physical senses and the goal is to reach the beyond. In fact, we’re thinking of calling it ‘The Beyond’. It’s something we’re going to start with one city, probably Los Angeles since it’s easier for us to do stuff here, and then go on from there and hopefully it does well and we can tour it to different cities. You know, it’s a way of having an exhibit that’s got complete musical scoring sound, and interact with your vision, your touch, your sense, your smell, even your taste. We want to give out a piece of something in front of each of the exhibits so you walk in with a taste in your mouth.

 

(Record label chick: “Okay last question, you’re time’s nearly up”)

 

Your label, Serjical Strike Records, supports new artists who probably wouldn’t be given a chance by other labels. Who are some new bands that we should be listening to?

There’s a band called Viza, and you can find them on myspace.com/visa, they haven’t changed their name, they used to be called Visa, like the credit card. They’re really interesting. I took them on tour in Europe and I helped them finish their record and they’re quite a unique kind of punk rock mixed with Mediterranean and Eastern European influences. They’re also very funny and kind of have this old school communist sound and it’s just a very unique entity, so I think they’re really cool. Fair to Midland is making their second record. We’re finishing up a distribution deal for their second record right now. That’s really it happening. We’re focusing a lot of our efforts on my projects, as there are so many of them right now.

 

You’re a busy dude!

Yeah, definitely.

 

Well thankyou a thousandfold.

My pleasure! Thankyou. That was a great interview. I loved your questions.

 

That was actually my first interview ever.

No shit!

 

No shit.

Wow. Cool, well youre in the right place. You didn’t ask the typical stuff, and you allowed us to kinda get out of the kinda regular music questions and kind of really think about things and you know, learn from each other in our conversation, so I appreciate that.

 

Thankyou. I appreciate it too. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thanks! You too.

 

Thanks man, bye.

Bye-bye.