Friday, January 23, 2009

self portrait...

(pic by safari craig taken at olduvai gorge.)

once not too many years ago, i decided i would like to paint. actually. it was just after we had moved from zambia to tanzania. and i was sitting in this little cottage we had rented (which had a ghost in it), perched on the edge of a dark motionless volcanic lake, called lake duluti, which definitely had monsters living in it and a woman spirit which ate small boys. and many other strange things...not exactly a live happy kind of lake. it was dark grey green and still. and VERY deep. i was told the germans threw a heap of guns and bombs in it so that the english wouldn't get their hands on them....safari craig had gone on, um, a safari and there i sat. with How To Speak Swahili hanging limply in my hands, thinking vaguely of somali shiftas and of friends far away.

and i was as sad as a sad person could be.

i became tired of being sad after while; slightly bored of staring southwards over the maasai steppes, imagining zambia just over the horizon. slightly bored of this empty sad feeling. so i rummaged around on the book shelf and found a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron...all about unblocking the creative self. i had done the course about three times already and always stopped at chapter 7, feeling marginally creatively unblocked.

ANYWAY. julia cameron coaches you through all the ego psycho write your morning pages religiously every morning. three A four pages...of can write shitshitshitshitshitshitshit all the way if that's all you have to say. actually. it's quite extraordinary, because after about a week you will find you are like an onion being peeled because you end up writing shitshitshitshitshit i saw the moon last night..or something to that effect. so there i was unblocking myself...and i arrived at a section where you have to choose something you would like to do...make a list. so i chose:



artist (as in painting)

tractor driver (kidding)

barbel fisherman (jesus)

and can;t remember the rest.

once you have made your list you turn over the page to see what's next. and she says, gasp gasp, "right. now choose one of those and BE it...." fuck. are you serious? so i chose artist. she warns you about your ego voice saying, "god you are ridiculous. you can;t paint to save your life! hilarious! anyway. you don;t have paints or brushes or anything. you're way too old. just stop all this nonsense and get on with what needs to be done, like, um, lose some weight, stop smoking, be a better mother, wife, person, blah blah blah."

so knowing this voice i turned around and said shut up, found a piece of ceiling board, went out and bought some cheap chinese oils (the only ones available) a range of cheap chinese paint brushes, put the kids to bed, put on beethoven and sat down to paint. and paint and paint and paint and paint. i started at 8 in the evening and finished at 3:30 in the morning. i had painted this:

i have no idea where this image came from. i had literally sat there and painted it from my head...when i had finished it, i called it "Little Black Sambo's Last Stand". do you know the story of little black sambo? it was written in the 19th century..about a little indian boy whose dad buys him smart clothes and the tigers take them from him. then argue with each other about who is the finest tiger in all the jungle. the chase each other round and round a palm tree (not noticing little black sambo taking all his clothes back) until they melt into butter... little black sambo's mum makes pancakes out of them, and little black sambo ate 67 pancakes in total. the end. this painting is what happens is the tiger waiting for him....the one that got away.... the one that managed NOT to melt into butter... little black sambo is about to walk around the corner.... what a surprise he will get.... but i hadn't thought about this while i painted. only afterwards....anyway. i was amazed i had painted a picture... so i thought, hey i like this...and decided to paint a self portrait. so i sat one evening, staring at myself side ways in a mirror and trying to paint myself...i was completely pleased by the result and called safari craig.

he sleepily looked at it (because it was late by the time i had finished and my neck was a bit sore from looking at my reflection sideways for a long time) and he said," oh. is that michael jackson?"
the next morning, one of the kids walked over it by mistake....
here is the painting.

adrian told me afterwards that it's only the great masters who dare to paint their self portraits, actually.
and that, oh best beloveds, as far as i can recall, was the end of my painting career.
and, the end of chapter 7.

Kitchen Board: Saturday Morning: 24 Jan 2009
Contributors: Veronica and Janelle
Comments: on it. on it, you see?
jane eyre is such a goodie goodie two shoes, don't you think? how she resisted mr rochester the first time, is quite beyond me.
toooooooodely old pip, you. bisous, hot hot hot ones. xxx j
ps: still no rain. it's not funny anymore....


Val said...

painting is a very brave act - well done! maybe you should paint some rain? or plant some trees? in desparation one day i planted three new trees hoping to bring on the rain - and it did work!!!
you should def paint more but how you will find the time.......
i was fascinated by the mad woman in the attic in jane eyre.... then i read wide sargasso sea xx

karen said...

rain: what you need to do is take down your rain gauge, drill a big hole in the roof directly over your TV or bed, or anywhere you don't want a leak to be fountaining onto. Then be sure to leave something precious that should never get wet, out in the garden. Murphy will NOT be able to resist! (speaking from experience here!!)

glad you became the painter, and not the barbel fisherman - so you could share this wonderful experience with us!!

Catofstripes said...

Oh don't stop painting. I love Little Black Sambo's Last Stand.

I do lots of self portraits and I am a very bad painter indeed but it's good for practise and at least the model isn't going to be too cross with you!

SafariB said...

Art is in the eye of the beholder.... Just go for it girl! Who CARES what others think. There are many many many now famous artists out there who were "rejected" in the beginning. IF you are passionate about it, live your passion. It makes life all the more worthwhile :) (me speaking as a slack part-time-wanna-be-artist myself)

Dumdad said...

