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)