My dad quit school to work at fifteen; He had to help his family make ends meet. It makes sense that he is a big believer in Practicality and Realism. Since young, I molded my beliefs against his – I believed in Art. More than anything in life, I wanted to draw, and to sketch, and to paint; 16 year old me wanted to render the world I lived in. But it was forbidden. I could only draw in the secrecy of my room, sketch on my notes in class, or doodle in the corner of my textbooks. "Art is a poor man’s fancy, it cannot earn you a survival and it cannot put food on the table", my father always insisted. I was disallowed from enrolling in Art, and I felt consigned to a life of a wanton plebian.
At 18, I went ahead with my love for Art by myself, without the benefit of lessons at school. The journey for an aspiring artist in Singapore - self-known as a cultural desert - is tough. Where does one start searching? Might as well search for the lost on the Serengeti. This society is replete with examples of self-proclaimed artists who make no good of their lives, or so they are known for, both real and otherwise. These journeys took me across Singapore, into the nooks and crannies, where I developed an odd fixation for drawing elderly people – their faces, wrinkles, and eyes. For me, they told stories. They were the annals of a forgotten history. This is Art, I thought to myself.
I once took an uncommon route from Palm Springs to Las Vegas; not I-15 North. Slow-driving through Joshua Tree; a town where people wait for aliens. For Godot. Ten miles out of Joshua Tree, a woman was sitting by the road. Her boyfrend dumped her, left her sitting there. Ten hours, by the road, she sat; we almost missed her. She was forty-ish. Burnt. Hispanic. The history of her tears immortalized unto her visage by the dust – an off color of the brown dust that tracked her face, like evidence of streams and rivers on the desert floors that have run dry. We drove her back to Joshua Tree, left her there with a hundred dollars. Out of Joshua Tree again, a fleeting landscape peopled with Joshua trees. We watched ponderous cloud-shadows wind across the flat expanse, stirred by an invisible breath under the loud silence of the arid desert moon. I drew what my eyes saw. This is Art, I thought.
Sending me off at the airport, my grandmother bade me goodbye. She mumbled how she would not live to see me graduate, probably. She smiled. Behind her, my father, the man who worked so hard he gave me an overseas education he never had, looking at me, half expectantly, half sadly, for my departure. My grandmother’s face - the furrows of her wrinkles were smiles of old friends. I reached out to them, and I grieved. As I walked past the security, I turned to look at the odd assembly of people who came to wish me farewell and good journey. On the plane, 33000 feet from the ground, under a dim light, I drew - their faces, their expressions, and their emotions. At that moment, I thought to myself, this is Art.
A man once told me – Art flourishes despite; it blooms even in the secret-est darkness, bereft of nurture and attention; no one could excuse one’s artistry, or lack of, on the account of a lack of a conducive environment.
Life seared all these pictures of memories with a smoldering brand and steady hand unto my heart. I wear them, as proof of Life past and Life to come. The artist is the pencil with which he wields, creating on a canvas of Life. What he draws is or isn’t Art, solely based on the life he/she lives and sees.
Everyday, now, I live and I draw, with my eyes, with my mind, and with my heart. I draw my own salvation. And then – I live and draw some more.