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Alex is a writer, currently living in Melbourne.

JONI UNFINISHED

Alex Durac

What, do you think, is it like to publicly talk about an art-form you have never tried before, or one that people do not know you for? Joni Mitchell, half-pictured there, is recognised almost universally as one of the greatest song-writers of all time. Yet over the course of her long career, she has repeatedly foregrounded the fact that she should be considered an artist first, specifically a painter. It seems an almost ludicrous thing for someone whom we know almost entirely as a result of her musical output to say. And yet how would we know?

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To move selfishly inward for a moment, I used to draw a lot when I was younger, all time from a very young age up until maybe my Junior Cert art portfolio was due. I then stopped for six years or (I have no idea why), and started back when stuck in the bowels of the pandemic. Oddly this was a good time for me creatively speaking, and I began to draw religiously, every day, for maybe five or six months, always for about two hours at a time, and always in the evenings. My progress was slow, but over time I got better, and by the end, what I was making was often exactly what I wanted. But then I stopped.
 

Then three years went by and I arrived in Melbourne just as Joni Mitchell’s music came back on Spotify. I hadn’t listened to her at all since her albums went off streaming services, but when they were back, I decided to listen to each one in order as if they were in danger of being taken down again. And the same thing happened - I started randomly to draw again - this time, realising how bad I’d gotten. Joni Mitchell’s music had been a fixture in my life growing up as much as anything else. She was on all the time in the car, in the kitchen; my mum would sing “Free Man In Paris” all the time, and my sister would pluck ‘Cactus Tree’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ in the evenings. I figured drawing a portrait of her as I listened would be a nice thing, something to remind me of home. And it was in a lot of ways, nostalgic, therapeutic. I had forgotten how much drawing had been a way for me to relax. I used to listen to whole albums while drawing, through and repeated, and I feel now that I swallow albums more wholly, if that makes sense, when I am drawing, than when I am doing anything else.

 

But I also, when starting again, noticed how very tricky drawing had become, as it had been initially during those early pandemic stages. And as such, I’ve realised that what I’ve ended up creating isn’t bad, but it is also not, ostensibly, all that good either. Now, having said that, it’s mostly OK - you’ll recognise who it is if you’re familiar with the cover for Both Sides Now. And the proportions are good; the left eye and mouth are fairly realistic. But if you look at the pupil of the right eye - oh wait, you can’t, I rubbed it out so many times that I damaged the fibres of the paper and was left with no other choice than to colour it in. Or the hand - I rushed it so much from a shading and outline point of view that I’m not even sure how to begin fixing it. The hair, as a whole, is blocky and unblended, and to top it off, the picture is unfinished. Sketch marks remain in place. White patches dominate. I hadn’t touched this drawing at all since I started it, but when Lucy described the theme of this first newsletter to me, I realised it could, in its mistaken-riddled, unfinished state, be quite apt. What is risked from putting something out there that is different from what you’re ‘meant’ to be doing? Is anything?

 

Drawing is something I love, but it’s never been what I have meant to be ‘principally’ working on, as silly as that sounds. I am doing a writing degree, and before then I did an English literature and music degree, and for some reason, the idea of participating in an artform unrelated to the one I was meant to be practicing felt strange and unfamiliar, or oddly, one not to be taken seriously. I now think this ridiculous and bizarre, thankfully. As opposed to writing, which I struggle against daily, drawing has always left me re-energised, awake, and as tired and burned-out as I have made Joni out to look (she looks far more suave and composed in the original painting, I promise), I did not feel that way when sitting there, listening to those songs for the first time in a very long while, almost as if for the first time. The drawing is not perfect at all, but it doesn’t have to be. It exists, and there are good, interesting elements in it. For that alone, the practice of working on it is worth continuing.

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