It is perverse that we think so single-mindedly about what an artist should be.
Between shifts, between invisibility and labels, Omar makes art.
Writing by MR. OMAR KING
Art by Irina Tall
Before work, I get into my clothes; stretch; eat breakfast; read a few pages of George Orwell’s 1984; watch TV; go outside to check on the cats; dry some clothes; tie my boot laces and I’m ready to go. I’m walking to work; it’s a short walk; a just crossing the street kind of walk. it’s very convenient in my favor. I don’t need to drive or worry that I am going to be late. Well, sometimes I do worry, when I’ve spared some time for myself, which I use to press and drag my crayon or marker on paper. I lose track of time. And my mind wanders. Transporting myself in a daydream. I have entered a world of endless possibilities and scenarios. Where I am not just one person; rather many people or objects. In one dream: I’m a chef working at Sizzlers where my customers are large freakish looking animals sitting in their seats, chatting and eating together. Having a fun night out! In the other dream: I’m a manager at a Hotel, somewhere, downtown; where my guests are junkies and old Hollywood movie stars; punks, murderers, middle-aged husbands, homeless folks etc. I always sit behind the desk and watch my guests come and go, run errands or go out to eat somewhere (I assume Sizzlers.)
In another dream, I am a painter, and artist (in the dream and real life.) I dream of what art materials to buy or what . I’m always on the lookout for anything I can use. Quality art supplies are out of my reach, financially. Canvases and paints are very expensive at the art supply store: 12 bucks for canvas and 4 bucks for a tube of paint. YIKES! So, I searched for alternatives from the dollar store!
In the dream, I paint portraits of strangers posing next to some odd trees, looking serious so I crack an “offbeat” joke and they turn red and smile, ruining the picture. They call me an “adorable fool” and one of those gals takes the brush off my hand; places her palm on my cheek. We lock lips. She murmurs into my ears; a soft and sultry voice and says: “You make me feel alive.” I snap out of my daydream; tie my black leathered boot lace and I’m off. I pick up a yellow pencil that I find on the ground before popping into the dollar store. I go straight to the office supplies section and get 2 dollars worth of art supplies: googly eyes, two big sheets of construction paper; crayons; and markers. May not be much, but one page at a time. Sometimes there’s no extra money so I salvage cardboard at work.
I always find my ways. I have to.
I show up to work, not as “MR. OMAR KING,” but as “Omar” or “Sir” or “Chief”, which I like “Chief” better. I’ve been called “Sir” by total strangers, at work, or at public places such as the Mall. They stumbled into me by accident and, of course, automatically, they’re gonna say “excuse me” or “sorry about that, sir.” Sir? Sir? Sir? I never understood this, I never knew why they referred to me as that, I always thought somebody who was older was, respectively, referred to as “sir”. They don’t see me or give me any thought. One couple thought I was an elderly man, jolted and hysterical. They assumed I was either homeless or a demented old timer on the lam! They followed me around the stores. I had to explain to ‘em that I am not elderly and I certainly ain’t lost! I got my wit and legs, I cannot be lost. At least it beats being mistaken as a child, around the age of 11 which happens. It never ends.
Perhaps, as suggested by others, it might be dig at my condition. Some people don’t see the beauty and mastery inside me, just the rough and ugly edges outside, but I don’t get offended when folks make fun of me and my autism. I laugh with a good hearty laugh that they think so poorly. It doesn’t bug me. They don’t live at my house or cook me dinner or bathe me. Why should I worry about what these strangers say about me? It’s nonsense.
They don’t even know that I do art pieces. That I open a little exhibition in my living room or backyard (if it’s not raining that day) and showcase my art to my audience, who are my four cats and four strays. Give ‘em enough cat food and they’ll stay. And it would be a success! If not, they’d scratch the pieces and I would have to pretend that I’m a security guard and keep ’em away and say: HEY STEP AWAY FROM THE DISPLAY! AWAY FROM THE DISPLAY!!!
