During my moments of despair about two years ago, my life and its purpose was being pondered and questioned continuosly, schizophrenically, twisting, turning, repeatedly questioned. I was dealing with difficulty, loneliness and getting over the break up of a long relationship. It was in this moment that I really considered what use, importance or meaning does my life bare, want to have or to shape into. The one thing that most suicidal teenagers do not say to themselves before jumping or cutting through their veins or popping pills is the thought of "maybe lets wait until I'm a bit older, just give it time, you never know, life may change" I kept telling myself "I haven't lived enough of my life yet," whilst sitting alone in my room. I read through books, and philosophers, trying to find answers and meanings about what we're all doing here. What did it all mean to me? Between the spiritual and the anti-spiritual, religious and enlightened, physical, metaphysical, mosernity and post-moderntiy, existential and influential, I had nothing better to do, no friends to see, none that called me up at least to say "hey lets do something". A poem became a dream.
I felt unwanted, pretty underground, and for a long time I was depressed. So much so, I got too used to feeling unwanted, that once someone did show interest in me, I would either show too much affection or completley shun them away. I'm still so used to being left alone. I often want to be left alone. But whilst this was occuring, mentally my mind was being stimulated through my reading. I was travelling and journeying on paths of discovery. I'm not a precious soul. Each life is beautiful, but often it never feels that way. As a result I could not paint, could not draw, could only craft disturbed looking sculptures. My mind, confused, did not know what I was doing or why, but for some reason I was making them. Whilst I was learning so much I was also getting more messed up, traumatic. Hurt and angry.
Somehow, I returned to Byam Shaw still feeling neurotic, perhaps manic but I would think more neurotic. Unsure of my decision but sure that this was the right thing to do: why waste three years of my life if not to come away with a degree at the end of it? Where had my practice come, and where was it going? what is the point? For some reason it was in my worst moments of despair, mania and neurosis that I kept telling myself jump off the roof, cut the vein - don't cut the vein, and if not, do everything for yourself, do it for the art inside you. The art is your companion, your lover, it will save you when you are down, lonely, depressed and suffering. It is your hapiness when you are in the dumps. I made a promise: to live for my work and let it help me to live.
Art school was a mine field. I think about how I came into artschool originally fresh young naive (rebellious) but innovative and imaginative, creative, already having painted 3D on 2D streetscapes due to one of the best teachers I ever had called Mike Beddall. My work incorporated evolution already at that stage, I wanted to expand, evolve, build out, consider the viewer in all this, and how they could interact with work and viewpoints to see the work. Initially, glad to be in a completely new environment, everything I saw, respected knew or learnt became a new experience and I was so eager to take it all on board. Art school was the first place I learnt life drawing. With a religious upbringing, I was thirsty to know what else in life there was, what other artists were making work about, what was their passions, what was the past. I sat through too many crits and took on too much advice from my teachers like a guinea pig. I felt spoon fed. But as for my work, it never felt as complete and I kept going around in circles, trying painting, trying video. Escapism. Unsatisfaction. Lies. It all felt so horribly wrong. What was I running from and why could my work find no ground.
In this final year I was excited to start believing in progression and installation. It is a shame that my peers did not. Or at least not in my work as such. I'm glad that certain tutors did support me whilst others did not, but I felt rather alienated still. Whether because of my work or because of me I felt rejected by my peers. I had changed, and so had they.
Feeling and being alienated does not help when artschool is supposed to create comfotable environments for people to think and work alongside each other. I think my work evolved in a strange way as a response to others being hostile to myself or my practice. I started to take a "well fuck you" attitude, and almost too used to hard times, I reassured myself to the question of "what am I doing here" was getting on with it, putting my head down and just doing my shit. "A promise is a promise". Having a degree may help you later on (or not). I was being conventional to the system even though I was hating it at the same time. I was so close to leaving, I wonder where I would be if I didn't do this last year, would people take me seriously without the degree, a drop-out, "oh but he's passionate", doesn't matter, he's got no degree...
Will I have wangled a spot in the White Cube? or would I be washing dishes in some back of house kitchen porter job in GSK contemporary's swanky flash restaurant?
Where am I now? was it worth it all? was my degree show a success? was getting a piece of paper with a "fuck you" grade worth spending 4 years of my life? Forget applying for this job or a good M.A, forget the R.C.A (where I hear you get picked up instantly on graduating). Forget about a course in the future. You didn't listen to us Leo! You chose your own way, a way that doesn't obide by the system, our system, you didn't tick boxes, or do as we told you, so pay for it the hard way.
Sometimes I hear them saying to me "well Leo, you wanted it the hard way, you fought the system, and now the system's gonna be hard to you too!"... truth is I just wanna do my work, that's all. Going to art school is all a game now. So is the real world as well. boohoo.
I'm still here. Surviving. Making work off not much. Happy making sculptures and installations that noone seems to buy that much (less commercial). Not the richest man, but at least I'm keeping true to myself, my ideologies, and that promise I made those years ago. Doing, documenting, being. When people look at me and say things about me, he promotes himself on facebook or he's always badgering me with stuff, Leo, that guy, that crazy artist, loser, well what else would I be doing in between working doing shit. I talk about art because its my love, life, aspirations and family. I think it was the same for Dali sometimes. I'm not interested in capital, I haven't got much to my name or much to sell either, but I am seeking opportunities, and perhaps promoting my work creates interest in the real world. When philosophies collide where do we each draw the line? I've lived as a barman, a plumber's assistant, an electrician's assitant, a decorater, worked in fields, other odd jobs to survive. I got no satisfaction, no mental wealth in knowing I'd helped install a boiler. I do like electrics however, and my boss was the father of a good artist/friend of mine. But does all this menial shit make me a better artist? I've heard the stories of Romanticists who all say the same, I had to clean plates, wipe toilet seats for the rich and wealthy. Pushed admin. Done internships. Well I've had to stick my hand down flu pipes full of shit to drain them!
"But no Leo, you have to start somewhere. Administration, internships this way! Kudos don't come overnight! You need to learn experience of filing paper", reminds me actually once I helped an old lady scan boxes of papers to digitalise them for weeks and weeks during the summer, so I could afford to get away for a bit!
I think that ultimately what saved me has always been the want to prove myself wrong in that moment. My life and my work is meaningful to me and therefore to other people. And by proving this to myself, I could convince a few others along the way.
"A promise is a promise" that I'll keep to the end. When love is gone, when people die alone, all we have is ourselves, we are all destined to be alone throughout life. My work keeps me company, temporarily in this temporary slice of life that slowly eats away. My work is only the crumbs left one day for somebody else to pick or fade away into the dust of the earth.