Go on, Get Lost!

"Serene" watercolour by C.S.Lawrence

I'm laid back; it's an Aquarian thing. I'm often told that if I was more laid back, I'd be comatose. And that's just from the friendlies! But I do have my screaming banshee moments. Usually in the confines of my art studio, fortunately, because if anyone witnessed these episodes of fuming, crawling up walls, glaring at half finished paintings with arsonist  intent, they'd think it's a parody of a paranormal movie.

Now before anyone digs out their high-powered binoculars and finds a vantage point with a clear view of my studio windows, I must confess that much of my snarling frustration is tempered by something I unconsciously internalised during my adolescence: the very proper English rules of anger management (which basically involves only one rule: Dont EVER let the bastards know you're losing your rag!). After a lifetime of distancing myself from an island race whom I had always perceived to be born with a rod up their posterior, preferring instead to identify myself with the gusty Maltese, I'm beginning to grudgingly acknowledge that I'm more English than I've ever liked to admit. More on that later.

"Subterranean" acrylic by C.S.Lawrence

While generally I can calmly handle whatever unexpected turns life might throw at me (one glaring exception being singled out by nazis posing as cabin luggage security scanners) , when it comes to my art, these up-the-creek-without-a-paddle episodes are no fun. After a life spent studying and practicing art, you'd think I'd know exactly what I'm doing. But sometimes I don't. Its infuriatingly frustrating, and depressing as I swim around in a bottomless pit of mucky self-doubt. I could save myself this angst and stick to churning out tried and tested formulaic art, reproduce repeatedly what I know works, what I know I can do with my eyes shut. But where's the adventure in that? The trouble is, I am constantly pushing the envelope, constantly seeking different ways of expressing myself.  These ventures out of my comfort zone come at a price. My big sis calls it the Gemini syndrome.

I know exactly what I must do at times like this. Walk away. Reluctantly like being dragged screaming and kicking from the bedside of a dying loved one (Buster Keaton comic sketches spring to mind), I have to acknowledge I'm lost and directionless, and go with the flow. Its the same trick that works when trying to remember a familiar fact or-worst case scenario: the punchline of a favourite joke- and you simply cant. I tap my forehead (like that's going to dislodge the penny) but nothing gives. So I stop thinking about it. Shortly afterwards (of course when the conversation has moved on to another topic), the penny drops and  I'll blurt out something quite unrelated to the topic. Followed by some smart arse rapidly waving a hand at me and saying "okay now, how many fingers?".

I  recently came across an interesting article ("The 7 Ages of An Artist") and midway through it, a comment by artist Laure Prouvost hit me with such impact that my eyes watered. Speaking of talent scouts recruiting promising artists at post grad parties and propelling them to stardom, she says "Early success may be dangerous. Get picked up in your 20s and you may flounder because you haven't tried hard enough or got lost enough yet". The comment made several cartwheels around in my subconscious and then plopped like a buddha, gloating in front of me, whispering "Told you so." I know. I've done my fair share of getting lost in my lifelong quest to nail

"River" by C.S.Lawrence

down the Golden Carrot. How often I've stood in front of a half finished painting, fuming. I'll impulsively grab a pot of gesso and aggressively obliterate hours of endeavour then sit back, light a cigarette and gaze at the blank canvas. And wait. These acts of destruction are cathartic but when time passes and the wheels of inspiration remain deafeningly silent, a trickle of self-doubt snakes around my head. Give it up, you're past your sell-by date! You're better off taking up gardening! Fortunately my last working memory cell will kick in and remind me that I've been here before. And that like most situations in life when aspiring to achieve something, very often the only way forward is to get ONESELF out of the way.

When I'm wearing my teacher's hat and guiding others in their artistic aspirations I am always gently coaxing them to let go, stop being self-flagellating perfectionists and control freaks, stop trying to control the creative process because if you do, it usually backfires on you. When I'm in a lost mode, more often than not, at some point I'll hear myself and one of my favourite one-liners springs to mind: "Take my advice; I'm not using it." Given that I've gone through many lost episodes and emerged each time with art that has a stronger voice,  clearly, sometimes,I do take my own advice.

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