Curly hair tumbled about and mischievous gleam in his eyes,exemplifying the energy with artist, author, interviewer and conscious entrepreneur, Gene-Manuel Whirling lives his life. I have been delighted to know this man for the past year or so, as we met via the marvels of modern technology which is another way of saying that we started out as ‘friends on Facebook’ and morphed into something more. Although we have not yet met hug to hug, we have certainly connected heart to heart.
Please speak about the beginning of your artistic journey?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t think I was an artist of sorts. My mother was a singer. Music and performing was always something that was a part of me somehow, even in Cuba, where I was born. So, I remember being quite little and knowing that I wanted to be a performer. That’s where my aspirations were at first. And I eventually did pursue it. I was a NYC actor, hitting the pavement every week going from audition to audition and getting into a few shows and a tour, etc. That led me to start my own band called Something Bliss and once we broke up the band, I then pursued a solo career which led to writing, recording and producing a solo record, Sophisticated Kink, back in 2006. Music and acting was where I thought my journey was taking me. Little did I know what was to happen and what a detour I’d be taking.
You’ve said that you never attended art school. Would you consider it a natural talent; something you were born to do?
That’s right. I’ve never taken an art class other than the classes given in grade school. Creating the kind of art that I do was never, ever something I thought I’d be doing. Like I mentioned, I was going to be an actor and a singer. That’s where the focus was for a long time. Then, the art found me or better said, I think it was always there and I finally “listened.” And once that happened, it did feel as if it was something I was born to do. At the very start, back in the Summer of 2008, my first drawings looked like they were made by a little kid. In fact, when I started and I was feeling so good about it, I told my mom and she reminded me that when I was very little, drawing was one of my favorite things. Which brought back memories of taking sheets of paper and I’d be determined to fill them up with small details. I would draw tiny stars or circles, really, really small ones, and my goal would be to fill the entire page. Well, being a kid, I guess, I’d get bored not even to the half-way point and I’d put it aside. But, as I looked at the drawings I was doing then, in 2008, I had sort of picked up where the little “me” had left off. It was quite the revelation and coming around to something that maybe I knew when I was 4 that I’d forgotten.
You mentioned being color blind. How does that impact on what you create?
Seriously, the only time it becomes any sort of issue is when I’m creating a Magicalized Portrait and I need to get the eye color right or I have to draw in lipstick. Those are the times when I have to consult my partner, Jhonathan, to guide me because, even though my portraits are all very abstract in a way, and every person gets their own Super Human mask, as I call them, I do want to get the eyes right. There have been a couple of times when I’ve started without consulting him and then he gently guides me in the right direction so that the person doesn’t end up looking like an alien. Ha!
Other than those times when whatever I’m creating really needs to be color-specific, I’m not even aware of the color blindness. I do see colors, I just don’t see them like most people. The tests I’ve taken show up extreme color blindness with greens and red in particular. But again, I don’t even think about it. I create most of my work in a sort of trance, really. Therefore, I think the colors are chosen by the energy that’s flowing through me and whether I can see them as they are or not, it doesn’t really matter. I also don’t know anything about color and the color wheel and hot or cold or whatever. At this point, I don’t even want to know! You know what I mean? I’ve been doing alright without the knowledge so, I’m just gonna let it continue to flow.
At several points in your life you have different creative paths you could have taken. Why was art such a focal point?
Right, like I said, I did the acting then the music. I released the cd in 2006 and by 2008, I had about 9 songs written and had started planning to go back in the studio to begin work on the next record, The Not Exactly Belonging, which was the title. In hindsight, I can see that my heart wasn’t in it. I just felt it was the next thing to do. I had songs, let’s record them, right? So, that was in the works but then, I was at my day job, and I can even tell you the exact date. It was Thursday, July 3rd, 2008. I specifically heard instructions telling me to go to the nearest arts supply store, which happened to be three blocks away, and buy markers and paper. This was so strong that I didn’t hesitate. I went and got them and came back to work. I had already finished my hours there but I came back and started drawing this leaf that had kept popping into my head all day. The next thing I know, it was 7pm and I realized I had been drawing for two hours, which had felt like five minutes. I couldn’t believe it! And, I was so calm and peaceful and happy.