I never thought that I would be published, but look what happened? Most folks at work are surprised that I am writing and doing artwork which is being included in indy magazines. It never crossed their mind that anybody like me would be honored and published by a magazine like Cream scene Carnival. I am always in the atmosphere. I’m in the background. Working. On the go. Moving. Lifting and loading heavy objects. Pushing and pulling carts under the sun for four or seven hours. So of course how would they know that I am an “outsider” artist or published writer when we’re busy working. So nobody knows. Will they ever?
I have to tell ‘em about it.
I have to approach and start with small talk, be friendly and show ‘em I don’t mean harm. And then gradually it might blossom into a friendship or acquaintanceship. It’s like being in a bizarre “beauty and beast/hidden gem” kind of situation. Seemingly, I look dirty and out of place, a beast from outside. But, inside I am gentle and humble and I have dreams and skills, and experiences like walking independently; obtaining a part time job; painting and communication skills that I am proud to have gained in due time. That is the reward I live for more than any other golden merit.
It feels lonely sometimes when no one else understands a thing I am saying. Sometimes it’s a struggle to say what I am feeling and thinking. They nod and go back to their cellular phone or watch TV or walk away to fill up air space or time. It’s one big miscommunication and misunderstanding after another. It’s hard, but I take the initiative to make it work and I try my very best to be “coherent”.
My best buddy and co-worker (Diego) once said “We have some hidden talents” or was it “hidden gem?” I have to go back and ask him what he said. I thought it was nice of him to say that about me, but also kind of odd. I never thought of myself as “hidden.”
I was never hiding in the first place, they just never saw me before.
Nobody has been looking for me to find this “talent” I have.
Yes, I understand, I am alone in this, just crafting this skill through the years of practice. I don’t desire to be “lonely.” While I like my solitude, I must interact with other people and share my thoughts and ideas with ‘em. And that includes my art. I can’t keep everything to myself. When I showed Diego a few samples of my work, that was the day we officially became friends. It seemed he understood me and he liked that I used the word “honky dory” in a sentence. Yet I thought: “Is this guy taking a crack at my words? Is he mocking me?” I had to let that thinking go, because it ain’t true, he ain’t making fun of me and he is genuinely interested. It would be the begining of a bizarre and wonderful friendship.
I give co-workers pieces of art to say “thank you for your kindness.” And they love it! They go especially wild for my “bizarre” art pieces that have teeth in ‘em!! Diego asked me “How do you do it?” To which my reply is: “I just do it!!” I use a white crayon and press on the color construction (blue or red or green) paper to make the teeth look realistic. Because of the darkness it will easily show the whiteness of the teeth. I could simply express light.
They like me as I am. A human. Part of the gang of mist-fits. Also, like a family member. It makes me want to come to work, everyday. I respect and appreciate all of ‘em. If they’re reading this: I LOVE YOU CRAZEEE WONDERFUL CHUMPS!!!
And I feel the same way about the community that is Cream Scene Magazine.
Have I tried approaching other places about my art?
Yes, yes I have! In the past, I have tried approaching other independent joints, submitting work, but nothing would happen. Rejection upon rejection. Of course. I’m just not the personality they’re looking for. I’m not “aesthetically pleasing” enough. I don’t fit their “criteria” at all. I’m so glad I got rejected! I learned that some people are picky, biased, snobby or elitest. It’s suffocating these lists of demands and requirements and expectations for the writer and their “literary cult”. It’s like they are manufacturing the “writer,” putting ‘em in a box and off they go to their grave. The writer is no longer a writer in these places. They are no longer artists. The “art” is no longer art, but a product. They are surrogate cows, birthing one piece after another. These places are (not) looking for voices. They’re looking for individuals to echo and polish their well oiled machine.
So of course, I got discouraged, but it did not stop me from doing my thing.
I took my business elsewhere. The internet world. We take these tools for granted. I was like the easter bunny, a digital nomad if you will; I would be jumping off Reddit and going down to instagram, and getting off there and sliding towards twitter and then tumblr and YouTube and blogspot. Recording everything my thoughts and dreams were itching to let out. I finally got to say what people have denied me from voicing. I kept going.
