Monday, September 14, 2009

Africa, my Love.

Phew. It's been a while. A LONG while... My Layla is 6 months old now and this means I have suddenly got a little more time (and freedom) on my hands: I've started painting again, and at long last, I can spend more time writing too!
There have been so many Soutpiel issues in the last 6 months, and I just WISH I had jotted each of them down for a time like now, because with this porridge-brain that motherhood has induced, I CANNOT, for the life of me, remember more than a handful. (My standing joke is that when I gave birth to Layla, they didn't remove my placenta, but my brain! Funny? Not when you've misplaced your keys for the third time in as many hours!! There's even been a missed dentist appointment and double-booking coffee dates with friends... Upon leaving Cape Town to return to the UK, my mom said, with a grandmotherly frown, "I'm really worried that you're going to forget to feed Layla!" Thankfully, Layla knows exactly how to let me know if she's hungry - so at least Layla gets fed, bathed and changed with devoted punctuality!)

In my second year of my Fine Art degree at the University of Cape Town, I allowed myself to be robbed of my creative self-confidence by an aggressively 'cool' young lecturer only a few years my senior, but with such a threatened sense of self, that she lashed out at anyone who possessed some degree of what she so obviously and painfully lacked. She was one of those who carefully cultivated her rebellion, inside and out. Built like a scarecrow, she dressed her emaciated, boyish frame in black combat boots and bad attitude - her hair short, mousy and spiked into intentionally aggro spikes. So it was no wonder then, that I, with my long (pretty) hair, pearl earrings and dungarees posed a terrible slap in the face to everything she stood for. Volunteering (perhaps a little like a too-helpful teacher's pet) to run a photocopying errand for her, she accepted but with a humiliating glare that, typically, left my cheeks more than aglow.
Peggy Delport, another lecturer - but infinitely more mature as an artist and human being, and - incidentally, one of South Africa's top painters even in her 60s, had left me to my own devices the previous semester, saying, "Lisa, you know what you're doing! You have the most incredble sense of light in your work." The work I produced, my first experience with oil paints, is something I am still damn proud of - but the sense of self-confidence Peggy left me with at the end of the first semester was ravaged with brutal speed by this new young lecturer in only the first week of that second semester. After that first withering look on my way to the photocopy machine came only more disdain and drama. The result: an incomplete body of work which raised many eyebrows in the distinct lack of ability it presented. Weeks and weeks worth of her brooding, black moods and barbed comments wore me down, down, down - all I was left with were paintings that had me apologising to the examining lecturers, and blushing a sad crimson with shame. (I threw the paintings away.) By the far the most damaging of all her afternoon critiques was when she kicked my paintings just enough for them to fall over, jabbing her finger at them, telling me, "You don't know how to paint!!!"
Her mean bitch of a ghost has haunted me for years. Eleven years to be exact. Even seeing her on the cover of a local decor magazine made me physically flinch! I guess it's the mark of a young sensibility that I didn't have the wisdom to take her with a pinch of salt, and only taking into my heart what the truly talented and renowned art lecturers said of my work. Too late now, but better late than never.
Anyway (sigh), when I was in South Africa for the most incredible 2.5 month holiday, I started painting again! GONE was all of that accumulated artistic baggage I'd started hoarding in my Michaelis days - WHAM BAM BOOM! Just like that! I think it was giving birth to the child I have longed for ever since I can remember... Quite why I think she's been the cure I can't quite say, but there has definitely been a huge, HUGE shift inside me since she arrived. Amazing little miracle that she is ;)
And so the crux of this Soutpiel entry is finally about to be made evident: I'd been promising to paint something for my mom for years, but having to perform as a bizarre, cerebralised Michaelisite meant there was never anything truly beautiful that wasn't just a touch horrific (i.e. watercolours of kidneys etc.) This holiday, I resolved, would be used to paint something for my mom at long blerry last.
In the matter of a few days, a small but richly coloured painting of 'The Barefoot Diva' emerged - as well as a new way of painting that I can only say came from somewhere deep in my subconsious. It felt like heaven painting again - such joy and a sense of satisfaction after so many barren years of unnecessary angst. Yippeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh yes - the Soutpiel slant on all of this? Africa. I have fallen in love with Africa as only one who has lived in (self-imposed) exile can be! Driving through the Port Elizabeth township of Motherwell, I wanted to hop out with my camera to photograph the big-boude'd mamas gracefully balancing a sack of potatoes on their heads, a baby tied to their backs ... reminding me of when our domestic used to tie my baby doll to mine. And the Nguni cattle roaming free amongst the rainbow of proudly painted shacks. (Why didn't I get out the car to take the photos then? That's another day's worth of writing.) But the long and the short of it is that before I would have literally fainted with kitsch embarrassment at the thought of painting anything remotely African. Now, it's a different story. Every single image I can lay my hands on that reminds me of home makes me burn to paint it!

(Attached is a photo of my painting of Cesaria Evora. In acrylic.)