Ghost in the Routine

I have painted for more than 20 years. I’ve done oils, acrylics, canvas, paper, board, large murals, collages, assemblages, installations, sketches. Now I’m 40 (plus GST) and still have several works on the go at any time. I don’t particularly enjoy it. In fact, mostly it’s torture (they don’t call it pain-ting for nothing).

Since the early days I haven’t  really sold much work, apart from participating in the occasional group show. And yet the drive to continue to make marks on surfaces has never abated, not for longer than a few months.

Continuing to practice something in the face of the lack of tangible reward seems to contradict human nature, at least as it is usually described. There is no economic rationale, no improvement in my ability to attract sexual partners – even the process itself is not particularly satisfying. It’s messy. And expensive. The results? Well, most of my paintings are stacked around the house, looking towards the walls.

So what is it about? Instinct? An expression of innate biological factors, like sucking, walking, and mating? Somewhere, buried deep below consciousness, there are these needs that manifest themselves as a series of connected thoughts that lead to this seemingly random action. It’s a bit creepy really. A bit like being possessed or inhabited by a ghost.

And yet. I am descended from 15-20 000 generations of people who made stuff. In fact, the products of their ‘urges’ are the only way I know of their existence. They were ‘resourceful’. They made marks on the walls of caves, tombs and palaces. They wove and stitched and glazed and forged and sculpted and chiaroscuroed, cross-hatched and crocheted. Some of them (like me) just did it. But some of them did it really, really, really well. Every parent knows how hard it is to pass information forward to one generation. Some of my ancestors made things that are meaningful thousands of generations later.

Even alone in my living room I cannot get away from my culture, the sweep of history I am a tiny part of. Many have said  the urge to create is what makes us human.  Others are now saying it’s the very thing that makes us almost extinct.

I know that the relics I can see and hold and contemplate from the past are a rare glimpse, not just into the past but also into what it is to be human. They are the only tangible answers I have ever found to the eternal and infernal question: What, for god’s sake, is it all about?

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