It seems sometimes that I have two or more people inside of me, each trying to express herself. I know that it shows in my work. For many years, after graduating from art school, I tried to produce a consistent body of work, suitable for the eyes of gallery owners, but trying to suppress one of my sides was producing a terrible schism in me. I became depressed and confused, and worse, I was unable to paint at all.
Admitting to my rather schizophrenic self is rather like confessing that I drink at an AA meeting: maybe it feels good at the time, but you d rather you didn’t t have the problem, to begin with, Or perhaps it is like finally coming out if you are gay. I have nothing so identifiable as drinking or sexual differences: instead, I have a kind of identity problem or artistic schizophrenia.
Born under the sign of Pisces, I was destined to be a conflicted artist, I suppose. The fish swim in opposite directions, after all. My life has not been a straight path, either. When I was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, I showed them a hyper-real portfolio. I was very interested in studying at that school because I knew they had traditional anatomy courses, with dissections, etc. This was true, they had wonderful classes in a small amphitheater, and once they dissected a rabbit. However, when I arrived in the city, my work went from realistic to expressionistic, and finally, in my final year, to abstract expressionism.
It was not easy to get the schools back home to accept my degree from L Ecole des Beaux-Arts, even though it is arguably the most famous art school in the world. I think now that they couldn t fit the degree into their own curriculum. This was just another episode where I see now that I just didn t fit in, or that I tried to buck the system. Although I went to graduate school, I couldn t finish: I was longing for my experience of Paris, a real art city. I wanted to move to New York, but it would take me many years to try.
Instead, I worked as an illustrator, then a designer, and then discovered multimedia. Eventually, I found out weird things about myself: that I like programming interactive art, that I love to brainstorm ideas and do marketing. All of this experience has been good for me because I use it all in my art. However, in the long run, I have so many interests and possible mediums, that it is a little hard to keep up with them. Sometimes all my projects become like voices clamoring to be heard inside of me. The only way to solve the problem is to let them all express themselves eventually.
In the last 15 years, I have identified two major voices or moods in my work. The moods correspond to the two basic sides of my personality: one is very aggressive, expressive, destructive and masculine, the other is contemplative, surreal, feminine and cool. They correspond to the eastern concept of the Yang and the Yin: the Yang style can be seen in the violent colors, expressionistic style, and large canvases of the Body & Soul series. The yin mood translates to the cool colors, smooth technique, and small dimensions of the Mirage series. These two personalities exist side by side: in fact, I work on a minimum of 4 canvases at once and find there is usually a mix of work in each style.
Even the videos that I have produced are evenly divided between the two voices. Beauty Tip #1: Exfoliate belongs to the Yang voice: the film records the destruction of a woman s magazine and a young woman s search for identity. The two Subtitulo films, by contrast, have a passive or contemplative mood.
I never start out with the idea that I am going to produce a piece in one voice or another; I have only been able to see these two parallel tracks when I look at the work in retrospect.
The way I work follows a distinct path. First, I brainstorm with quick, simple sketches; these can consist of a few simple lines on newsprint, each executed in less than a minute. I might produce twenty or thirty of these quick ideas in one session. Most of them are variations on a theme. They may become a whole series of paintings, or they may inspire other work.
Next, I tape the sketches to the wall and let them incubate: I sit on them like a mother hen. Which ones still look good after some time? Which ones fit with which others? Sometimes I know the idea is good, but something is missing; it might take me a long time to resolve the piece. The stage of incubation can take as little as a few days or as long as a few years. I tend to junk ideas that seem too slick: I am looking for an essential and difficult to reach simplicity in my work.
The decisions that I make at the final stage are of the size and the medium. I have seen work where the piece would succeed if only it was larger and other work where it would be more effective if it were small.
Much of this decision has to do with style, concept, and mood. For example, the Mirage series has a contemplative mood, and surreal style: it seems to be suited to a small or medium format: the paintings on wood or canvas range from 8 inches square to 32 x 40 inches. The expressionistic style of the Body & Soul series seems to need a larger format, these paintings range from 32 x 40 inches to 6 x 7 feet.
It is only recently, in my Tarot deck that I can see how the two styles can work together. The Transformational Tarot is, like the Osho Zen Tarot, only loosely based upon the traditional Tarot: it is meant to be an aid in the development of awareness. I made the Arcana cards from the paintings of the last 15 years. In choosing the images to go in each suite and to go with each word, I could see how the Body & Soul style fit with the Minor Arcana; and how the Mirage voice fit the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana concepts are all about the trials and obstacles of life, the lesser gods and demons at the gates of enlightenment. The Major Arcana concepts are about levels of attainment in the game of the transformation of awareness.
One of the things that I think many people have a hard time seeing is that essentially both styles or voices deal with the same ideas or themes. In the last year of art school, I was successful in producing a series of paintings called “The Object”, which had as a theme, the idea of how something can go from an object of veneration or worship to something that is taken for granted, like a tool or a decoration. This series was the culmination of a year of study and contemplation on the nature of religion, mysticism, language and the evolution of awareness. This theme is a common thread in all my work.
For years, I have been working with the same awe for life, the enigma of reality, the development of awareness, the dual forces of yin and yang, and the yearning for what we cannot see, touch, or feel. Somehow we know it is there, it is there in the violence as well as in the calm. It is beyond the duality and the suffering we experience, and it is also in that as well. I can identify with both Rene Magritte and Francis Bacon because they embody something in me, in all of us: our schizophrenic society: our essentially conflicted and dualistic nature.
~ Aliyah Marr
Article originally posted on Art Baby Art probably in 2004 or 2005