Three months ago I did not know my power. I was famous, respected, but remained essentially hidden. I always hated the pomp and ceremony of my exhibitions. I was known for being elusive, reclusive, and almost impolite. I was not censured; I was cloaked in my art, my skill, and my ability. Mostly in my fame. I had found an essential truth that was at once simple and paradoxical. For various reasons, which I will relate, I had sought anonymity, to be hidden, to be not seen by others. In the early days of my career this had been a difficulty, a problem for me – one must publicise one’s work after all. It seemed an eternity in hell, a necessary rite of passage. I supposed it would get worse as success stalked me, but I stalked success also, my art would not release me.
What I found, though, was that success is the best way to become hidden. What my agent once saw as problematic became a motif for my art – the enigmatic one, the recluse, and the hermit who emerged infrequently and briefly from his cave. What had once been a criticism became part of the mystique. I was forgiven everything that I had previously been criticised for – that is the essential nature of fame. Everything is forgiven, everything understood.
It was only in the harsh light of success that I could hide. No one sought to find what they felt they knew, and no one minded that I withdrew from their eyes.
I had to, as soon as it was possible, to endure further scrutiny would have been intolerable. I am an artist, but no work of art myself. I have suffered for my visage. My pronounced harelip, the most banal of disfigurements, prescribed my early life. There seemed little point in building a man’s body when I considered I had the face of a freak. I was told repeatedly that my face was ‘kind’, that I had through this physical vulnerability, something of the angel about me. I knew it was all pointless, though perhaps true it may as well have been lies. What was I to do with that? Who wants to be kind, or angelic, when it is only a fault that makes you so? It is only what others say when no other compliment is possible. It is the compensatory prize in this game of life.
And in my school years I was reminded of this daily by the cruel taunts of my peers. I withdrew to the art room where I could create what I never could be myself. I found I had an eye, a talent, and that I could communicate this through my elegant hands. My hands. One thing of beauty at least, creating another.
I learnt early also of my other ‘disfigurement’ – not in my eyes I admit, nor so much these days in the eyes of others, but when I was young, to love men rather than women, my own sex, my own kind – as though seeking in their beauty something I had been denied in my own form – was unacceptable.
Society’s laws have changed too late for me. All change comes too late for me.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved