When a large audience is meaningless

Is this a good painting? Can you tell?

What’s a good painting, anyway?

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More than a painting

“Can you paint a portrait for me?”, the message goes.  “Here’s the photo…”

It was a picture of a young, smiling couple, standing in a busy street somewhere in the city.  Just an ordinary-looking picture, I thought to myself.

“Sure!”, I replied. “Do you want the painting just like the picture, or do you prefer a close-up?”

“I want it as it is.  I want us to be the focus, and I want the place and the beautiful colours.  It’s important.”

“No problem.  Oil painting takes time.  Can you wait 3 months?”

“It’s urgent.”

He paused for what seemed an eternity.

“I guess we will never be.”

We had not spoken, but even in his text there was a sense of desperation and sadness.  Suddenly, the picture didn’t feel ordinary anymore.  I felt an urgency, and a certain kind of pain.

“Early next week latest, ok?  I’ll place your job on top priority and work on it immediately.”

That gave me less than a week.

At once, I sent the canvas to stretch, and made a special frame so he could handle the painting while still wet.  Then, for 5 days in a row, I painted earnestly till the wee hours of night.  At times I wondered why.  There are better ways to earn money.  I could have turned down the job.  I didn’t even know him.  But it was more than a painting.  He could be sitting exactly where I was, brush in hand, every stroke an honest effort, every colour a symbol of hope.

We finally met, and I was shocked.  I thought I had met the wrong person, for the real man, skin to the bones, seemed to have lost half his weight.

He was grateful.  He loved the painting.  But we didn’t talk much.

I wish we did.  I wish I could do more.


What happens when you’re born with a dream


There was a time when my mum would tower over me like a huge, black shadow, cane in one hand, my poor exam results in the other. Her eyes burnt with a fire that was both fierce and amusing.

“You know how to eat??!!”
“Yes.”
“You know how to eat, why you dunno how to study??!!”

“Why??!!” – Whip!

“Why… WHY??!!” – WHIP! WHIP! WHIP!!!

40 years later, long after the purple stripes on my butt had faded, I still don’t know what eating’s got to do with studies.

Then again, I didn’t know much about anything. They called me “blur”, because I loved to dream. But I also loved to draw.

It wasn’t just drawing, though, like most kids do. It was an obsession.

I drew so much, the knuckles on my right fingers swelled and hardened. I used to peel at them, and sometimes they’d come off in full, flat circles of skin, like little coins.

Maybe my mum understood. Even though she could wield the cane like a pugilistic swordsman, she didn’t cane me for my indulgence. Instead, she sent me for art classes. We were poor, but it didn’t matter.  If only I had a little more sense in my pea-brain, I wouldn’t have used up the precious stack of paper my dad needed for his mathematics students.

When I was 10, I entered my school’s art competition with a drawing of a magnificent bald eagle, perched on a bare, leafless tree, fearsome claws grasping a hapless prey, majestic wings stretched into a clear blue sky. I came in second, and my mum pulled me back to school to confront the teacher, demanding why that kiddy-looking crayon piece won the grand prize ahead of me.

She never confronted my teachers when I came in second in class, or fourth (though she caned me). She had never confronted anyone in school, until then. I didn’t understand, but now I know how much she loves me.

Still, it was all about knowing how to eat.

“You’re so good in drawing!”, everyone said. “You should be an architect.”

Should.

Because architects make money. Architects have real jobs. Artists don’t.

Stop dreaming. Get real. Learn how to eat.

Years passed. I did what I should. Got a degree (computer science – better than “architect”). Got a real job. Good pay. Future looks steady. Everything was smooth like a baby’s cheeks.

I forgot my passion. I forgot the freedom I felt with a pen in hand.

Until the day I became a photographer. For the first time in life, I experienced the bitter taste of failure.

You can say I was driven by passion. The truth is, my most passionate decisions were also my scariest. They were also my loneliest.

When I started nude photography, nobody thought I could make it.

When I gave all my money and time to the needy, people said I was stupid.

When I poured my heart and my feelings into portraiture… well, it didn’t matter – the same results could be achieved with tricks to make people laugh.

Every major step I made came with immediate, heartbreaking failure. I remembered once, during a fund-raising effort, when my once-resolute believe totally broke down, and I hid in a corner to cry. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure how long I would last.

In my darkest hours, I drew. With pen, charcoal, oils, anything I could find, anything I could learn. I drew with no promise and no intention to share with anyone. I just drew, like I’ve always done as a kid.

~.~

It’s been 16 years. I now have hundreds of clients in nude photography, and an incredible portfolio many photographers dream of. Because of my love for people beyond paying clients, my fans have multiplied. And the ones who believe in real feelings? Lifelong friends who continue to support my career, both financially and emotionally.

Not many photographers last 16 years, let alone survive in a niche like mine. My career so far can only be considered an incredible success. Still, there’s something I must do, something I have to continue since I was a little boy with swollen knuckles.

I want to be an artist. Not just any other artist. A successful one.

An artist who sells art to collectors, puts food on the table, and brings joy to people around the world. An artist who lives a life of his dreams with grit, passion, and real emotion.

This is my scariest decision yet, for there is no roadmap for artists, no blueprint for success. Others will say, “get real”. But what I really need is courage, support, and love. The way my mum stood up for me. The way many of you stood by me all these years.

The road is long. Will you walk with me?


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