The Violent Tales: My Life’s Story Through My Art

♦ Mixed Media on Canvas ♦ 2011 ♦

Graduation Showcase @ Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts {Lim Hak Tai Gallery}

A slightly morbid art series I created for my Graduation Show Case from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2011. I was exploring the darker side of my favourite folklores and fairytales. You can also view the full series on my facebook page:

The Violent Tales

Now, let me talk about the work:

When I first started the series, I was heart broken because my lecturers had rejected my previous idea. In retrospect the series that I wanted to exhibit wasn’t as strong as this one and I have actually discarded it, but to keep true to my feelings at the time, I’ll tell you a little about the previous concept. I had wanted to create my own fairytale called “CandiLand”, which was about dark fairies and even darker plots, but they had deemed my previous work too juvenile for the prestigious gallery of NAFA, and I had to re-create my work or risk failing my year and be left out of the exhibition.

I had never imagined that my dreams would be crushed like that when I first started schooling at my art school, and although I admit that I was not the easiest pupil, I had done my research and even explained my case, which fell on deaf ears, so I was left with nothing but anger and sadness.

And that anger and sadness was the basis for these ten A4 sized paintings. I procured the canvases as quickly as I could and I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, crying for hours before  finally put an inkling of an idea down which was to become the first of my series called ‘The Violent tales’.

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My Grandmother’s Blood is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/MyGrandmothersBlood

My favourite fairy tale at the time was Red Riding Hood, and although had read many interesting revisions of the tale, the one that stood out to me the most was The Path of Needles and Pins By Terri Windling which talks about the young woman eating her grand mother’s flesh. I felt that the connection between the young woman’s ability to flee becomes more apparent as although it is crude, it is her way of fighting back and fleeing from the wolf’s grasp by gaining the knowledge and wisdom of life directly from her ancestor’s flesh and blood.

For me the pain and the anger of being forced to change in order to suit the needs and wants of my art school’s lecturers and their lofty standards of art made me feel closer to red riding hood in this tale, as just like her I had to still live with the wolf, listen to the things the wolf said and do as I was told, without question, on pain of death(loosing my grades and sanity) and that drove me to painting this piece. The oriental patterns are an ode to my art school and the poem reflected my dilemma. I didn’t come away wanting to bare a grudge against them. In the end, that anger became this painting, with it’s dark bloody reds contrasted with the soft green and hopeful orange , I hoped to find peace in my art, despite it being twisted out of shape. I created what I perceived to be beauty in my struggles, understanding that my lecturers would never understand me or see eye to eye with me in this lifetime, but by consuming what I had learnt from my experience with them, I knew I had a choice; to become the wolf, or to become something else altogether, and I choose the later.

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The Murder of Snow White is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/TheMurderOfSnowWhite

In order to deal with a lot of the problems I was dealing with at the time, I felt that I had to *kill* a part of myself to handle reality. My home life has always been shaky, and my relationship with my parents is still an uphill battle, but at the time of creating this series, it was far worse. I had been beaten by my father four years before the creation of this work and although it was once, it messed up my head for years. I was afraid of my father, I was angry at my mother for not stopping it from happening. I was scared for my siblings and I was hating myself. I was hating everyone, and I wanted to die. It was a very dark period for me, and I am still struggling with a lot of mental issues because of it. I drank a lot. I cut myself. I smoked. I cursed. I basically wasn’t present in my life, and I didn’t in anyway, want to be me.

So the Murder of Snow White was a reflection of myself murdering my own innocence. My sweetness. My love. I wanted to be tough, hard, brittle like the evil queen. I wanted to hurt, to feel pain, rejection, because I felt nothing. Just an empty abyss full of roaring rage. Rage that I lived with and feed like a dark pool of lava.

Then my father struck again. He struck my mother. I remember the night like it was yesterday. I was 18, scared and watching as my father reached out and landed a blow on my mother’s fair skin. Like a porcelain doll she crumbled, and I lost it. I called the police and it was as if I died in the same moment.

