1959 Cadillac Eldorado: an artist’s manifesto

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019
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I was driven to this place in a spicy red hot  convertible, with Fear at the wheel. I am ultimately an art-maker because of Fear.

And Fear is my home-girl.

I was born to compulsively creative parents.

My mother danced by the tides of the moon, and sang from the hollows of her soul. She harnessed and manipulated the earth into wild yet flowing landscapes, and wove ceremonial regalia on the doorway to the other side. Interior design, costume-making, storytelling — anything to be used as a vessel to express the previously unspoken, unseen.

An orphan of cultural identity, my father found his innate vitality in the corners of creative isolation. Captivated by precision and with a natural sense for design, my father could execute the finest crafted musical instruments, the brightest serigraph prints, the most avant-garde carvings.

Together, my parents were a powerhouse, renovating homes, creating performance art events and large-scale sculptural installations — and perhaps most importantly — raising three artistic children.

I was “unschooled” during my most malleable years, allowed to play and explore my environment freely. Mimicking the routines of my parents, I learned to navigate this world by way of compulsive creation. Rudimentary instinct informed me that my worth was contingent upon the amount and quality of art I could create. In our home, art = money. In my child’s heart, art = love.

By the time I enrolled in public school at around 12 years old, I was able to harness admiration and a higher social status by way of demonstrating my artistic capabilities. Being an artist quickly became part of my enduring identity, following me through high school and college. My  mentors encouraged the pursuit of an art career, closest friends would seek me out for creative consultations and my lovers were seduced by the authentic air that accompanied my artistic juices.

When the Artist’s Identity begins to operate as the most effective mechanism for accumulating love, the risk of its loss manifests itself out of the ether. Self-constructed fears begin to multiply, sticking to themselves, fabricating the embodiment of Fear itself — a massive Creature that steers the wheel.

At times, the Creature will whisper disheartening comments — that the Love will be lost upon the production of insufficient art. Without warning, murmurs become shouts — patronizing remarks to stunt any efforts of creation before new concepts are even pondered.

Any sign of artistic growth had to be smuggled past my Creature. 

In an unconscious effort to stifle my own evolution, I’d jump from media to media, to operate in a constant state of “beginner” status. Pottery, drawing, printmaking, collage, sculpting, metal work, acrylics, oils, gouache, graphic arts, coding, photography, motherhood, gardening, cooking, guitar, event planning, non-profit organizing, yoga, marketing, writing; all means of authentically expressing the inner state of the universe. For years, I considered this to be a sign of impatience, a means to combat creative “boredom”, my weakest self proving its artistic atrophy. Bouncing from thing to thing also protected me from ever needing to face the high expectations of earning a “mastery” title. Remaining “safe”. Preventing the Creature from having the opportunity to offer justifiable criticism.

Fear has been my chauffeur from point A to point B, stopping to sightsee incessantly along the way. Convinced by my Creature, I perceived the layovers as detours with beautiful yet fleeting views, insignificant conversations with strangers, new places I’d never stick around long enough to know. Eventually indifferent to the length of the drive, I forgot what road we were on and that the destination had never changed.

In all reality, the sightseeing was all part of the Master Plan, whereby my Creature — accidentally — cultured me into waking up and growing a pair. From North to South, from the shallows to the depths, Fear held my hand through a minefield of trivialities and fiascos, not knowing where She was leading me.

During a bathroom break somewhere near the junction of Perdition and Transcendence, I find myself alone in the passenger’s seat. The gaze of a lingerie shop draws me in, and I seize this rare moment of freedom to succumb to its allure. With poise, I swipe a pair of lacy black panties to act as a concealed talisman of feminine fortitude. I step back out into the sun, head toward the car, and motion to my adolescent Creature — “jump in the back”. Reclaiming the driver’s seat, I touch up my lipstick in the mirror, let my hair down, turn up the jams, and back the hell out of wherever-the-fuck-place Fear had us dily-dalying. Pedal-to-the-metal. 

I coast down the highway in this beauty-of-a-tank, visions of yet-to-be-crafted artworks fill the reaches of my limbs. Originally led to the open road by a surrender to my inner voice, I silently acknowledge the invaluable companionship I’ve had with my home-girl, Fear.

A glance in the rearview mirror reveals that She looks a lot like Love when reflected back at me. She just talks too much… and I had to take the wheel.


An Anniversary

Friday, December 7th, 2018
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Photo of Clarissa Rizal by Sioui LaBelle

Mama kept her bedroom curtains open so that in the morning she would be woken by the sun. She would point the foot of her bed toward the east-facing widow when possible. She would drink her tea in the warmth of the sun rays, and plan her work schedule around gardening time. Every weekend drive had a road-side landmark, when ”the lighting” was praised.

I’ve come to notice that I chase the light now, the warm yellows and Southwest rays. In truth, it is the presence of my mother, and all the essence of her that comforted me as a child, and made me present, still, safe; and so it is love. And if my mother is looked past, it is all those that came before her, and those that come *from* her; and so it is life.

In this early light, seven hundred and thirty mornings since I last held her hand, the anniversary of her passing carves out time for remembrance of the lifeforces that came before me. Those resilient, traumatized immigrants and natives, continue to pump out innovative, fierce, motivated human beings… and as I turn my face to the truth of the morning glow, today I’m softened and reassured that all is as it should be.