This was originally published on Berlin Domestic.
Life Drawing was my favourite component to my university course, it was also the most challenging. Previously I had always been rather precious about my work – I would never let people see my art in development, I never drew in front of people, I was so self conscious about it – like I was about my nude body. So life drawing forced me out of my many comfort zones, up until then I had largely avoiding drawing hands, feet and I avoided foreshortening at all costs! I had to draw fast, focus on negative space, do drawing exercises, draw without an eraser and live with the fact that I made some very bad drawings. It loosened me up while at the same time it exposed me to different body types.
I have always felt, and still do feel, that we ( society ) have an extremely unhealthy relationship with nudity. I find it confusing that people cannot separate nudity from sexuality ( Bill Henson’s work being deemed as ‘controversial’ saddens me.) We don’t really see nudity in Australia ( you do in Germany! ) unless it’s something sexually explicit, unless it’s airbrushed, trimmed and thin. I believe that the mystery around what is in fact normal and healthy is the cause as to why people have issues with their own bodies.
Bodies are unknown and we are all unsure.
So in my very early 20′s I started drawing nude men, women, old, young, fat, skinny, pudgy, waxed, hairy, tattooed – it was exciting and liberating; I was getting better at art, I was getting better at seeing people. Unfortunately at this time I also got involed in a destructive relationship that warped my self image and pressured me into feeling competitive and compared to other women. During this time I deferred my studies.
After that relationship happily ended, I went back to do my final year at the VCA. I produced a large body of work focusing on self portraiture and looking back I made some pretty dreadful work, but it was the beginning of me accepting myself and my body. I was healing and dealing and I think my final year piece summed that time of my life up nicely:
When I moved overseas and became pregnant, I felt that the competition I had always felt with other women was over. I was on my own path now, even though pregnancy is such a common thing and I never felt more alone in my entire life – it was my own,unique experience. I watched my body change, I watched my body become something else. And while all of this transformation was happening in a city where I didn’t know anyone, I enrolled into life drawing classes.
Two hour life drawing classes while heavily pregnant, was no easy thing! But I did it anyway and I enjoyed it so much. Making art, talking about it, showing people made me feel part of something again, even if just for two hours a week.
My body after birth was a confronting thing. I’m lucky enough to have never been very sick previously, but I wasn’t lucky enough to have an ‘easy’ birth and walk away from it. ( Indeed, I couldn’t really walk for eight weeks.) But after all the hurt – infection, laser therapy, short wave therapy – there was my body, after pregnancy. For a good year and a half I was proud of it. I was OK with all the scars, the new shape, the softer breasts but the pride wore off and baby time ended and I felt I was back in the competitive saddle. I should be thinner, tanner, sexier. More like her. Any her will do as long as it isn’t me.
Then I started doing portraits of other people, which opened me up to a whole new notion of beauty again. Studying different people to make paintings is a very consuming process, and it was a very important one. Everyone is so beautiful in their own way, everyone is so beautiful because it’s their own way. How come I couldn’t see this before?
If everyone is beautiful, I must be too!
Recently I feel like I’ve started seeing people differently again! I feel that when I look at someone I can see them as their kid self, teenage self, middle age self and old self and I am aware that I am just experiencing them for that moment. Youthfulness is fleeting, it also changes it’s defination depending on what stage of life you are at. I remember thinking 33 was so old when I was 15, now I’m 30 and I think 15 is so damn young – another lifetime.
Maybe I’ll be ‘old’ at 60, 70?
I feel ads don’t work on me anymore, or not as much. It’s not aimed at me because I am no longer the target market – by many definitions I’m too old, but many definitions I’m used up ( married, with a child ) but mostly – I don’t want to be it. I love uniqueness in people and I the rake thin, tanned form is a distorted one. I know how much work goes into that and I think that perhaps time could be better spent. I think when I see movies, I see ads, I see models I think all of them have some form of eating disorder – that is nothing to aspire to.
So for my daughter I want there to be a lot of art around her while she grows up. I want to try and encourage her to see people in their many shapes, colours, sizes, ages, etceteras. I want her to accept and love herself for who she is and I hope that the ads won’t work on her as well as they did on me for a while there.
All I can do is hope and try.