Reading Diary: The Body I Call Home (Estevez Raful)

LINDA: Why not? Why not burn out? And worse, health-wise? We performance artists deal with and "court" danger, self-mutilation, stress, ritual, storytelling, etc.

NICOLÁS: I am trying to close my eyes and see how humbleness and art can come together. There is so much emphasis on competition and might in the arts, at least in the art market, which is certainly a pyramid. Only a handful are meant to make it to the top. Can art and humbleness coexist?

The above exchange is haunting to me.

I am not a performance artist, but a painter. Still. The lines above apply. As do all the sentiments of mini-godhood.

  1. People are summoned to my studio to have their portraits painted. Some strangers. Some friends, lovers, ex-lovers, co-workers. They do it for free. They are thrilled. “Honored” is a word that they use often.

  2. As they sit, we talk. I collect from them, stories: usually about love and sex; some stories are about childhood traumas; some are about future goals. When I tell them to, they stop talking. They look to me for direction for the full 4 hours they are instructed to be still. “Can I move”. “Wait, one minute…OK you can move now”.

  3. When they leave, they are starry-eyed because they have shared (in those four hours) so much—too much—with me. They have bared their soul. They think we are friends now. Some attempt to make plans to see me again—”hey, do you like going to the beach?”

    The ego-factor is strong and there has to be, in my practice, some form of exercising humility. Some care taken for the stories I have been told; I document them in a journal.

    The lines quoted from the interview speak about burning out and that is also a factor in my practice, especially currently. I am painting all the time now. Sometimes working on two portraits at once. If there is no sitting scheduled, I’ll paint pictures I have lined up on my iphone taken in the streets or in coffee shops—of a blaring, pink Harlem sunrise, or a small dog sitting between his masters legs in a Xmas doggie coat. The difference in my “burning out” however is not necessarily dealing with the social issues Linda lists but, rather, with having no-direction or having to not necessarily “deal with” anything at all. I m arguing that directionless-ness can be just as frenetic and frantic as the dealing with of heady issues.

    And perhaps it is the competition aspect of art making mentioned above that feeds into the frantic making I am engaged in. Perhaps, I am wondering, as I write this, it is not the story of the sitters I am trying to relate through paintings and portraits, but the performance of my own story: rushing, rushing, rushing to my end and leaving behind a trail of canvases and journals of stories: like a testament.