Chapter 52

What a way to start my birthday, cards, gifts and telephone calls; a Facebook page filled with good wishes and blessing. Rich indeed is the man who has many friends for friendship is truly the only substance which transcends time itself and outlasts the fabric of temporal gifts.

Today, Monday 23rd May 2011, my diary is empty and I will enjoy the privilege of the freedom to enjoy some serendipitous adventure hidden in the hours ahead. It is my practice every birthday to read the words of Almustafa, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, as he speaks wisdom to the people of Orphalese.

 He is asked by an astronomer to speak about TIME and he answers:

“You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable. You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.

Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing. Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream. And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.

Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless? And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not form love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds? And is not time even as love is, undivided and paceless? But if in you thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons, And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.”

Kahlil Gibran, 1883-1930 (The Prophet)

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Removing the boundaries from Creativity

The first real experience of having my boundaries challenged was shortly after my 50th birthday. My family, and very generous group of  friends had presented me with a painting weekend experience as a birthday present. Not only was it a very thoughtful gift and a total surprise, it also turned out to be an extremely rewarding and mind altering experience.

Those of you who knew me before this experience would most likely have categorised me as being rather traditional and fairly conservative in my approach to my own painting as well as that of others. This I put down to my upbringing in a predominantly conservative and rather traditional culture. My schooling was no different and from an early age my art teachers generally stuck to the text-book approach of teaching the subject page by page with little latitude for deviation. In all my classroom years, it was only in the last two years of high school art class that our young artists passions would be ignited by a teached under the age of 30.

No sooner had I started the journey than school came to an end and I was conscripted into the armed forces. The world of the military is not one which is characterised by great splashes of colour and unlike the rest of the world, which seemed to be at peace and dressed in ceremonial uniform designed for pomp and splendour, our country was in the middle of what would be a protracted twenty year armed struggle. Our world was one which seemed to have been painted by a blind man with three buckets of paint; brown, green and khaki. From the morning to the night we lived in a world designed to be inconspicuous, secret and concealed, flamboyance would have spelled exposure and death or capture.

It was from this sepia flavoured landscape that in 1981 I emerged, hungry for colour and a sence of self-expression rather than the drudgery of the mono toned conformity which the military had enforced.  The world that I now engaged with was a bizarre one in which the youth seemed to have gone mad. There was anarchy in the blood of the young and a rebellious seed was producing a new generation which were challenging everything. In many ways we had earned the right to challenge what we felt we had been defending and what had robbed many of us two years of our lives.  Conscription was coming to an end and  corridors of government were being bombarded by the legions of conscientious objectors forcing additional change and fueling individualism. It seemed that there was no longer an appetite for fighting and the world was pressing the sanctions which would finally see South African forces withdraw from Angola and retreat back to the bastions of power in military and political strongholds. The battle lines would now be drawn, no longer of foreign soil but in the streets, cities and townships of every community. 

After the conditioning I had received, which had engineered total conformity, I now experienced the freedom to associate with who I wanted, to do or not to do whatever I chose but the changes were only an exterior notion and never an internal reality for me.  The best I could do was to give lip service to this personal illusion that I was free to challenge boundaries. The reality was that the engineers of conformity had done a deep and lasting work in my spirit. They had accessed my subconscious and over time had recalibrated the creative mechanism which was designed to question everything. In the world of the military manipulator creativity is a subversive element and if unchanged will produce a reluctant commitment and ultimately will cost  life or resource. Creativity, in the world of the manipulator, is reserved only for the manipulator and should never be shared in its raw form with the manipulated.

For the next twenty years I travelled in a state of semi-conscientious renewal on the road of rehabilitation, to a point where the light of my personal creativity was able to leak through the cracks of dry conformity, tradition and dusty textbook opinion. Fast forward to my 50th birthday party and my gift, a painting weekend at a contemporary studio in Berkshire more than 6000 miles from where my journey into creativity had first started 30 years earlier. This was to be the death-blow, the  coup de grâce which would herald a change from the rigid conformity which had held my focus for so long.

I returned from the two-day workshop with three canvases, none of which resembled anything I had ever painted before. They were a celebration of a new-found passion for personal artistic exploration and expression. Since then I have painted in three different mediums, watercolour, acrylics and oils and on a variety of surfaces. I have also been exposed to, and have willingly embraced, every form of creativity which has presented its self for consideration. This  lead me to formulate my whole artistic philosophy  in a short phrase……..”creativity demands expression” and in this I celebrate the notion that creativity in any form is worth attention, debate and appreciation.

I do not seek to dictate the final outcome of every artistic or creative encounter anymore.  I do however seek to enjoy every expression, especially when that expression represents an individuals desire to choose the terms of the creative moment and the vehicle which will deliver the experience; firstly as an extension of their passion and experience and secondly as a means to share that passion and experience with others.

In a nutshell, I love art which challenges the bland conformity of the manipulator and the systematic deprogramming of the creative spirit. I march now to a different drummer and have cast lots with a new regiment of individuals, those who just can’t help themselves from expressing their creativity, those who always see the prospect of greener grass outside of conventional boundaries.

 Boundary Pusher : Vik Muniz (TED)

Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based fine artist Vik Muniz, a challenge to our concepts of creativity (TED)