The Great Wu-Tang Battle
After a time my battered body stirred. Though I tried mightily to discern the reason such devastation had been visited upon me, I found only confusion. Days passed and I remained unsure as to if depression, determination, or defiance should rule my mood. Of one thing however I possessed the greatest clarity. Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ ta fuck wit’.
Slowly and with additional pain I began to understand the calamity I’d undergone. Ol’ Dirty Bastard handed me a defeat unlike any I’d ever received and left me broken in more ways than I wished to count.
I thought of how this all began.
The operation began as standard, with a hint of revenge. I battled the Wu-Tang years ago and had received a noble defeat, but in the intervening years I’d wizened and increased my skill. The time of the clans defeat drew nigh. Early goings in the battle affirmed this assessment, as I quickly dispatched the RZA
and the GZA.
Confidence welled in me as the head of the snake lay at my feet. I greatly desired to attribute the debacle to come to hubris, gained as a result of these early victories, but even if there had been any, the severity of the beating I received quickly removed any hubris from me.
Stepping out of my metaphor briefly, I needed to contextualize this “battle”. I’d worked on projects that felt like extended fights before, but those illustrations were known rough spots for me, drawing interiors, or a medium with which I have difficulty. Portraits tended to go down easily.
I imagined even given a worst case scenario that while I might struggle a bit with the likeness of a few of the portraits, I’d eventually work it out. Sometimes I get to the final drawing and realize it isn’t completely working, and I have to re-work it for a time to bring it up to my standards. However I imagined the Ol’ Dirty Bastard illustration going, it turns out my ideas were tragically/hilariously incorrect.
The battle started slowly. I like to size up my opponent before I turn up the heat and end them. The ODB seemed like any other.
Through a flurry of attacks, some blows landed, others struck only air. The Bastard’s styles had a regularity to them that I intuited quite easily. In a short time I showed domination on all fronts.
Without delay I moved in for the kill! Final execution took longer than expected. The attack had difficulty, then ultimately failed. Falling back, surprised, not shaken, I regrouped and pressed the killing blow once again… and hit a brick wall. Ol’ Dirty’s defenses defied logic. Just as I discerned his style, it changed, as if he had become another person. Astonished, though not disheartened, I redoubled my efforts. Hours transformed into days as I fought. The first few days put the fear in me, by the last, I felt my spirit broken.
The pictures I drew looked terrible. That reality, that I was only drawing pictures, and not fighting for life and pride, didn’t prevent me from feeling like I’d nearly lost the former, and certainly lost the latter. Thusly I lost the desire to “fuck wit’” the Wu-Tang.
A sensible man would have, given the thrashing I’d undergone, moved on to something else having learned a valuable lesson. Unfortunately, the trauma had left me without good sense.
Thereafter, the Wu-Tang project, intended as honorable combat, descended into a street fight. My desire to continue waned, but some deep compulsion remained. I faced Ol’ Dirty Bastard in combat one final time. Though the result resembled an armistice more than a massacre it was not a win and therefore not good enough.
I nearly gathered the courage to concede, but suddenly I threw down my honorable combat tools and grabbed the weapon of the assassin. Ol’ Dirty turned his back on me and I fired.
I Photoshoped one of the earlier practice drawings onto the failed final illustration. I’d completed my descent from honorable combatant to executioner.
Raekwon sat next on my list. No longer would I conform to the formal battle rules I had set. No preliminary sketches to slow me along my path. I would avail myself of all methods of attack honorable or no. The Photoshop gun had been drawn and no fear of using it restrained my hand.
One hadn’t to look far to find Raekwon. I waited until I found him at an angle from which his defenses would be compromised. The moment came before long, I found him standing in profile, easy picking for one half my skill! Sharpened tips sliced through the air, marking the battlefield, soundly defeating the chef so quickly that I could scarcely remember his face.
