Be Nice to Your(self) Art

As you may notice I’m not writing much lately and here between us I must confess I’m not painting much either. Partly is due to that I’m a bit busy and heavily tired in the nights due to Dragon Boat training (my inspiration comes late at night and lately by 11:30pm I’m already sleeping). I believed these two were the only reasons but after having some time to think and analyze what was going on I got to another conclusion.

Some months ago I had the opportunity to participate in my first exhibition here in Taiwan. I have to say it was an honor and a great opportunity to meet two great artists but it also changed me for bad (and now for good)… Let me explain myself better:

The month before this event I spent several sleepless nights preparing some paintings to show in the exhibition. I didn’t have much done that I could consider “exhibition worth it” (first mistake right here) so there was lots of work to do. I love to do small scale drawings and paintings, as a matter of fact most of my works are the size of a notebook page… well most of my works are in one of the thousand sketchbooks I love to collect. The thing is that when I thought of something “exhibition worth it” I thought of BIG canvas and fancy acrylics, not all those sketchbook pages filled with colors of any source (including coffee stains, pens I asked from anyone sitting close enough to me during lectures, pencils I randomly found in my bookbag , etc)

So… sleepless nights, acrylics, canvas, blah blah… after all these the big day came and I was so nervous. Somehow I felt I, as an artist, was not worth it for any of this. I looked at the paintings hanging there and thought of a better shade of purple for the petals of the tulip, wanted to grab a marker and finish the details of one of the leaves in a better way, and regretted adding ink to the face of the girl… People came and congratulated me about such great works and while I was smiling, deep inside me I just wanted to run away and go back to my room and read a nice book and drink a cup of tea.

How could I feel in such way in such a big day? How could I be so ungrateful?

To top all of this I received two comments from one person (someone I’m pretty sure has never even touched a paintbrush or combined two shades of oranges to reach THE color for the sunset) that just sunk me more into all this aggravating battle inside my head. Till today I’m not sure if it was the remarks on their own or the tone that human being used to make such remarks but ohh how they hurt…

“You need to change your signature. Ericka Bastias is too long… think of Picasso for example… he’s just Picasso. There are just few exceptions like Pinto Rodezno here who can make it work” So… now even my “artistic name” was wrong. Thanks. First of all, is not even my artistic name, it’s just my name. I decided to sign every single piece of work: letters, poems, paintings with Ericka Bastias as a way of honoring my mother who was my first motivation to start painting. Second, I keep the Ericka because it has been the name I have heard all my life and in that way it can be clear that behind all that you see there’s a girl, woman, female. After signing more than 200 works with my name here comes a stranger telling me how not “artsy and professional” it is and how I’m of course not an exception that can make it work.

This comment just made me feel uncomfortable, it didn’t really affect me because I have pretty clear reasons for my signature and I love them and it. But the next one did kill my soul a bit, not because it was a direct critic to my art but because it just pinpointed something I was lacking and something I’m probably still “lacking”

“So… I just want to make sure because someone asked me and I didn’t know what to answer. What is your style? I just see so many things put up together… and I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like you have your own style.”

Yeah, the person was actually right. If you saw my four works you saw pretty different things: small works, big works, pencil, acrylic, ink, flowers, faces and anatomy… there was even one CIRCULAR canva in all that space of squared pieces.

I stare back blankly with no answer at all… and then just say “Well… I guess I’m still looking for it”

After those two days I kept on thinking to myself “So what it’s your style?” “What do you like painting?” “WHO ARE YOU?” and I couldn’t really answer that. I went through all my sketchbooks and saw dark drawings with sad stories, colorful flowers and animals, love and loneliness, sharp details and crazy scribbles, drawings that took me minutes and others days…. such a mess.

I felt lost and disappointed because at this point I thought I knew what I was going on about. What is my art? What am I trying to say to the world? 

After thinking and thinking I convinced myself that: EUREKA! I have found it! I found my style and now I’m going to start a collection with it and some day show it… It was going quite well. I was using the ink I so much love and still implementing bright colors in the background, I was drawing women and some flowers too… Yes, this was it, this is me…

Soon enough I was getting bored of having to follow this collection. I HAD to do at least eight of them and I HAD to do them in ink and I HAD to think of a color for their background and I HAD to look through thousands of women faces to get right some features. They were looking good but what was I saying through them? Was I sad? Was I happy? Had my heart just been broken? Or was I feeling empty? Because this was sure looking empty to me..

And there I went again sitting with all my sketchbooks piled in front of me and I started browsing them again… I did found the same mess I found months ago but I also found something else: I found the time I failed my first quiz ever in my first week of university (with an 18 of 100 by the way, go big or go home they say), I found the time I stayed up until 4am because I wanted to do something nice before going to sleep one typical Tuesday night, I found my broken heart and myself completely in love, I also found one of the many times I recalled my mother because of a small thing and had no other way of getting it out than through art, and when I get bored in lectures and just run far far away without leaving my chair…

I found myself in all these different faces with all these different feelings just trying to let it out and scream to the world “THIS IS WHO I AM” without being taken to the police because of disrupting public areas with my screams. I wanted to share a piece of me with everyone without needing to get a piece back.

And that’s exactly who I am… a woman (I’m 21 now so I’m not consider a girl anymore in any country, damn it) who’s trying to just express herself without talking but still saying a lot. Someone who takes a notebook with her and closes herself up when surrounded by all this meaningless and empty noise. Someone who indeed is a mess and can’t define herself inside a “artistic style”.

Art is something I do for myself. Art is the time I close up all my walls and at the same time let it all out to share with others. Art is all this tiny moments I want to remember forever. Art is all these persons, places and memories that have built me up and changed me. Art is… art is something way beyond what you can see in front of your eyes but what you get to feel through it and for it.

So… if being an artist is about big canvas, having a proper signature and having a defined style… let me keep being a not-artist with all her sketches, her counless incomplete notebooks and way too many feelings to fit hanging in a fancy saloon.

-Ericka Bastías.

PS: To celebrate my own art freedom I bought myself two new black pens and two sketchbooks… 

PPS: Even though this post might seem like the person who made those remarks is THE enemy… I must tell you that my biggest enemy was no one else but myself. These past months I must accept I was quite harsh on myself and this is something I know happens to a lot of us. So remember: be your best friend, you have to live with yourself… forever. 

PPPS: Now it’s all about drinking tea and waiting for inspiration to take me back in its loving arms…