ALL THOSE FACES! The face is my favourite part of a human to paint. Into it I can paint all the soul and sorrow and stories and subtlety of being alive. Collecting together many of the faces I have painted over the years like this feels like calling a gathering in the village square of my imagination, and it feels too like seeing my own soul reflected in the eyes of this odd throng of characters looking back at me. Despite the many many other ways we can communicate with one another these days, nothing will ever better face-to-face contact as the most real way of speaking soul-to-soul to another human being.
How strange then, to find myself and this ancient ochre-hearted company of mine with a page in the Book of Faces. I have avoided joining facebook staunchly, vociferously and indignantly up until now. There are many reasons to hate it - it is ugly, invasive, corporate, virtual, unethical... but yet, everyone is on it. If you don't belong, you are shut out of a gated community where everything is happening. And I have noticed a certain amount of tumbleweed blowing through these halls since facebook became the place to be.
I have a complex love-hate relationship with the internet. I am of the last generation who didn't have it during their growing up years. Now it is so ubiquitous that governments talk of high-speed broadband in remote areas being a human right(!). Clearly this web of uncountable things that we have strung about the world is full of wonderful, rich and interesting matter. It enables self-employed artists like me to make a living from their work in any place, by putting them in touch with the very people who will love what they do. It fosters connections which continue in the real world and which could not have been made in any other way. It is a true network and it is infinite pathways to inspiration.
But do you not also share my frustration and loathing for the way the internet has squirmed into our every minute, addicting us to updates, and overloading us with eons more information each second than we are naturally made to process in a lifetime? Even if we ignore the endless shite and horror that the internet contains, it is still spilling over with wonder. There are so many beautiful things out there, genuine heartfelt pieces of writing, ideas and images - too many - so we have learnt to skim, to take in only the bubbles from the top of every slowly crafted brew. And I for one feel this is not a true and considered honouring of these beautiful works, not to mention of the eyes and hearts and souls and bodies of the people who are consuming these streams of information every millisecond, utterly removed from the place and land where they sit, out in the ether somewhere, following a trail whilst their extremities get gradually colder and they forget to eat lunch.
I have a theory that using the internet occupies a very particular place in us. I think it takes the place of dreaming. Not night-dreaming, but that very shamanic soul-travelling that we all do to a greater or lesser extent when our mind wanders, when we create art, when we day-dream, imagine, journey in our minds and spirits to elsewhere, elsewhen. Internet-travelling uses the same metaphorical muscle I think, but is utterly hollow in comparison because it is not creative in that same sense. It is not magical. And worst of all it replaces the dreaming.
Do not think that I am railing blindly and utterly against this technology. I am not saying that magic doesn't happen as a result of online discoveries, meetings, connections. I am a Luddite with a dilemma. The internet democratizes information like never before, it enables me to create my unusual art and sell it direct to folks who are moved by it, without the need to convince somebody with money/gallery/publishing house to endorse me. I am stuck between a very real desire to live off-grid in a hut in the woods with a brambled but well-trodden path the only means of communication, and the fact that I live in a world that requires us to pay for things and therefore requires me to earn money. I hope that my internet work has integrity and genuinely touches people in a tangible, honest way, and I am not ready to scurry off to the woods just yet. So, throwing in my pounds with my pennies, I have reluctantly and contrarily decided to join facebook, since that's where everyone is!
We actually experimented with getting rid of the internet from our house altogether this year. We were fed up with evenings on laptops, and the way our home life was peppered with constant checking and replying and updating and with how our eyes and shoulders and souls felt after hours in front of a screen. So we cancelled our broadband connection. (That was quite a funny conversation - the phone company representative unable to actually comprehend what we were asking - "We'd like to cancel our broadband package" ... "You are changing service providers?" ... "No - we just want to turn the internet off" ... "You are transferring to another company? Sorry to see you go, can I ask why you wish to leave us?" ... "No, we just don't want the internet any more!" ... - confused silence -)
In return we gained quiet evenings at home, more vivid dreams, baths and cooking, reading! We re-learned the ancient art of sitting staring into space, which I can report is much more restful after a busy tiring day than checking your emails for the seven hundredth time.
We learnt how ingrained the internet was in our lives once it was no longer there. There was an itch that we couldn't scratch. (Except if we stood in a certain spot where there was an annoyingly useless wifi signal from next door!)
We didn't disappear from our online lives, because we decided to use our "work hours" to use the internet elsewhere. We began by using cafes with wifi, which resulted in rather a lot of coffee purchased and hurried distracted dealings with all the internet required of us. This was not ideal. So we moved our online work to our studios where we spent the day working, but left at the end of the day for a laptop-free home.
But that didn't quite work either. The fact remains that if you are engaged in the online world with your work, you need to be there a lot. You need to keep feeding the beast that feeds you. We ended up driving to and from our studios more than necessary whenever a quick search or email reply was needed. We tried writing lists on pieces of paper of Things To Do On The Internet Next Time We're In Town. But invariably you'd forget something, and there was more on that list than you could realistically do in just one or two allocated days a week. We had to face up to the fact that we live in a digitally connected world. This is the way of things for us for now until we cut all the wires, tie a handkerchief to the end of a stick and head into the forest. Perhaps the wires will be cut for us, and then what will we do?! Does anyone have an address book made of paper any more? Do you know where all your friends actually live? Could you find them in real geography if the internet disappeared?
I speak from a concerned and somewhat frightened yet simultaneously grateful and amazed viewpoint. If we use this thing, we still need to remember the land on which we stand, remember our bodies and the faces of those we love. I think we should be frightened that all intercity trains these days are filled with blue-faced passengers, every one of them swiping their fingers across a tiny screen, oblivious of the people around them acting identically. If we use this thing, then we should use it to find other faces in the throng and go and really touch them, in real life. Arrange it so that you can look into their real eyes and hear their real stories. This amazing network can be used for proliferating inane fluff or it can be used to organize and gather for good and real reasons, and to stir souls.
Please do not think I am devaluing my connection to you, dear reader. Quite the opposite. I know and love the fact that every one of you is a real person with a real, and deliciously unknown and different life from mine going on around and in you as you sit in front of your screen there reading these words. My words of caution, celebration and confusion are aimed rather at this thing in between us, which I cannot touch or name or understand, but without which we wouldn't be connected, yet it also causes us not to tangibly connect.
Actually, I'm quite enjoying leafing through the Face Book. It's a strange world, but you all seem to be there, so I have come to join you. I'll be posting pictures of works in progress and offering for sale little spur-of-the-moment paintings and drawings which might not make it outside those blue walls. Please pull up a log, help me find my feet in this new and unfamiliar territory, it'll be nice to see some familiar faces there.