I began to question the assassin’s road I’d chosen to follow. Drawing Raekwon’s face in profile as I’d done didn’t help me understand how to draw Raekwon’s face (and more importantly faces in general) any better. With that passing thought wafting through, I set my mind once again to my grave task.
Inspectah Deck proved a greater challenge. Fighting The Rebel INS resembled more closely the pervious noble battles than the Raekwon hit job. With Raekwon I’d taken the easy route, with Deck at least I chose a frontal assault. Attrition would serve as my weapon of choice, a tricky one at that considering the difficulty I had in using this tactic against ODB. I only created one image, but I attacked from several angles, going as far as using other artist’s interpretations to give further insight into the Inspectah.
The Deck fight played out just as most portraits I’d completed in the past. Progress however, lives not in the past, it is the wind in the sails of the future.
Eventually I achieved “victory” in the Deck battle, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my victorious train of thought would yield no locomotion. What did any of these “battles” mean? How did 10 portraits fit into my life as an artist and what I would like to do with that life?
Initially, I intended the portraits I’d draw for the Wu-Tang project as a way of not just completing a portrait, but learning a face. In my mind those drawings transformed into battles of epic proportions.
perhaps training WITH the Wu-Tang could serve better than fighting against them. Initially, I intended the portraits I’d draw for the Wu-Tang project as a way of not just completing a portrait, but learning a face. In my mind those drawings transformed into battles of epic proportions.
I drew Masta Killah and Ghostface Killah in the same fashion as Inspectah Deck.
Disappointingly, the image making process reverted back to simple drawings, no longer fights, or battles, or training sessions.
Masta killah gave me no trouble at all, Ghostface a bit more. Instead of several illustrations from a few references I reversed it. I drew just one picture from several references, not exactly a poor strategy, but my sketchbook seemed poorer for it.
Eventually the activity of illustration became assassination once again. Drawings of U-God, Cappadonna, and Method Man were carried out with a particular dispassion and professional efficiency. Having possession of the required skills and the necessary tools, I took down U-God. One shot one kill.
Each time I told myself that if the drawing didn’t meet my standards I’d start over and try a different angle. That never happened. I left training mode behind and turned to pure execution. I moved on to the next sheet of paper, sharpened my pencil, waited for Cappadonna to enter my sights, and BAM cap down.
At this point only Method Man remained, but not for long. A relentless assassin pursued the Wu-Tang. None would escape.
The Method Man job went more smoothly than any of the previous drawings. I surprised myself with the speed at which I completed the project once I gave up on the loftier goals I had initially had of learning and distilling each face into a reproducible abstraction. When finally the clan lay before me in defeat I thought of the next step in the battle.
To this point I had ten excellent portraits, but portraits were not my final aim. I had designs to create one lager painting in the style of the 18th century Romantic painters, Gericault, and Delacroix. Complex, dynamic, heroic, a war epic, this image would embody the strife I felt throughout the stages of its creation.
I did a bad painting of the Wu-Tang Clan years ago. I always imagined doing a good one. Having failed to make a compelling Wu-Tang illustration in the past I put that goal on a pedestal. The level of skill needed to complete it became legendary to me. Only a better, smarter, more successful Anwar could reach those lofty heights. The Anwar who could create that magnificent Wu-Tang painting, who could battle the Wu-Tang Clan and prevail, would not have to worry about a non-existent art career and a stagnant job for which he felt ill-matched. That that far off highly skilled Anwar might not be a successful working illustrator, I found inconceivable.
Then I completed the painting.
I marveled briefly at the painting I always imagined being able to complete. The dynamism, complexity, likenesses, I’d accomplished all of it. Unfortunately the newer, better Anwar did not magically appear. No engaging career suddenly unfolded before me. Artwork never transformed my life in that way.
So I went back. Back to the world where I’d conquered. Where I’d met ten masters in combat and bested them. To the world where I not only participated in, but emerged victorious, from The Great Wu-Tang Battle.