I had already attended a year of university in Sydney. The one thing I learnt there was that I did not like university.
So, when I returned to Tokyo for Christmas to see my family, I knew I was not going back for another year of it. Also, I did not sit for any of the exams. It seemed pointless. I had not been going to lectures or had even opened a text book for months. Instead I was watching double feature art house films and fooling around with a sexy minx who would show me love. (Then while I was away trample all over it. Destroy my trust forever.) (Pretty standard rite of passage.)
My parents called a meeting in Yoshiro Taniguchi's iconic and opulent lobby of the Hotel Okura (sadly, no longer) on the day before I was due to return to Australia and begin the rest of my life.
"What are you going to do now?, my father asked when I declined further further education - of the dry academic kind.
I shrugged. I truly had no idea. I hadn't even thought of it. (Naivety alert!)
What was I good for? Good at? Skateboarding. Playing video games, pinball, pachinko. Writing weird little stories and poems. Contemplation. Drawing random comic style faces with ball point pen. Sneaking into movies.
What future from any of those?
"What about art school?" Four simple words. I will never forget them. A casual suggestion from my Mum. It was like a pathway opened up in front of me.
Art school? Art school? What is that? I truly had no idea they even existed. (Naivety alert 2!!)
Where you go to learn to draw and paint...
That's a thing? I can do that? That's a real option?
"Um...yeah, sure." I did not hesitate. I felt it. It felt right. Art school.
By some incredible fluke, I was in year one at National Art School in Sydney less than a week later. By shear coincidence when I turned up with my portfolio (a loose bunch of my biro sketches and a few watercolours I had done while skipping uni) on day three of the class in progress, someone had suddenly just dropped out. The headmaster, Theo, ever the practical Greek, shrugged and said, "I guess you can take his place." And I was in. No other assessments, form filling, consideration of existing waitlisted applicants... nothing. Right place, right time. And thank god for that. It was awesome. The entire three years.
First year was a creative buffet. Sculpture, life drawing, photography, printmaking and painting. Second year - you chose a major. I chose photography. Photography had the most pretty girls. Plus I enjoyed going out into the world and capturing intereting moments and viewpoints. Plus, the teacher, Arthur Georgeson, was just back from living and studying in New York and he was amped. It was inspiring. But, sadly, it did not have a third year curriculum. Somehow, kismet again, I managed to convince Theo and a couple of others to let me swerve into year three of Painting.
We each had our own mini studio space in a cavernous, high sealing, wooden floored old cell block on the second floor. It was heaven. Every day, all day, making pictures. Sketching, pastels, collage, oils, acrylics... big, small, on the floor, against the wall, at a desk... 24/7 creativity.
And here is the interesting, rather integral thing:
I learnt most... not by making art ... I learnt most by looking at and appreciating others art. Those around me, teacher's stuff, lots of gallery visits, books from the library, slide shows in Art History (only once a week for three very valuable hours hosted by Geoff somebody who was a legend)...
As an artist, you yourself are limited to your own abilities and imagination - you draw from one well.
But as an art student you are splashed and doused in dripping wet art from all angles. Stuff you could never do, would never do, would never have thought of.... and it fires you up.
You begin to ask yourself - what is it that I love so much about that? How can I translate that feeling into my stuff? Using the tools at my disposal - can I mimic that, respond to it, carry on from there? WHo am I as an artist? What do I have to say? How can I adapt my natural abilities and inclinations to most accurately express what's inside me?
Of course, practice makes you better, improves your natural style, sharpens your skills, but it is actually really through looking and thinking that you become better.
It's a group effort. Everyone chips in to everyone else's advancement. We all do our bit.
Some works come easy but often it is a struggle. Paintings often start great, then go crooked for a while. You want to push it and usually you end up going too far. So you have to bring it back. After much trial and error, you eventually come to some conclusion. Then it's time for the next one.
It's an interesting process. Because there are always so many options you make a lot of mistakes.
Then, within it all, you want to have fun. You want to feel free in your expression, you want to experience release, a symbiosis between yourself and what takes form in front of you.
It's hard. Harder than writing, I think. (Which can also be hard, of course.) But, I love it. I really do.
Thanks to my parents for their patience and suggestion, to Theo for his lackadaisical decision to let me in on the spot and thanks to the bold and perspicacious artist's sprit that resides inside me, I have been painting, making art of some sort or other, now for 35 years.
I found my calling, stumbled into it. And in a funny way, I'm still stumbling around, doing whatever. A new comic book here, some music creation, a book of written works, new artworks for a show... I go where I am carried.
From a distance it may even look like I'm performing some mysterious dance, a waltz, a fandango with my muse. A pattern may emerge. It may be that the convoluted path I have chosen has actually delivered me to a remote clearing. A mountain high plateau from which I can see not only from where my journey began far, far off in the distance but where I might like to head from now on.
I may have actually arrived at a place where I have found some signs that reassure me, gently let me know that this is always where I was meant to end up. It may be that my training period is complete. I followed the signs, no matter how faint or obscure, challenging or onerous at times, I stuck with it and now I can confidently continue with my direction, assured that it will lead me home.
I have become the man, the artist, that that naive and gentle hearted boy could not have imagined - and yet, somehow, managed to become.
I suspect he'd be cool with it.