I think the only way I can answer this question is if I define what being an artist truly means to me. I think the answer to this is unique to the individual. The first time I recall ever feeling art was an inseparable part of my life was when I was about 16, sitting home alone, I picked up my mum’s Pulp Fiction CD and sketched Uma Thurman’s face on a piece of scrap paper. Not this was a particularly significant drawing, nor was I particularly interested in Uma Thurman, I don’t think I’d even seen the movie! But I was fascinated by the expression on her face, it reflected how I felt at that exact point in time – bored, a little disinterested in life and a little bit damaged. For years my artworks manifested in the same pattern, with little conscious understanding why. I learnt in school it was easy enough to string together some gibberish about line, form or composition that would produce a good grade, but when I left home and pursued my interest in art through tertiary education, the questions became more curious and intrusive. My personal life had become a shamble and my work became darker – a twisted perception of beauty, emotions, life, death and what lies beneath our skin. Every time I was asked to talk about it I’d either clam up or break down into tears. It was during this time I started to question everything about myself, my art and what it even meant for me to be an artist. Disenchanted and disillusioned, I put my pencils down; I barely drew anything for years.
I think what it means to be an artist – or define yourself as an artist – varies tremendously from person to person, and the definition evolves with our experiences. I think if you’re unclear or unfocused on why you make art in the first place it’s pretty difficult to answer why sometimes you know why you are an artist and why sometimes you don’t.
I’m 26 now, and I’m going through a phase where I’m refocusing what I value in art, life and creativity. I’ve learned that I make art to express the things I cannot put into words. I’m captivated by human expression, identity, perception and emotion, creating art diarises my life and, in part, the lives of those around me. These days I draw a lot of inspiration from tattoo art, something about translating the personal into the visual – what it means for a clock, a flower, an alien, a symbol or an octopus to be inked permanently onto a person’s skin is relevant to the person; sometimes the meaning is clear and sometimes the meaning is ambiguous; they might want to talk about it and they might not; maybe they don’t even know; but it is undeniably marking something about the person and visually encapsulating a moment in their life, and the audience can only speculate what it all really signifies. I think I seek to do something similar in my drawings.
Being an artist for me is not a career choice, it’s not something I necessarily strive to be good at, I’ve never held an exhibition of my work, I’ve never sold my work or put a price to it – it’s something I just naturally and intuitively need to do and share – the times when I don’t know why I am an artist are stained by the times when I lost sight of why I make art to begin with.