Boot prints on self portrait - expressing the angst of downtrodden women everywhere.

Reya Mellicker said...

You are so amazingly talented. Your list of possible vocations could go on and on and on. Remember you're a teacher, too - and a great one.

As for painting, I believe every painting is a self portrait.

Little Black Sambo's last stand? That's ... well ... perfect!

No doubt you brought a lot of healing to that sad place with the deep and dangerous dark green gray lake. Glad, though, that you were able to move on.

family affairs said...

Yet another talent....I've got a few paintings around like day maybe again I'll try - I always expect to be able to do things immediately and then get bored when I am supposed to practice.

NB - it was ghee not butter in the LBS book - one of my favourites! (and then it was banned) Lx

family affairs said...

ps your painting was always going to have a moon in it! Lx

Janelle said...

you know, lulu. i nearly wrote ghee but couldn;t remember how to spelll it. . . so did butter instead! xxx j

Elizabeth said...

What is the "DOOM" you are going to buy?
Can't you get it free?
You must read "If you want to Write" by Brenda Uland (GrayWolfPress).
She was a friend of Carl Sandburg and a mad old bat (like me) and then your creative spirit will soar.....
ps your paintings are so lovely

Lori ann said...

oh I really really like the tiger, and your pretty cute too. since you don't want to paint anymore maybe you don't want the painting either, i'll trade you the tiger for some rain. kidding! still trying to shoo our storm your way!
def do what karen says...

xxxlori safari craig home yet???????

Dick said...

I'm rather taken with the Little Black Sambo painting. Touches of Rousseau. Sadly, the self-portrait seems to have become more footwork than handicraft. My own painting career adopted a similar course.

Charli said...

What a beautiful post. Your writing is eloquent and it looks like you have a lot of talent as a painter! Way to go for taking the plunge... I am not sure I could do it myself.

I also like the pic of the skull and the glasses. Very cool.

Nice blog. Look forward to seeing more!

Nao said...

What a grrrreat post. Such honesty, and humour, and heart. And then, "Little Black Sambo's Last Stand," well that's just fabulous!

Linda S. Socha said...

Love your blog ...I think I found you through the Pink Cowboy who is in himself wonderful
Love your writing style

Janelle said...

val - don't you think any art is brave and neccessary? even blogging?? i love painting...and one day will give it another twirl... xxx

karen maybe one day i shall post a pic of a big sqeaker i caught! XX j

cat - well the portrait of you!? xxx j

oh B - precisely..think i am of an age now where i am way beyond what other people think...unless i have been purposefully mean, which i try and not be...or if someone misunderstands me..but when it comes to art,...well, i love it anyway...sod it! XX j

thanks reya! yeah that lake was spooky...too much darkness there...we left it...lots of spirits...all sorts of witchcraft around it...ooooooo xxx j

DD - hmmmm maybe? that's motherhood for you..nothing is learn to get over it and lock up your j

ah thanks elizabeth...DOOM is an insect spray...doom on the mozzies! and flies... xxx j

lori! me cute??? nah! safari craig gets back tommorrow night...can't wait to see him! xxx j

dick. rosseau? do you think so? wow! thanks! (taking it as a compliment!) xxx j

charli thanks for popping by. well i am COMPLETELY impressed with your poetry and your honest. so true. so beautiful. xxx j

thanks nao! XXX j

linda! thanks for visiting. yes. we LOVE our Pink Cowboy! XX j

Mama Shujaa said...


Ah dada! Nime-enjoy hii post sana!! Ni kama kitabu, endelea kuandika. Nice art. So homesick now...Keep them coming! I have an aunt that once lived in Tanga, she worked as a nurse in a haunted hospital and had many frightening stories to tell.

More please.. :-) You go thru' a lot of doom.

mighty jo said...

hello! thanks for visiting my blogs & being so enthusiastic about them! yay! im so glad you found me. i sat looking & looking for someone, anyone last night on blogger. & i could not find a connection. so i was thrilled to find your comment & your blog this morning.
i love your self-portrait. i love to paint & write & draw, but defeat myself about it constantly. don't give up!

Mud in the City said...

Loved LBS as a child! Not very PC in middle class Hampshire though. I like the way the tiger seems to glow luminous from the glow of the moon, very poetic!

P.S. can you send over some DOOM - something's invaded my kitchen....

Tessa said...

Doom, Doom, I remember Doom. Gor, it does pong most violently don’t you think?

You absolutely must continue painting, Memsahib. Your little lone tiger is an enchantment (I longed for my mother to make melted tiger pancakes. LBS was my hero – probably still is) and your self-portrait is very Lucien Freud. You have talent in abundance, girl.

I so know what you mean by the peculiar ghostliness of those dark green greasy volcanic lakes. We stayed at a loggers’ camp in the Cameroon once, right next to one of those eerie, fathomless bodies of water. I was goose-bumped for days afterwards. Even now…thinking about it…

Yes, Jane was a rather prim goodie goodie two shoes. I read somewhere that Gwyneth Paltrow lists Jane Eyre and Crime and Punishment as her two favourite books. I think she’s a bit of a goodie goodie too, frankly.

I have an award for you on my blog. Not for art. Not yet. Need to see more paintings. Some rainy African vistas, maybe?

Kaa salama, Janelli