I would dearly love to be able to look at something – an object, a place – and then paint a beautiful picture of it, but to paint realistically is just not in me. That’s perfectly OK, because abstract painting IS in me and that’s equally beautiful in a different way. I adore abstract art.
My all-time favourite work of abstract art is L’ Escargot (The Snail) by Henri Matisse.
I have been lucky enough to stand in front of the original and it really sang to me. I almost choked up when I saw it in the Tate Modern last year. Would you like to know why? Get comfy, this is a long story….
When I was 15 years old I went on a school trip to the National Gallery in London as part of my art class. I saw some amazing work that day, including an original Claude Monet (my next favourite!) but nothing that really called to my deep soul.
Until I entered the gift shop.
I was browsing the art postcards when something very bright and bold caught my eye. It was a small print of L’Escargot, which I happily snatched up and paid for immediately. I didn’t know why I loved it so much, I just knew that it made me very happy. When I got home I stuck it on my bedroom wall where it remained for several years.
That little postcard print inspired my final exam piece which had nothing to do with snails and everything to do with the given theme of ‘Myself’. I was inspired by those bright shapes and the boldness of the composition.
I quite liked my exam piece but I didn’t get the grade I wanted. I received absolutely zero encouragement from anybody to pursue art further. The message I received loud and clear was that I was no good. And I believed that message because it came from adults I trusted.
When I saw the original L’Escargot in 2012 I felt so much emotion, like I had rediscovered a long-lost part of myself. I didn’t really want to leave. I could have stared at it for hours. The original is huge, as you can see in the photo above. So much bigger than that tiny little postcard I bought back in 1993. The key differences in ME when I saw the original was that I was now in my 30s, married, with a creative teenage daughter of my own. And I was (am) an artist, despite all those lost years believing I never would be.
By the time I saw the original L’Escargot, I had already been featured in a couple of magazines and exhibited in an art show.
I think the overwhelming emotion I felt on seeing L’Escargot was the realisation that I had spent over half of my life NOT pursuing what my arty heart longed for; listening to and believing those who told me my creative attempts were “crap” or that they thought what I was doing was “sad” (for the non-Brits among you, ‘sad’ in this context = square, boring; basically I was being laughed at) and the very sudden realisation that those people were WRONG. Just look at me now. People enjoy my art, they even buy it sometimes, and I am confident enough in my work to show it off to the world.
There have only ever been three people who have, for whatever reason, felt the need to verbally express their dislike of my art to my face. THREE. And I spent over 15 years believing their bullshit. I now have fans in the THOUSANDS and I receive POSITIVE, encouraging and uplifting messages from people around the world Every. Single. Day.
Seeing the original L’Escargot made me want to stick two fingers up to those who made the choice to discourage me from following my dreams because they were too weak to follow their own.
I had wanted to be an artist since I was 5 years old, so all those negative, discouraging comments as I was growing up were extremely damaging to me. But I overcame in the end. And it’s actually NOT the end at all. This is just the beginning.
I believe the original L’Escargot showed up in my life at exactly the right time. As a reminder of just how far I’ve come. Of how I managed, with the enthusiastic support of those who love me unconditionally, to shrug off those shitty attitudes belonging to other people that had cloaked me all my life.
It was like a personal message from Henri Matisse himself shouting “You did it!”