Commitment to rawness (January 6th, 2016)

2016-01-06 13.33.25The “core” concept of this studio day is “rawness”.

This is how I’ve decided to resurrect this blog in 2016 — as a rough, unpolished, almost unedited studio journal of my work on the “Sonnets in colour” series (which occasionally includes working on other paintings as well). Superficially, this decision is motivated simply by my desire to resurrect it and keep it going — experience shows that, for now at least, I cannot sustain both regularity and my ideal of a blog post as a refined “essay” at the same time. But there are deeper reasons — at least two of them are visible to me at the moment.

First, I see the sonnets series as an inquiry into the nature and structure of human consciousness, and also as a project in shifting my own consciousness away from its (apparently natural) self-centred modus operandi. This implies self-reflection: witnessing the on-going process and contemplating it. And this self-reflection is not the result of this inquiry, but rather its raw data. It stands to reason, then, that it ought to be as raw, as “unedited” as possible. I am not sure, for the time being, that I really can achieve the necessary level of rawness and openness in writing, but I intend to learn — and the best way to learn is by doing.

And secondly, I’ve come to believe that I tend to use the aura of refinement, “cultured-ness” as a protective shell — something which allows me to hide, both from myself and from everyone else; like a nice, well-designed dress. Occasionally, it shows itself as “prettiness”, conventionality, platitude. What I want — nay, need — to do now is to break and shake off this protective shell completely.

And this concerns not only writing, but — albeit, I hope, to a lesser degree — painting, too. That’s why “roughness” and “rawness” were the core concepts of my today’s painting session as well. Quite fittingly for the first “official” entry in this studio journal, this session was not about the sonnets, but about a more direct, unmediated reflection on “self” — self-portrait.

Lena Levin. Portrait of the artist as a young woman. 36″×24″. January 2016.

This self-portrait originated in a dream, a strange dream I had several months ago. That dream pushed me not only to this portrait, but also to making some rather drastic changes in my life. In the dream, I was hurrying to catch a train (an old-fashioned kind of train: almost magical, with some delicate woodwork on the doors, and adorned with something of a deep red, velvety colour). I was hurrying, but couldn’t really, because I was dragging someone else with me. Someone who was obviously unable to walk (or run) as fast as myself — an older, heavier woman. I couldn’t or didn’t see her face — throughout the whole experience, I only saw her legs moving slowly, while she was trying to follow me, leaning heavily on my arm. And then all the doors closed, and the train started to move away from the platform, leaving us behind. I was left there with this heavy old woman, and someone I really wanted to be with was going away on that train.

I stood there, frustrated and disappointed — and then my mobile rang. I knew it was this someone on the train, calling to check what’s happened to me, why I am not there. The screen of my phone showed me that person: a photo (before that, I didn’t know who it really was). It was my younger self,  a familiar old photo — in the posture I have captured in the portrait. I understood then that the heavy old woman I stayed behind with was also myself; another version of myself. Not at all the one I wanted to be “in”, or “with”.

There was a despair in this staying behind, as though my true, real life was going finally and irrevocably away on that train. The despair was strong enough to wake me up, as though it were a nightmare; and when I woke up, I decided  to take this dream not as a final verdict on my wasted life, but as a warning — as a last chance to “catch” this train, moving away so rapidly. That’s what I’ve been trying to do — in various ways — ever since, and the first gesture of this commitment was this self-portrait.

Although it went through various stages — some more convincing, some less — I was by no means satisfied with it (even though, on some occasions, I tried to convince myself that I was). There was always something in me that wanted to make it “pretty”, comme il faut; to make myself look like a nice, good girl. This “prettiness” was what I’ve been eliminating today, in an attempt to get to the raw truth.