I came home and continued to work and ever since that day, I haven’t stopped. Art became something I did every single day and continues to bring me a joy that is hard to explain. I think it’s magic. I’m still constantly amazed that I get to do it and create the things that I do. And there are still times that I finish a piece and I’m the first person to be surprised that I was the one to do it! To answer why art became such a focal point, I don’t think I had a choice in that. Art really had its way with me. . . and I’m glad!
You are an inspired artist who taps into Spirit to co-create. Can you describe that experience?
Wow. I hope I can even come close to describing how this works, for me. Well, one thing that I’ve learned in the past five years is, the art is ALWAYS right! As long as I allow it to do what it needs to do without too much meddling from me, then everything works out fine.
When I start a piece, I never know what the end result will look like. I usually get a feeling or a need to create something and very little about what that will be is revealed to me at the start. Sometimes, I get glimpses of a piece, where I see flashes of it in my mind’s eye and I go into it knowing a little more than usual, but that’s rare.
The process is different depending on what it is I’m working on. If I’ve been commissioned to create a piece, then of course, I know what the end result is supposed to contain, but I still don’t know how that’s going to come about. When I’m working on a Magicalized Portrait, I do a consultation with the client where they answer specific questions and their answers are my guides in the creation process. Once I start, a portrait or any other work, I stop thinking about it. This is where it’s going to be hard to explain because I can’t really tell you specifics. I just let go. I release any hold or attachment to what I’m about to do and I just do it. There are many pieces, both in my studio and some that are hanging on walls in places far and wide, that I don’t remember how they came to be. And I LOVE when that happens. I usually work and work for long stretches and sort of “come to” and there it is.
The experience is all about trusting the process and allowing the art to do what it wants to do through me. And again, as long as I don’t get too much in the way, then it always goes quite smoothly. Every piece, once finished, is magical to me because it’s proof of something I never thought possible.
How has art saved your sanity and your life?
My art saves me every single day. I’ve dealt with depression since I was quite young. Due to the way I was raised, I didn’t really grow up thinking about my future or having any hope. It was all very dismal. Art has given me that hope that I didn’t grow up with. This past year and a half has been quite a hard time, with my father passing, my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer, and many other things that happened and took me down to the lowest depths I’ve ever gone down to. I really got to the point where I not only wiped the slate clean, I say that I took the slate and threw it out the window because so many of my beliefs and things I was holding on to were shattered. The only think I felt compelled to believe in and hold on to for dear life, literally, was my art. My art helps me find my way back to joy, hope, compassion, understanding, and everything that is good in the world. It keeps me sane. A few weeks ago the following thought came to me out of nowhere and I now have it as my Artist Statement on my website: My art is not the result of my positivity. . .it is the antidote to my negativity. . . my way of making sense of the world around me. . . That’s it right there!
What impact do you want it to have on those who experience it?
Oh you know, I get so much joy and pleasure from doing the work that, that’s my intention. . . for others to experience joy when they see it or buy it or receive it as a gift. The work also brings me so much light and love that it is my deepest wish that the same light and love is felt by others.
It’s the same with the Magicalized Portraits, with the addition that I want the person to be able to turn to that portrait and see their hopes, dreams and aspirations and feel inspired to do those things. I want them years after they’ve gotten the piece to be able to look back and say “Oh I did that. . . and that. I haven’t gotten to that dream yet, but it’s coming. Oh and this thing here, I thought I wanted it at the time, it didn’t happen but I’m glad I went for it anyway.” Those I consider to be such a special collaboration with the person commissioning it. I really want them to feel a connection with it and be inspired by their life, which is what I have turned into art. I’ve had many powerfully moving experiences creating those and have seen how they’ve inspired and changed people. That’s mind-blowing to me. What an honor to be a part of that.
Also, my art is proof that anything and everything is possible and can happen, when you least expect it. And the road you’re on and think you are supposed to be on, can quite unexpectedly present a detour, and if you pay attention to what feels right, it can take you to unimaginable places.
Gene created a print specifically for me that he calls Life Affirming Butterfly. Leave a comment below and Gene-Manuel will gift a random lucky winner with their very own Life Affirming Butterfly print! (: