I'm on the street outside my house and suddenly my heart lurches and I break out into a cold sweat. I've left the front door keys inside. And I'm butt naked. Ever happened to you? No? Me neither. Just in my dreams. My most senile moment-so far-is taking the rubbish to the end of my street and then realising I'm still in my pyjamas, with complimentary fluffy bunny slippers. But its okay, I'm an artist; the neighbours don't bat an eyelid.
These anxiety dreams don't happen too often. I'm generally laid back (some unkind friends would say more like comatose), but I do have
my anxiety list. Preparations for exhibitions is high up on the list because for all the buzz it generates, it basically boils down to engaging in a very public act of self-exposure. Up there on the walls are not just paintings; they're snapshots of my innermost thoughts and feelings.
But that's not top of my anxiety list. That's reserved for visits to art gallery proprietors to show my portfolio. I'm way better at it now, having had several decades experience tucked under my belt. And since moving to Malta I've had the benefit of my very own career manager (stroke human shield) who also happens to be my partner. But the first time I ever ventured forth on my own, it was nerve-wracking. However, I was soon to discover that with that first tentative and uncertain step into an art gallery in Manama, Bahrain, I had struck gold.
The gallery was stylish and professional, as was the diminutive woman sitting at anornate corner desk speaking on the phone. I stood waiting, sweaty palm clenching the handle of my portfolio containing some watercolours I had been working on. There was nothing like my work on the walls; it was modern contemporary stuff. That little inner critic with the big voice told me to leave. Now! Avoid the embarrassment. I had not painted anything really since leaving St.Martins School of Art in London back in the late 70s. It was the early 90s now. Too late. My inner critic was already speed-dialing a therapist as the gallery owner stood up, brushed down her power suit and extended a welcome hand. I sensed her thinly disguised quizzical look said she didnt quite know what to make of me. That wasnt an entirely uncommon experience for me. I had encountered the same confused expression on the faces of cashiers at supermarkets in Michigan. Invariably they'd coo at my BBC British accent but were totally thrown by my hijab and long gown. So often I'd be greeted, after a moments hesitation, by "well halloow seystah!" , followed rapidly by their enthusiastic plea for me to keeping talking because my accent was "SO Fayboolus!"That was in the 80s. The average American back then filed the word muslim under the same section as Marmite: Unheard of.
I started to open my portfolio, avoiding direct eye contact as I asked the gallery owner if she'd take a look at my work with a view to being my agent. And quietly stated that my name was Hidaya Lawrence. She stood back suddenly, exclaiming "YOU are Hidaya?" Uh yes,last time I checked. "I've been trying to locate you for ages!" And so began a wonderful relationship that would, under the tireless direction of this little Lebanese powerhouse, thrust my fledgling art career from zero to sixty virtually overnight. Randa Astley Cooper, wherever you are, I am eternally grateful!
Given the Islamic prohibition of figurative representation, I didnt return to drawing faces immediately. For 13 years I had found an inner peace and stability in the structured life I had built for myself within the muslim community and my paintings would reflect this. When I walked into Randa's gallery however, I was once again in a massively turbulent transition: this time a painful and messy divorce. I knew that the only way I could survive it was to reopen the hatches and resuscitate the artist in me. Art grounded me. Each time I set about constructing the spaces that formed part of my intricate watercolour series called "Rooms With A View", I was actually driving pegs into the ground to keep myself upright. Based upon either actual or imaginary places, I had one purpose in mind: to create idyllic sanctuaries and havens of serenity which I could retreat to. It so happened that many others shared my vision and the red dots went on the paintings faster than I could produce them.
My obsession with the paintings of the Orientalists informed my art for most of my career in the Arabian Gulf, but slowly and surely, the call of my first love began to rattle its bars. I'd supressed, ignored, resisted that voice for decades but inevitably I had to listen to it, and respond. I began drawing faces again. Ths was one of the first to emerge. The title I gave it says it all.
You can view some more of my Orientalist themed art HERE
"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue." Henri Matisse
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