Leslie: So, where do we start if we’re relating creativity to stepping outside the gender box?
Karolina: It’s good to speak as queer artists, but it doesn’t have to be queerness that’s the main point of our artworks. So I don’t think queerness manifests in an overt way in my work. Androgyny is perhaps the most obvious manifestation.
I also think there’s the theme of men who look fragile in my work, which is a gendered topic, but with its own niche. For instance in my picture ‘Crossed Out Ready’.
Leslie: That image really speaks to me. Fragile Men is an excellent title for me to try for a poem, inspired by your picture:
The angle of his arm and thrown-out hand
is a bird of paradise flower where the sunbirds land.
She’s in orange and black. In a blue-green softness
of love burning down, the hotness
and ache of blanched skin are he/she/they
seen through a glass darkly. If this is the way
of all flesh, root and flower of unnamed self,
then with what wings do angels dance their death?
Karolina: My creative process goes like this – I have a reservoir of images in my mind. This reservoir gets filled by what I see and what I notice every day, I also keep photos and bits of paper of things that inspire me. When sitting down to draw, sometimes I start with a clear reference, like this picture which is based on a still of a movie starring David Bowie. I do a sketch first, using the grid method, to be sure I’ve gotten proportions and placement right. Once that is done, I feel more confident adding color. It just ‘feels’ right to add splashes of color in unexpected places, when I’ve reached this stage.
Sometimes, there are ideas for drawings that just emerge as I sit and let my hand flow on paper, like this content, solitary person with a wine glass who doesn’t care about having furniture.
What I’ve learned over time, is how to know when stop working on a piece. When it feels like I am going through the motions just to get a part of the background filled, it is time to pause and think – what if I don’t? Sometimes I need to keep at it, other times, doing less (the absence of color or background furniture) yields a more meaningful result and reveals the material underneath, increasing the impact of the actual subject.
Leslie: My work begins facing a blank sheet of paper. Filling up that space can be a struggle. I might start by searching through my memory for an incident to write about, or monitoring my mind closely as it throws up words and ideas, but usually my attempts to consciously direct the creative process don’t work – although I have to make the effort and start somewhere. So I’m driving myself, while letting go; forcing out words while groping in the dark.
I can go through several false starts over a period of hours involving endless stabs at words, words reversed and looked up in the Thesaurus, as well as phrases tried, modified and discarded – so that it takes me hours or even days before I have the crucial first few words. Those first few words are like music: they lead me into a sound-world, a landscape of feeling that has its own character & psychology, and though I continue to amend, edit and discard as I write there’s a sound/sense unity that leads me on.
When I’m ‘finished’ I pare it down, weed out repetitions, insert transitions and sometimes cancel whole sections and start again. I rely on my knowledge of literature as my compass but even so I can’t be sure to find the right ending or any coherence without cliché or repetition. It’s dangerous, exhausting, frustrating, unpredictable and leads me to being forever critical of my own work. It’s almost as if I’m willing in something deliberate & artificial, shoehorning in the depths and layers I look for in other people’s writing. There are no Gods directing me (perhaps that goes with being a Quaker) and no significant external recognition, but I have a secret feeling, at the same time, that there’s something uniquely beautiful in what I’m doing.
If my work is gendered it’s like me: socialised male, spiritually female, with a desire to speak about the vulnerability we all feel behind the mask.
Next week I interviewed poet, art critic and environmentalist Nancy Campbell about her Arctic residencies, her climate change projects, and her work supporting threatened cultures.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.