When I was creating this art series, I was 21 and still unable to deal with it. I’m 26, living apart from my family, and on some darker days I still can’t deal with it, (which is why I am in therapy right now). I wanted to do something to bury the pain, the anger and the memories. I wanted to have a 21st birthday like my friends, full of wine, good food and good company. My friends did drag me out and celebrate my birthday but inside I felt it was a lie. I became an adult a long time ago when I first watched my father beat up my mother, and I was now getting the legal right to smoke and drink and the idea of celebrating a false feeling of adulthood was more disheartening than the broken nose I had when I was sixteen, so I created this painting as a birthday present to myself; happy birthday Aida, you’re fucked.

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Endless Dreaming is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/EndlessDreaming

Coming out of darkness, pain, anger and frustration is an even more maddening place as I a) had no control over myself b) had lost all sense of myself, my morals, my self-worth and self confidence c) basically thought of dying and death ALL THE TIME. So I found a lot of comfort in Hans Anderson’s version of the Little Mermaid. Her death was to be turned into sea foam and then join her wispy kin in the sky. I wanted that. I yearned for that. I wished for the sea so often and I spent way too much time at the nearby reservoir and at the large water reserves around my house. The endless dreaming is like a cocoon of what it felt, or the dream of feeling the release of death. The final last breath. The endless nothing that lies ahead. I was hoping to capture the mermaid’s last thoughts as she transitioned into a being of light, and I hoped that maybe, some part of me, was dying with her while I was painting this piece, and on some level, I’m sure some part of me was.

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Death Acting Cute is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/DeathActingCute

By now you can imagine that I was developing a close relationship with wine and vodka, and thankfully I have never been the brightest kid, as I hadn’t learnt yet that if you mix it with aspirin you can make a quick exit. In a delusional state I thought that death, too, had abandoned me and was laughing at me at some high post of her own.I thought that I was not even worthy enough to die, as I had accomplished nothing, done nothing of significance and so Death had decided to leave me to rot as a waste of oxygen in a forgotten corner of the world. I drew Death making faces at me. Silly ones. Cute ones. Ferocious ones, and then I came across this article about Death and her many appearances throughout fairytales, and how she in her own way, or his own way (depending on the story teller) shapes the outcome of the protagonist’s story: Into the Woods: Death in Folklore and Fairytales

Interestingly enough, reading these old tales about Death revived me in some way. The hard choices Death had to make. The lengths people would go to in order to cheat Death. It made me think, if all these people are trying so hard to hold on to this fragile thing that I want to discard, surely I am taking this thing called life for granted? Surly I should care more about my future than the pain and brokenness inside in the present?

However those thoughts are good and all on the bright happy days when I’m out with friends or enjoying a day at my part-time job, but they get drowned out by the internal endless scream on other days, so at best I learnt an interesting balancing act trick; even the scariest things can be tolerated when they look cute.

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No Eyes is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/NoEyes_PaintingOnRedbubble

I wanted to unsee every single time that my father had beaten up my mother so badly. I wanted to unsee the time that my father punched me in the face for not playing a note correctly on the piano. I wanted to unsee the ground rising up to smash into my face when my father threw my to the floor and punched me so hard I felt my nose crack. I wanted to unsee the look on my teachers’ faces when they told me not to turn up for my O’level exams. I wanted to unsee the screaming face of my english Head of Department shouting at me that she hated me with every fibre of her being. I wanted to unsee the tears on my baby sister’s face as she looked up at me in fear, because our parents had lost control. I wanted to unsee the blood dripping down my wrist. I wanted to unsee my mother’s face as she screamed at me that I would amount to nothing. I wanted to unsee the news on the television that gays needed to be killed in Uganda. I wanted to unsee the look on my uncle’s face as he sided with my father about who is in the right about abuse. That it is OK for my father to beat her. That it is OK for my father to beat us. I wanted to unsee it all. But I couldn’t I couldn’t. I still can’t. But at least I knew when I was creating this painting, if no one else understands more about abuse, pain and loss, it was the prince who’s eyes were gorged out of his head after he was thrown from rapunzel’s tower, into nettles, and into a life of endless wilderness, left to wander alone, with no family, no friends, no wealth, and most importantly, no love. Even when I close my eyes, I can’t unsee what I have already seen. It haunts me in my dreams. It screams at me in the dark. It will never leave. All I have left, is this moment. And the next. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. Time. Space. Distance. Understanding.

