I was eighteen months into what seemed like a perfect life out in Sydney. I had everything I could ever want: my beautiful girlfriend with me; a stable, well-paid job; brilliant prospects in a place that was both beautiful and exciting. To many, my future seemed as bright as the Australian sun.
In reality, I was living under a cloud. Selling your time on something you don’t care about is like selling your soul. You can have the most impressive CV in the world, but it means nothing. I was a senior salesman, and a young one at that, chasing the very thing that I use my work as an artist to explore: money. Money has never had any value to me. It seems arbitrary. Confusing. A figure on a screen that puts one man in the gutter and another in a penthouse.
To squeeze some kind of purpose out of my day, I would paint from the moment I got home from work ‘til midnight. Effectively doing almost two days work in one day. My mind was in two opposing places entirely. I missed my family. The boss was someone I would never want to spend a minute of my time with yet I spent more time with her than my girlfriend. None of it made sense to me. It felt like I was losing my mind.
And eventually, I did. I had a breakdown. I turned to alcohol. I drank to cope with the stress, I drank to find a small release from the mounting pressure and I drank to avoid the whirring void that my life had become.
It got so bad that I eventually sought professional help. I was formerly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It was a relief, at first: finally, I had a word that explained why I couldn’t bear to sit at a desk and why I couldn’t keep a job for more than six months. Yet it was only a temporary fix: with the diagnosis came prescription medication. I was put on Ritalin – which is actually a chemical strand of cocaine – and at first, it was great. I felt happy. I felt concentrated. Instructed to take two pills a day, I took ten, sometimes more. I loved how productive they made me. I was making more art than ever. It was selling, too. My work was gaining recognition and the recent hardship gave me something to say. But what I was doing to my body was unsustainable. It was abuse.
One night, it even ended with flashing blue lights and three medics around me.
Facing imminent deportation from Australia, I knew I had to go home.
I didn’t have a penny to my name. No hope of a job. But I knew I had to find a way of practicing my art. I needed something part-time. So I applied to become a Postman. I earned just enough money to afford a little box of a studio flat in the arse-end of nowhere. I’d pretty much jog my postal route so that I could get back sooner to paint. And then I’d paint ‘til midnight (not everyday but quite often). The space was so full of paintings and materials that I had to keep my mattress shoved under the communal stairs outside during the day. It was squalor.
But I was happy.
I was living authentically, for the first time in my adult life. And I swore never to go back to a desk again.
It’s not that I regret my time in Sydney. If anything, I’m grateful for it. I wouldn’t be me without it. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. I’ve grafted and grafted; I’m finally full-time with art and making some significant movements (and my work’s getting more unique – more importantly).
It’s not that I’m overly idealistic. I know that we need money. But we don’t need as much as we think. I know there’s money to be made out there, but that doesn’t interest me. All I care about is making something that want to put my name on. It has to be different. It has to be unusual. It has to be my own thing.
Although it was pretty tough at first to live like this, it’s been worth every minute. I feel very free and excited everyday I wake up. I live a fuller life for it. Everyday is unique.
Everyday is my own.
I’ve come to realize that I was born an artist. It’s all I’ve ever been able to do. I’m obsessed by it. I’ll never stop making it. And if I can live my life doing what I love, that will be my success. Not what’s in my bank account.