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  • Writer's pictureTutu Balogun

Art & I

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

For too many years’ Art, you’ve been my little secret, yup that’s right my hidden guilty pleasure. Oh, sure you've been bread and butter, yes! But I've made sure you weren't common knowledge for decades. That is, until now. Let me explain...

Being of west African heritage; Art, you are not a subject that we as a nation traditionally deem worthy of pursuing as a career. In our reality, you're a subject that children who don’t quite understand maths or science are given to do to occupy their time in the absence of more ‘tangible’ subjects…

But I wouldn’t be Tutu if I didn’t do things differently, right?!

I didn’t choose you; Art, you chose me. I first noticed the cool energies in your world at age seven or was I eight? I forget. But what I do remember is the warm feeling you gave me having completed my first drawing to a standard worthy of celebration IMHO. It wasn’t an elaborate landscape or a portrait with an ear painted on the side of my nose, nope; just a crab shell drawn with colouring crayons in my classroom; an average, everyday assignment to occupy us children until afternoon break time.

Apart from quietly feeling pleased with self, my only other confirmation that it was a well drawn piece was my teacher refusing to believe that I was the artist behind the work! she was insistent that a classmate sat next to me had done it, that I had cheated in saying it was my handy work but that’s a whoooole other issue (racism). Through tears, I was forced to say "I lied, I didn't do it" . Don’t worry Art, my dad marched down to my school the next day and an apology was promptly extended to me, rightly so!

A1 Life drawing: Brush & Ink

Nonetheless, by the time I was approaching my teen years I had defined a clear crush on you, just a crush though. I suppose with just a crush I could still be coerced out with the right, soft sway but there wasn’t anyone in a place of authority that was aware of my crush so, there was no need to sway my attention elsewhere. My grades were great in the subjects that my dad wanted me to excel in so he was none the wiser of this long standing fascination I had with you.

I would weave you into as many subjects as possible. I recall having a biology assignment on amphibians; I couldn’t wait to get home to look up the most elaborate frog just so I could draw it in great detail. My teachers were always so impressed with the visual elements of my coursework so much so, it would bump up my school grades where I may have lacked in the core assignment… you did that Art!

"She gave me my first ever Winsor & Newton watercolour paint set complete with some fine paint brushes and said Tutu, don’t ever stop painting...”

It wasn’t until, not long before my 13th birthday when I had the good fortune of a temporary, transfer art teacher from Canada that you & I got more serious. Gosh, I really wish I remembered the teachers name, she was the first person who really noticed my relationship with you during our lesson times at school. She would encourage me to stay behind after school to have 'alone' time with you. it was pure bliss, just us (and my teacher). She’d be occupied with clearing up from a day of teaching whilst I used all the facilities to create my masterpieces. There was a plethora of paints; watercolours, acrylics, oil pastels, charcoals, inks, every grade of pencil..! It was heaven for amateur artists, definitely where I belonged!

"I used to love sketching faces with character, a smooth face was a boring face to me..."

I never looked forward to when the teacher had finished her chores, that meant end of session for me. Alas, our 'date' was over for the day. I would stay behind after school twice a week, every week for several months until that day came when the transfer teacher had to return to Canada. Upon her departure I remember, she gave me my first ever Winsor & Newton watercolour paint set complete with some fine paint brushes accompanied with the words “Tutu, don’t ever stop painting”

Rotten to the core: A drawing in my UAL sketchbook. Oil pastel

Matters were getting serious on an educational front. My dad was slowly making it clear to me that I needed to choose subjects that would lead to a sturdy career. It didn’t help that my siblings (all older than me) had chosen paths that would lead them into the world of accountants, lecturers & nurses. My eldest sister had already mastered 3 languages with 2 more on the go! And there I was saying I wanted to be an artist, yikes! Well, my dad was having none of it. Do you remember what I said from the top about how my culture views art...? .

"I got tired of being arrested for what the legal system called ‘street vandalism’! There’s nothing glamorous about a police cell, let me tell you!"

Art, you and I were in a fully fledged relationship now and having shown me your loyalty I knew you were worthy. I would do anything for you so, graffiti was a natural progression for us. I became this elaborate, undercover creative with a need to celebrate you, my source of intelligence whenever/wherever I could!

Here’s where we had our first compromising moment. I loved you Art but I have to admit, I got tired of being arrested for what the legal system called ‘street vandalism’ and there were only so many police cautions both my father and I could stomach! Not to mention the police cells; there’s nothing glamorous about a police cell let me tell you!

Next stop meant coming clean and taking all the heat in telling my dad the real lay of land "Daddy, well...err... the thing is... umm... Art & I... well, we’re in a relationship and have been for some time! I need to create daddy!!” It beats plan B which went more like "sod this for a laugh, I'm gonna do art and there's nothing you can do about! So anyone who doesn't like it can just f..." Yeah, not a great plan B. Ha, I wouldn't be alive today had I uttered a single of those words.

Art commission In North London, England... it feels good!

Art, you've taken me to places and spaces that I never imagined possible. My reality is, you've been one of two irreplaceable, life long, best friends to me. The biggest irony is, whilst you freed me from the ghouls and baddies on the other side of the door; I’ve tried to keep you a secret for so long for fear of you being taken away from me or, me falling out of love with you. I very nearly did fall out of love but then... naaaah, not gonna happen!

In more recent years, I’ve had a taste of some of those ghouls desperately trying to de-value our bond upon their acknowledgment of our relationship and I’ve tripped up on you too but at this stage, I now know our bond can’t be broken.

I went through a granite & plant based diet/phase in my sketch book some many years ago...

I love creating with all mediums including computers

I know I’m not the only one but then, you were never meant for just one. Still, I don’t know why you chose me; however, I’m extremely grateful, you did. You've given me a super power of sorts. I close my eyes with my lids wide open, think of you and immediately, my vision is transported to a completely new dimension. And I get to bring back these amazing sights for others to see, use and appreciate.

So I want to conclude by saying; Art, you're the best! I knew you would be from that very first crab leg back when I was eight, or was I seven..? I forget. I look forward to spending the rest of my life with both you & good music by my side.

Footnote: to anyone lucky enough to have a true relationship with Art, don’t be scared to show the world the beauty of your true connection! If your relationship is genuine..? then, draw comfort [pun intended] in knowing there isn’t a soul in the world that can break your bond. And should you put a foot wrong, Art will forgive you, it’s just that kind of cool.

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