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Ensnared Available on Redbubble As a Print: http://bit.ly/EEnsnared_PaintingOnRedbubble

When I first read the story that inspired this painting, I was very confused by it. It read it from a dusty folklore collection that I found in the library. I don’t remember much about the author or the information that I had cited for my research at the time, but the story itself stuck with me. It started off as a simple tale of a girl who loved to dance and turned into a death threat, a planned execution, rebirth, more plots and finally, a solution that I didn’t see coming. Later I found out that there are many retellings of this story as it is known as the Legend of Rose Latulippe, a story about dancing with the devil, and finding out that while you thought you were dancing with many others, you are actually dancing alone in the dark, about to die at the hands of pure evil.

It reminded me of the weird dance that I felt that I was entangled in. Everything that seemed straight forward seemed to turn into hot bricks and I was that cat running across it. I wanted so much to excel, but I was always falling sick, finding myself in bad company that distracted me, loosing friends, and sometimes even loosing my mind. I could barely turn up for class sometimes, and after my first collection was rejected, I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about this collection.

I felt that the Violent Tales series was the devil itself. It was forcing me to look at and to create these vividly disturbing art works that I tried to disassociate from my life. When I was asked to explain the meanings behind each piece, I would simply point to the fairytales and wouldn’t say anything about how personally and dark it was for me, to create them.

I didn’t want people to know that the works were grown from blood and fear. I didn’t want to heal the wounds that they came from, I wanted to tear it all apart and I wanted to take myself down with it. The only thing that looked beautiful in the madness, was money. I finally had a part-time job and the shiny $1 coins weren’t just being spent on canvases and tubes of paint, but on Jack Daniels and trying to impress girls. Like the spray of gold, I sprayed my life with the money that I earned and I hoped that it could disguise the fact that I was dead, and I felt that no one could see that I was trying to grow myself back to life from mud and blood, sweat and tears and madness.

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No Toes is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/NoToe_PaintingOnRedbubble

So what do you do when you feel lost and alone and even your own family cannot be trusted? You start to question yourself. Is it that they are the problem, or yourself? I read so many self-help books that talked about how one must change one’s self before others can change around them, and so I did. Literally. I made up a completely different persona for myself. I was not me. I was so many others. I hid within myself like a turtle in a shell, and I cut off anything that I felt could not fit into the pristine glass shoe that was supposedly my life.

When I read the Grimm Brother’s version of Cinderella, I felt that it was a perfect fit. Why should I identify with the protagonist when clearly I was some filthy step sister and in this tale my baby sister is the cinderella, destined to live out her shining days with a prince and a happy life in the far future. I must follow through with my part. I must cut out parts of myself, to help her story to come to it’s natural, perfect conclusion, and that’s what I did. I cut.

Cut.

Cut.

All the lines in the canvas I sewed them in myself. Each time I punctured the surface of the canvas, I felt as if I was puncturing the surface of my skin. I weaved the threads of my life in and out, over and over, trying to stitch up a broken face, a broken heart and a broken mind. It took my hours to finish and I wasn’t proud of it when I was done. I felt this piece, left me the most naked and alone. In the story of my life, I felt cold.

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Fox Lady and No Face is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/FoxLady_and_NoFace_PaintingOnRedbubble

There are many tales in Korean and Japanese Folklore that talk about the fox maiden, and demons with no face. I watched many Animes at the time and my top favourite one was the Mononoke, which in some ways featured demons that were very similar to both the fox maiden and the no face, although they tackled different issues.

