Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Chapter 10- a bit of Billy

While working at Dorman Street, Billy Mandini used to stroll in occasionally. If class started at 9.30, Billy did not arrive till sometime near 11am. I used to feel annoyed, because we would all be concentrating hard on the model and Billy would come in and spread his paper on the ground and generally make his presence felt. The rest of us would have been working a good hour already and Billy would take a piece of charcoal and in the space of 20 minutes would have produced a masterpiece! The guy was talented, irritatingly so! His drawing was so powerful. He would not say a word to anyone- I thought he was rude, but then someone explained that he was probably stoned and didn't know what was going on around him. I learned later that he had some serious personality problems along with a serious drug addiction. When I heard of his death in 1999, I was so saddened - he was born out of time. Just a decade later and he probably would have had a much easier time in his life.
Billy. you were a master. Although I did not say much to you, I saw your talent and was moved by your work.
Dorman street's doors had closed on us now. I wondered whether I would see any of my class mates again. What happened to you all. Are you still painting. Thank you for being part of that special time in my life.

Now I was on my own. I went back home, set up my canvases in the garage and continued, sometimes late into the night, trying to find my style.
Later that year I threw caution to the wind and decided to exhibit at the Grahamstown Arts festival the following year. A series of fortuitous events led me to believe it was the right decision. In hindsight, maybe it was a premature move, but a necessary step in reaching a  deeper understanding of myself.
A significant influence on my artistic life at this point was a book called "The Artist's way" by Julia Cameron. I read it thirstily, drinking in the nectar, loving the positive encouragement contained within those pages! One by one my self-doubts began to melt away in the conviction that was I had to offer was unique and precious and valuable.
At around this time I had been attending the School of Philosophy, learning meditation. I had been to a few of the art classes offered by the school. One day I invited the head of the school, Rodney to come and give me a crit of my paintings that I was taking to Grahamstown.
He walked into my lounge, took a cursory glance at all the work I had lined up around the room and said in a sombre voice.
"what is Art?"
I was in no mood for a philosophical discussion. Being rather in awe of him, I said very little, just said that I painted "from the heart" or something like that. He hummed and hawed and carried on for about 10 minutes pontificating on the nature of Art and his opinions. when I asked him directly what he thought of my paintings, he muttered something along the lines of "I see you have some skill in drawing" and left it at that. Of the paintings themselves he said nothing. I took that to be negative. When he finally left, I burst into hot angry tears. I felt insulted, disappointed.

However I was too far along the road at that point to pull out of the Festival. A week or so earlier when I had inquired about the application, I had been told it would cost R1100 for a space and advertising in the fringe magazine. I thought this was a fortune and couldn't afford it, feeling that it was too much of a drain on the family. I had almost decided not to apply when a day or so later I found a mysterious cheque in the post box for about R1000- some investment I had made some years ago and forgotten about had matured. I took this as a sign. I must go ahead with the application.

I had had confirmation of my venue-a classroom in Victoria Girl's High school, and I was in the fringe under the title, "Digging up my dreams". There was no going back. I had 6 more months to fill a classroom with my work.
I put my back into it for the next 6 months, painting furiously and drawing.
I relied heavily on Julia Cameron to see me through the days and counter the continous stream of negative mindspeak that polluted my brain.
Little did I know what lay ahead in the months to come.

To be continued
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