Chasing the unwinding thread of creative thought: An artist’s memoire

Soniya Amritlal Patel
Soniya Amritlal Patel


Slowly, stealthily, with the tiniest of flicker, a thought begins to unfold. It is elusive, present, yet annoyingly evasive, slippery. I struggle, trapped within the hot, constraining embrace of oppressive sleep, to grasp and hold on to the cool breeze of a flowing thread. But somehow, it evades my seeking consciousness, drifting back into the deep, apparently inaccessible depths of my soul. The effort brings beads of sweat to my temples. Moisture dampens my upper lip, jerking me abruptly awake, heart racing, and eyes startling. What are the origins of this fleeting muse that so firmly evades capture? There are few answers. 

As a child, my favorite pastime was to stare. I stared hard, at every being that landed in the range of my searching gaze. I examined in detail those who sat across and around me; on buses and trains, in a restaurant, in the park, in a hospital waiting room, in any space that allowed for the pleasure of obtrusive, wondrous gaping.

I was forever enthralled. I questioned the perfect beauty of lines that formed a high forehead, the tilt of an eye, the slant of a cheekbone and a prominent nasal bridge. I would be filled with a type of rapture, captivated, as I explored the mysterious nuances of nasal orifices, the curves of an ear, soft locks of hair gently caressing temples and napes. My probing eyes followed the rising lines and tender slopes of a neck, an Adam’s apple, the hidden vocal chords above an unbuttoned shirt or blouse. I gazed in awe at the complex intricacy of fingers enlaced, caressing a chin or book, at hands quietly resting on laps and armrests. These seemingly common gestures, simple body language, held for me a curious and delightful fascination, one from which I knew no escape. There was never a dull moment. My mind and heart were imprisoned, held infinitely by the rich and exciting marvels of boundless visual imagery, never too far away. I was gifted by the unfailing presence of people all around firing my imagination.

My brother and I often engaged in a childhood staring strife. A game of trying to outstare one another: our eyes fixed upon each other, in close proximity, nose to nose. Anyone who has partaken in such a contest understands the oppressive, hypnotic power of an unwavering stare. On many such occasions, while I indulged my senses in what was an obviously rude habit, at least according to Western social etiquette, my mother would hiss in a highly audible, far reaching whisper, which for some reason she thought as subtle: “STOP STARING!” I wondered why she whispered when the sound was so clearly aural. At the same time, she would offer apologetic smiles to the offended parties, who by then, in their desperate search for blissful escape, were usually shifting uncomfortably within the restricted limitations of their seated condition. 

With the passage of time, my stares turned into surreptitious sideways glances. The bad habit failed to leave me, even as I gained consciousness of what I imagined as an obligation to fit in, the necessity to live and let live. However, more often than not, the desire to be subtle and inconspicuous while continuing to engage in my elaborate explorations ends as a woefully failed endeavour. My good intentions are lost in oblivion, as I inexorably drown myself, wide-mouthed, in the marvels of my discoveries. Thus, in the midst of moments of pure inspiration, I suddenly catch myself out, cutting short my reverie. I commence with what I hope are sufficient amends, through numerous apologetic smiles, which in turn fly me back in time, into an awful simulation of being mother.

The enduring challenge remains, how to give material form to the wealth of visual stimuli surrounding me. Hot nights of troubled sleep are tinged with tossing wakefulness. On the rarest of occasions, these uneasy slumbers bear a glorious fruit. Such is the quality of inspiration. Like the transcendent muse; after countless months and nights of hard labour, it will finally bring forth the splendid birth of the long desired infant.


Soniya is an Indo-British artist resident in Madrid, Spain. She has spent extended periods in India and Africa. She studied Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria and completed her PhD at the Complutense University of Madrid. She has contributed in diverse publications and has exhibited widely.

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