When I was in the 2nd year of school we had to draw a picture of our selves. Someone stopped by my desk and said “wow”. My desk soon gathered a small group kids – My desk – The desk of that somewhat shy and easily overlooked kid. A little girl said “you are an artist!”
“no.” I said, bashfull. But under my breath I added “not yet”.
So, in a way, I am an artist because I impressed a girl, but in spite of that, it wasn´t until my early twenties that I realized that being an artist was attractive. Duh!
On my way from there to where I am now I´ve been been loved and hurt and I’ve hurt others as well. Through it all I painted. In college, when my first girlfriend left me, I painted about that, and painting was the only thing that kept me hanging on. It was never enough that painting be therapy, I had to make something beautiful out of it. I had to find this beautiful, imperfect sort of perfection in a painting. We all need to find that in our lives. If we can´t…well then, what´s the point? Facebook likes??
I´ve always painted intensely personal images, private moments made very publicly. In my later twenties I revisited an incident from my childhood where 5 of my best friends tied me to a baseball backstop at night, trying to strip my clothes from me. I was terrified, humiliated, and powerless…and these were my friends. Luckily, I was saved by a friend who untied my shoe, allowing me to kick. I didn´t know why they did that. Looking back, I see the shadow of rape culture. Its how boys teach each other to be cruel.
Painting can attract, it can also repel.
I burned out my marriage for painting. I was always in the studio, smoking hashisch from one morning until the next, in intimate situations with my models. It was a volatile mix for any marriage. Despite my earlier insistence on honesty in my work, with marriage, my personal content went into shallow hiding from my spouse. As I hid myself, my sense of self-worth went deep into hiding as well. I reduced myself to collecting likes on FB.
Eventually, after our separation, I fled to a new love in Germany. We met at an opening, she watched me painting, and it was either that or my constant emails that convinced her I might be worth her time. This time I was determined not to let painting destroy our relationship. I stayed at home in the evenings, terrified that painting would end us. Clinging. I almost stopped making art completely while I worked in a vineyard and as a housepainter. I was still in hiding, but I was being impatiently coached out of it.
Now that relationship may be ending on good terms, but I won´t hide away anymore. I am going to keep making images, and allow my light to shine, finding that imperfect, perfect beauty in this terrible, wonderful life.
Paul Beel, Feb 8, 2018