Friday, 31 October 2014

a rat's guide to survival 1

A perfect storm of circumstances conspired to shape me into a ‘survivor’. First, but not necessarily in this order, I am an artist. As my peers will tell you, you need to be tough to ‘be’ an artist – for a number of reasons - among which the lack of money figures predominantly. But also because you have to be a bit belligerant and cultivate a thick skin – everyone is an art critic, whether they know anything about it or not (usually not).

Second – I was raised by my Dutch grandmother who lived out the second world war in occupied Holland – very close to the German border. She grew up in a middle class family and learnt about frugality the hard way. She was a young woman with 2 small children when the war broke out - that 5 years shaped the remainder of her life. She passed the lesson onto her children. Most of them didn’t take it on board but I took it to heart – probably because it resonated with my own nature.

Third and maybe most critically, I was born in the Chinese Year of the Rat. Rats are born survivors and I am no different. I am always aware of my surroundings, I sit facing the door and have worked out all the exit routes before most people know there is anything going down. If there is a whiff of trouble, follow the rat – they don’t get their reputation for being the first to leave a sinking ship for nothing. At exhibition openings I am the first to head for the grub and get stuck in before I go and look at the art. You have to get your priorities right if you want to be a survivor.

Although I am definitely not wealthy by Western living standards I can afford to buy new clothes. But I much prefer Op Shops – there is something very satisfying about tracking down that unique little treasure at a bargain price. Where’s the challenge in heading for a rack of boringly similar items? I don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing anyway. I am also in the habit of salvaging other people’s lost items. The thongs I am currently wearing were found at the beach. I haven’t bought a beach towel for – well – ever! I don’t steal things, I give it a couple of days to see if anyone claims the item before I take it home and add it to my stash.

This is a very Rat thing – which you will know if you have ever found a rat’s nest under your house or in a cupboard. Rats will collect things that seem absolutely useless to anyone else – but that’s where the resourceful bit comes in – you never know when something will come in handy – and it has on many occasions. When I lived with my mother as a small child she used to regularly clear out my stash when I was at school. I would come home and wail that someone had ‘froan out all my good stuff’ and head to the bin to retrieve it. As a mature person I have trained myself to curb this natural tendency, but I will often still pick up bits of blue plastic on the beach out of habit.

I am resilient and resourcful and, at times, I can be ruthless – these are good Rat words because they also begin with R. I am calculating but not because I want to take advantage of anyone. My code for life is that, where possible, any transaction should be mutually beneficial to both parties.  I love working out ways to make that happen – it’s the best kind of problem solving – doing the sums, negotiating – it is creative and maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Finding creative solutions is in a Rat's blood, it is essential for making art and for survival as well.


The great image is called Rat Survivor, by DizOider (Petar Jokic) on Deviant Art

folio time

Finishing up my digital drawing course in the next couple of weeks. I'm adding pieces to my Artstation folio as I finish them. This ...