We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.
– Marcel Proust
At the end of January, 2011, I took to my bedroom with a sketchbook, several dip pens and a bottle of black ink. For two weeks, I did nothing else but draw fragments of my sexual history. What I couldn’t draw accurately enough, I wrote, in a spidery cursive script on the backs of discarded pages. I had no references, no photographs, no preliminary sketches. I wanted to work from memory, from the residue of sensation imbedded in my skin.
I didn’t want to think at all. My father had just died after a short but dreadful illness. I was prepared for his loss but not for the ragged chasm of sorrow that opened up within me. Always solitary, I found no comfort among my remaining family. Over the ensuing days, I was overwhelmed by an insidious, numbing grief.
I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up a pen and begin to draw except that I wanted feel something again. I didn’t want any sex in my life then but it emerged as a raw impetus in the first few marks I made. Within a couple of hours, I had finished half a dozen drawings. I lay on the bare timber floor of my room, amid torn or crumpled paper and broken nibs, and masturbated for the first time in a few months.
The thirty or more drawings that make up The Flesh Eaters, the original title I gave the drawings, describe experiences with just one man, whom I shared with several women for nearly a decade. Needless to say, I love this man. Despite long periods apart from each other, I have remained faithful to him. And yet, from the outset of our relationship, I was able to admit and act upon a sexuality – and a sexual curiosity – that I had long suppressed. As I wrote, three years ago, in a blog, “When I asked him how he might feel if I wanted to have sex with a woman, it didn’t faze him. He’d lived enough that little surprised or shocked him… “
Inevitably, this unbound intimacy insinuated itself into my art but never with quite the same urgency or explicitness as in The Flesh Eaters. These intricate, close-ups of sex, which are everything but lubricious, might have been drawn from a futile impulse to deny death but they are unquestionably also an insistent affirmation of life.
As for the words, the Cantos, they fill in the gaps between the drawings. The fifteen twisted prose-poems (I am no writer) convey a little of the context and intense sensuality of the best-remembered moments. And, it has to be said, the uncertainty.