trawling the albums

Melancholy has descended. I’ve never much enjoyed examining the past and there’s been rather too much of that going on here. My life at the easel been so all-consuming over the last decade-and-a-half that there’s little enough time for present matters. Sifting through the boxes of photographs and old diaries consigned to cupboards has not been on the cards. Until now!

One of aspects I like less about being an artist is the custom for compiling biographical ‘lists’ that get printed at the backs of catalogues. To have my life reduced to the equivalent of a job application filled me with dread. As it became clear that for the monograph I was expected to either compile a list myself or be reconciled to the fact that someone else would, to deflect the editor’s expectation I rashly volunteered to produce a ‘brief biographical essay’ in lieu of the list, and ever since have been heartily regretting it. Now it’s done and ready to go to the printers, though every fibre of my being bristles and rebels at the idea. Peter keeps reassuring me that I’ve made a good job of it, but still I chafe. For the fourteen months I’ve been writing for the Artlog I’ve known that this has been on the cards, and I’ve been able to try things out here in order to try and get used to the autobiographical process. But the difference with the Artlog is that I can go back two days or two weeks later and change what I’ve written, and there will be no such get-out with the book. Hence the melancholy. I’ll get over it.

13 thoughts on “trawling the albums

  1. To have arrived where you are now you must go the way you went, yes? and be the boy and man you were then, every step of the way, missteps maybe and all … Was thinking of you as I watched (again) the Tilda Swinton appreciation of Derek Jarman, part of his EDWARD II dvd, and used again in the DEREK doc.

  2. your writing is so beautiful, how could you possibly be worried? and anyway, i never read those things thinking they’re the sum of anyone’s life– just a place to find an interesting morsel that will set me off on a search for something…
    the monograph is going to be an absolute treasure!

  3. Oh, yes, how awful it is to imagine something so qualitative as one’s life being quantified into a list, or even a biographical “sketch.” And I know the melancholy of looking through one’s past, after all the hours I spent in our old attic poring over letters, sketchbooks, albums and notes before the move to Montreal a few years ago. We all want it to “add up to something” that satisfies us, and the fact that it never will must have as its reverse side the very positive desire to continue creating and working on oneself to the end of one’s days. We’ve talked before of these ominous milestones – birthdays and retrospectives – and it feels so impossible and frightening to be already “there” when in so many ways we know we’re just starting out, just starting to understand certain things. Sometimes I find this depressing, sometimes it’s an incentive; maybe once you’ve finished this task of the biography you can forget about it and get back to the journey. (And I, too, love seeing those pictures of the younger you!)

    • Beth, everything that you describe here is pretty much the struggle I’ve been going through. And yes, I’d feel less beset were I in the studio right now working away at what I love the most, but the planning of the book has rather taken over every waking moment of our lives. It will all be easier when I’m at the easel again.

      Thank you for your insights. I’m sure they’ll go some way to help Artlog visitors understand why I’m in such a blue funk! What I particularly hate about this process is seeing the evidence of all the mistakes I made when I was inexperienced and too damned overworked to see trouble heading my way. I wish that I’d had someone knowledgeable and dependable covering my back, but I didn’t. Just bad agents and greedy producers.

      Glad you’re enjoying seeing the young me!

  4. “But the difference with the Artlog is that I can go back two days or two weeks later and change what I’ve written, and there will be no such get-out with the book. Hence the melancholy.”
    You’ve just put your finger on what I also find so disagreeable about print publication. To say nothing of the unseemly parading of ephemeral accomplishments indulged in by the preeening masses of poets and artists. (But I do it too, now, on the Bio page of Via Negativa. Why, I’m not quite sure.)

  5. Clive, as I’ve said to you before, in more than a thousand loving ways, we ARE the sum of our days lived on this Earth. To be an artist in this day and time, it seems one is buffeted between the two poles of self doubt/deprication on the one hand and grandiosity on the other. The public is saying we’re “grand,” and we believe them for as long as they say it. The ego doesn’t believe them, however, and so we are simultaneously full of self doubt. It’s a large tipping scale and so many fall off of one side or the other… perhaps you could consider this exercise as one of centering and balancing. I’m SURE you’ve done a fine job of this, and I can’t wait to read it.

    Meanwhile, is that adorable boy pictured above available for adoption? He is just yummy!
    Wait, I’ve seen that intent, cutting-with-scissors expression before… at the terrace table in Corsica!
    xo AM

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