I admire people like Susan Boyle. She did what she knew best to do, what she loves, SINGING! People doubted her talents until she opened her mouth to sing. They were blinded by her appearance. She looked “frumpy” or out of place and well they were skeptical of her. Thinking in their cynical way that “Ole Susan is gonna sing poorly” and make a fool of herself on live television or “stage” television, however these things are produced. And look what happened when she proved them wrong. She has always been a singer. And she is a great singer. They were just cynical.
In these past few days, weeks, and months, and awful long months, folks have seen my art pieces and writings here at Cream Scene Carnival and other places (100 Subtexts Magazine and Instagram website). They are in awe of what they have seen. I am flattered that they like it. Never thought they would love it! I’m happy that it’s been received well. People outside of the internet world have marveled at this and at me. Some regard me as an outsider artist. And I am flattered, but at the same time confused. What makes a person an outsider or insider? Insiders have been established in the system of prestigious art exhibitions. Maybe they can can afford to invest in advertising themselves while the outsider artist is poor and lacks connections. The outsider artist has to work their a low pay job and live in a rough part of town, making art of what little materials we can muster. I reject that kind of thinking. I am not an insider nor am I an outsider. To be frank, I am not really thinking about that. Because in that moment, that precise moment, I am crafting. I am not even thinking about what kind of person will like it, let alone the reaction. Because at that precise moment, I am focused on the work.
It is perverse that we think so single-mindedly about what an artist should be.
What are we (as the audience and other artists) saying to people who want to be an artist? That they can only do this or be that, dictated by where they came from or what they have. No matter their background, no matter what they have done, no matter their connections or where they live, they are an artist, first and always, despite being established or an “outsider”.
I always feel I have to prove my craft and it isn’t fun. It feels empty and meaningless. And for what? Fame? Recognition? No-no-no. When I think about it, it reminds me of a toy. And the last thing I ever want to be is some toy to be dragged and played around and then thrown away. I only share my art because it’s nice thing to make people feel and think. The attention is nice and all, don’t get me wrong. But it gets in the way of harmony, mojo and humanity. I would want an audience to connect with, but what then? Would I be looked up to like a greek statue, from a distance. That is not my idea of doing art. We forget that “famous” or “artistic” people are human too.
We also forget our sole purpose. First and foremost. The work. Doing the work, rather than being it.
Anybody can be an artist. I think they can, if they try, and practice, and keep going, and go, and see what they have carved for themselves, something harmonious, destructive, haunting, dramatic or beautiful. They have done the work of art.
Authors note: (And this is no inclination to my co-workers, who I love and admire and appreciate each and everyone of em) strangers are just strangers, they are there to shop and I am there to shop as well (I’m referring to public places like the mall)
About the Author
Omar King is an artist from California, and he is autistic. He makes digital and physical art pieces, mainly of the physical variety, out of cereal boxes and other cardboard. He finds them to be cheaper than the art materials the stores are selling these days. So, he uses Crayons and markers and cardboard, and combines them all together to make a MASTERPIECE!
About the Artist
Irina Tall (Novikova) is an artist, graphic artist, illustrator. She graduated from the State Academy of Slavic Cultures with a degree in art, and also has a bachelor’s degree in design. The first personal exhibition “My soul is like a wild hawk” (2002) was held in the museum of Maxim Bagdanovich. In her works, she raises themes of ecology, in 2005 she devoted a series of works to the Chernobyl disaster, draws on anti-war topics. The first big series she drew was The Red Book, dedicated to rare and endangered species of animals and birds. Writes fairy tales and poems, illustrates short stories. She draws various fantastic creatures: unicorns, animals with human faces, she especially likes the image of a man – a bird – Siren. In 2020, she took part in Poznań Art Week. Her work has been published in magazines: Gupsophila, Harpy Hybrid Review, Little Literary Living Room and others. In 2022, her short story was included in the collection “The 50 Best Short Stories”, and her poem was published in the collection of poetry “The wonders of winter”.