The Pain Behind Painting

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Author: @taryn.kaur

One thing I hate about picking up the paintbrush, is the quiet pitter-patter of self-doubt it carries. No matter how long I have spent on a sketch nor the hours of procrastination I have racked up while an idea slowly emerges in my spirit, that same voice just seems to be attached to the materials of my tool. Pages of worn, now smudged, drawings of beautiful women with perfect breasts stare blankly from the sheet, begging to be filled. Their lust for colour induces a weird sense of guilt within me. How have I left them empty for so long? A true artist would know that they cannot be complete without that last intimate touch.

I was first introduced to painting in the year 2005, during a fit of tears I struggle to remember. A blue stick topped in tired bristles was waved around in front of my face by my poor grandmother and the room became quickly silent. Relief. My youthful eyes were glazed in awe; bright and curious. I wondered how I was supposed to entertain myself using this very dull implement dug straight from the kitchen drawer. The very drawer I was most definitely not allowed to go in.

I grasped at the air before my hand was stuffed with the mysterious object. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it, I put it in my mouth and my grandmother snatched it back as if I had just consumed poison. It tasted stale. I could have never imagined what was to come from this archaic, inanimate instrument, how a tantrum would mold my future and my fingers would learn to curse themselves. From these single five minutes, I had invited in a lifetime of altruism, self-destruction and insecurity.

As I slowly grew into my misunderstood adolescent years, I started appreciating paintings for more than just collages and fusions of colours and abstract shapes. I noticed not only the flawless vixens who posed with their flexed palms and thin red lips, or exquisite wilting sunflowers on mustard ledges, or even the distorted, cubic men, created from nightmares, but the negative space within. The emptiness and incompletion became much more intriguing to me than what was simply seen on the surface. I gazed beyond the view of an amateur eye and opened my mind to the lonely, greyscale religion of creativeness. That is what led me to committing my whole mind and every effort to the arts. It is a known fact that painters tend to become obsessed with their work, delusional even.

And so, I began studying Caravaggio and Goya and Picasso till my alarm bled 3:28AM in red digits and teachers observed me with a coat of pity in their eyes. I traipsed around school with my socks around my ankles, portfolio swinging by my side and eyelids leaden with exhaustion and the insatiable craving for answers. A tortured artist at the tender age of sixteen.

Throughout the day, my head would become absorbed with Caravaggio’s grotesque, baroque pieces. The likes of mathematics and chemistry could not cloud my mind which swarmed with manic connotations and the chiaroscuro of Holofernes’ head after his beheading from Judith. The hypnotic, blackened wall of his paintings went unnoticed by my peers, but I couldn’t resist acknowledging its presence, hovering like a troubled phantom, awaiting its exorcism. The continuous monochromatic backdrops spiraled frantically through my irises; my temporal lobe sparking with phobic waves, warping my eye for art.

What fascinated me, however, was their assumed completion; the brilliance and ingenuity the pieces carried shook me to my very core. Their muses had an ironic, almost oxymoronic vividness that I could not entirely process. Nor how Picasso placed the first or last colour on his tetris of paint-works. I simply could not understand how that final, critical decision was made. The ending of a thousand hours labour only to step back and see blocks of colour filled with a rainbow of nothing, it made the nape of my neck twinge. ‘Horror Vacui’, my art teacher droned. His cigarette-stained breath kissed my cheek softly, ‘The expression, he purred, ‘translates to ‘fear of emptiness’.

On the projector, Picasso’s Guernica bathed my face in a sordid light and my left eye twitched in repugnance. The dead space, the unfinishedness, it grained against my psyche, it made me uncomfortable. If Picasso could not fill space and create life and ultimately settled for minimalism (albeit a controversial opinion), then neither could I. Questioning my abilities and normality of my brain function after an hour of forced sketching and excessive appreciation was a regular occurrence through A-Level art. I walked out of that classroom, bag slung over my shoulder like a bindle, leaving truly disappointed and idolless.

It was only after the Guernica lesson, I realized I was already a failed artist before I had even begun. No amount of practice or patience or persistence could save me from the drowning agony of just beginning. My notorious canvas and I became star-crossed lovers; I lived and breathed art but the sole commitment of pigment to parchment made my skin itch.

The fear of this inescapable permanency swallowed me whole, I dreaded placing that first slash of ‘Winsor Yellow’ or ‘Indian Red’ on my pad, and I further dreaded, not being able to fulfil or finish what I had started.

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