Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.
― Alice Walker
I just read an extract from Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen by Erik Jensen.
The book—about the reflections of a revered Australian painter before his death in 2012—will be an interesting read.
Adam Cullen was a student at Cromer High School when I arrived there in 1981. As I remember it, Adam was in the Year 11 art class that I took over in Term 3 of that year. We shared few words—mostly Adam telling me not to bother him because i had nothing to teach him. I wasn’t concerned by his attitude, but I haven’t forgotten it.
The book extract paints Cullen as a misfit looking for identity and love. He had a lot to say about women and how they are weak, weird and liars. He had a lot to say about his “bisexuality” and why he prefers men to women, including “I just like hugging men. Women can’t do that – they’re f…ing weak at it. You can’t hold a woman.”
Erik Jensen reveals Cullen as an alcoholic, a heroin addict and a disaffected, violent, misogynistic narcissist. He also unveils quite a pathetic man who has never come to grips with reality, preferring to believe he is a “bad boy”, or a “country boy” rather than accept he is essentially the offspring of a middle class Northern Beaches family.
It’s harsh, but that makes me angry. Angry, because to me that means his artwork is contrived. Contrived through his dependence on drugs and contrived by the dramatis personae in his own play-act. None of it is real.
As I grapple with my own need to create, and wade through the inspirations, the memories, the influences and the distractions as I make art, I want to make my world better. I want to learn from my own past and those I know and are yet to know. It’s a very loaded word, but I am seeking some authenticity. I’m from a Northern Beaches family and that has a lot to do with who I am; while having little to do with who I am or what I want to express in my artwork.
I want my work to reflect the life I am leading. Adam Cullen’s life and work just make me sad. The life he lead makes me sad. And his inability to accept a gentle hug from either a man or a woman is heartbreaking.