Smokin' Artist

Published on 10 March 2024 at 16:11

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2008


My featured artwork this week is an intricate portrait that emerges from the tendrils of smoke encircling a man—myself—caught in a moment of repose and reflection. The smoky haze, with its hidden images, leads me on a journey through the valleys and peaks of creativity. At the forefront, a naked baby gargoyle floats, a symbol of the birth of my ideas, naked and unshielded.

Creativity is my subject, and it's a subject that's as much a part of me as the blood in my veins. My canvas teems with figures, 'ma and pa', their faces etched in surprise and fear—emotions I've seen mirrored in the eyes of those who've witnessed my art and life choices.

I am the 'smoking dude', the one with the four eyes representing an intense, multifaceted focus. Eyes that have seen the world through lenses of reality and imagination, and often, through the bitter sting of judgment. As a boy, when I first wove stories out of thin air, my mother's disbelief at my tales was a sharp contrast to her encouragement. "That could never happen," she'd say, but to me, everything could happen.

Years later, her words turned into a challenge: "I am never coming to see you again until I get my own book published!" Visits after that were cold, her words stinging, "You're a terrible, terrible person!" These words still echo, just as I see her, the woman in the leopard hat running and screaming across my painting—a specter of maternal expectations unmet.

Turning to the Dad figure, growing up in rural Minnesota taught me that men and art didn't mix. When I cried for the shame of having painted at fifteen, it was a cry for my spirit, fighting against the bonds of tradition. It wasn't until I donned the Army's uniform and received letters of praise from Generals that I began to accept that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to love art.

And yet, amidst the praise, there lurked a shadow—'All artists are GAY,' a whisper as condemning as any crime in the era of my youth. I fought this shadow with the same fervor with which I memorized speeches denouncing communism for the State Speech Contest, not knowing I was fighting a part of myself. For the National Methodist Temperance Society, I memorized "The Fatal Glass of Wine," a cautionary tale of a woman whose single glass of wine led to a family tragedy. The absurdity of it—her husband and children's leap, followed by her own, all for a glass of wine. Who got the rest of the bottle? That was the lingering question—unanswered, much like the misconceptions about artists that society clung to.

On the evening I sold my pictures, earning enough to sustain me indefinitely, I toasted myself as a commercial artist. But the old specter returned—was I fulfilling the prophecy that all artists must be gay? That night, with my two editors, I found myself in a bar, witnessing an intimate moment between two men. It was a crossroads of sorts, a moment where I pondered whether my art was intrinsically linked to my sexuality. "So is it true what they say?" I wondered if my success was an admission, a declaration of an identity the world assumed I had.

Yet, as the night grew older and the bar's neon lights flickered like the uncertain beat of an artist's heart, a realization dawned upon me. My art, my creativity—it wasn't a declaration of who I loved; it was a testament to how I loved. Fiercely, boldly, without boundaries. This revelation was liberating, like a canvas washed clean, ready for a new stroke of genius that would be unapologetically mine.

In that dimly lit bar, among strangers and the clink of glasses, I found a piece of my truth. I wasn't there to claim an identity forced upon me by societal stereotypes; I was there to reject the notion that my art dictated my personal life or my personal life dictated my art. The only truth that mattered was that I was an artist, and my work was a product of my soul, not my orientation. The labels that the world tried to affix to me were as transient as the smoke from my cigarette, disappearing into the air but leaving a lingering impact.

Leaving the bar that evening, the crisp night air felt like a baptism, a new beginning of sorts. It was a moment of rebirth, not into a stereotype, but into freedom. The freedom to be and create without the shadow of preconceived notions. And as I walked home, the cool breeze whispered possibilities, each step a defiance of the old fears and a stride towards an emancipated future.

Creativity, as I've learned, often comes wrapped in a shroud of shame. I think of Hermann Hesse, who abandoned his life in a picturesque town for the solitude of the Swiss mountains. "I cannot be both a burger and a fantasie Mensch," he declared. I understand his conflict intimately.

Post-Army, as a designer of stained-glass windows, I was again confronted with disdain. "What's there to design? They all look alike," my stepdad scoffed. A coworker's sneer at my aspiration to be an artist still rings in my ears: "Artist!! That's the lowest thing there is!"

But there's redemption. When an accomplished architect marveled at the nude figure in my painting, I felt vindicated. His appreciation was a balm to the wounds of years of dismissal and misunderstanding.

This painting is a mosaic of my life's journey as an artist—a journey fraught with societal scorn yet also graced with personal triumphs. It's a declaration that my creative spirit cannot be tethered by others' perceptions or my own doubts. It is an embodiment of my defiance against the narrow confines of identity and the unwavering pursuit of my art.

My journey is far from over. Like the figures within the smoke of my painting, I continue to evolve, to confront the specters of the past with the colors of the present. This evolution is my art, and my art is my legacy, my life—unfettered, unconfined, and undeniably mine.

Add comment


There are no comments yet.