For me the fox maiden has always represented mischief, beauty, magic and fearlessness, while the No Face is nothing, the empty, the mysterious and the darkness that drowns you. I felt that they were exact opposites of each other, and in this piece I felt as though they would be drawn to each other in perfect balance, in a timeless embrace, if they were ever to meet.

In a way, this piece is the only piece that doesn’t speak about death, because when the danger is known, you have a choice; to fear it or to defeat it. When you take the fear out of the dark, and the madness out of the fire, all you have is knowledge, acceptance, tolerance and understanding. To know what you are up against, is even more powerful than to have a weapon in hand, because to know, means that you can defeat it. To know it, is to not fear it. To not be deceived by it’s tricks, or lured by it’s illusions. To know it, is to be free.

I found that this was beautifully illustrated in Neil Gaiman’s collaborative comic ‘The Sandman: The Dream Hunter’, where a young trained monk is faced with a fox maiden. The art is breath taking, and the story thoughtful. I have a copy and I treasure it dearly. Sometimes when I’m lost, I like to think about this story. A man alone in the mountain. A demon wanting a piece of a dream. We all want something. We all need a home.

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Diamonds, Pearls and Blood is available on redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/DiamondBloodAndPearls_Painting

There are quite a lot of folktales that retell the tale of Diamonds and Toads, where after a series of unfortunate events and courageous tasks, young heroines are rewarded by having diamonds, pearls or other precious stones fall out of their mouths when they speak, and their antagonist is rewarded with slugs and toads.

Although I created this painting so long ago, I believe it is still a reflection of my relationship with my art and my writing. I struggle with it. I struggle to make sense of my art direction. I struggle to find a coherent thought. I constantly question why my art has not evolved into something worthy of the great artists before me, or at least just passable at best. I wish that I could coughing up pearls and diamonds, but I feel like I’m coughing up toads.

On the other hand to cough up diamonds, wouldn’t one need to die in the process? Stones are sharp and cold. I imagine they would cut the inside of one’s mouth in order to pass through. At the very least wouldn’t they cut as they fell out of one’s mouth? It would only be sensible that blood would be coughed up along with all those stones. So perhaps I am also afraid of diamonds and pearls. Not so much the objects themselves, but the pain that comes with it. And yet I still try to cough them up, because somewhere inside, I still want others to be proud of me, despite the pain. ( Which is something I am going to stop! I cannot keep hurting myself in order to impress others! I am working on this!)

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The Handless Maiden is available on Redbubble as a print: http://bit.ly/TheHandlessMaiden_Painting

If you haven’t read the story about the handless maiden, you really should. There are many retellings of it, so I’ll just give you the first one I ever read, which was more of an article about the different retellings rather than just a retelling of the The Armless Maiden and the Hero’s Journey. I also wrote my own re-interpretation of the story, which you can read here: When the Devil Came.

I have to say, after all the hating, anger and frustration I was done. Over it. I was holding on to the last strand of my wits and I wanted to find a solution. Like the girl who danced with the devil, I wanted this crazy tango to be over and be able to go home and sleep in my own bed, in the safety of my own family. However I haven’t had a peace of mind like that aside from in my dreams, and even there calm dreams soon turn into nightmares.

When I approached this last painting, I wanted to paint my future. I wanted to paint a way out for myself, because in every story, if they writer doesn’t create a happy ending, the characters doesn’t have a chance in a million years of finding a way out, no matter what the critics say, so I painted in, my happy ending.

I didn’t believe it. I felt that I was lying to myself, but the idea that someone could go through so much pain, even to the point of almost loosing her child to the water, and have her arms magically restored back to her just when she thought all was lost, charmed me. I felt that if there was nothing else I could do for my family, myself, and the future family I hoped to one day have and hold in my arms, I could paint this picture. I could paint a picture of hope. Of growth. Of a forest of health, made only of deep greens and hopeful oranges. A far cry from where I began, but I hoped one day, would be the foundation of where I wanted to go.

Now when I look at this painting, it makes me smile. I’m glad I painted it because it reminds me where I’ve come from, and if I was that dark and that far gone, and I’m still here, perhaps one day I’ll find my forest of dreams.

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