Agony on the Wall


Equally dreaded by those who live in big cities and have to experience it daily and by the others, who are not so used to it and have to face it once in a while. I have spent years in traffic and as much as I have tried to make that time useful by audio books and  language drills, I consider the time spent in traffic not part of living, but part of being dead.

It was only after I left the traffic hell of Dubai and moved to a smaller city that I thought of painting it.  I don’t know why I got the idea. In retrospective, I think I needed to paint it to release years of compressed frustration. Here is the resulting piece. You can click on it for larger image.


Traffic, acrylic on canvas, 110 x 90 cm

It is intense, claustrophobic, and crammed. It simmers with heat, fumes and faceless rage under the surface. The only reminder that there is a sky somewhere above comes from the violent sun which spits heat over the river of cars. You can almost hear the subdued roar of thousands of engines and feel the smell of hot metal and burning tires. Clenched fists on steering wheels, sweaty car seats.

Traffic is one of the most  sought after paintings I have done so far.

Now, the interesting part: it was bought by a friend of mine, who is on the worst possible side of the traffic hell – she lives in a satellite city of Dubai and for years – maybe 20 or more,  has been commuting on the most jammed highway imaginable, 90% of the time under scorching sun. Why would she, of all people, would want to have Traffic on her wall at home? I have never asked her, maybe I should.

Which leads me to the question – what are our motivations when choosing the images that define our personal space? The usual answers are: it is beautiful, it sets me in a certain mood, it reminds me of something – usually pleasant. When people feel something about a painting, but cannot express it, they would say ‘I like the colours’ – and this is a good sign. Better than ‘it will match my sofa’ anyway.

There are other obvious motivations, though rarely declared, like ‘it demonstrates my wealth, social position, good taste’, but these are not within the scope of my interest.

The mantra of the Western mindset today is ‘be positive’, no matter what. Then why do we voluntarily display images associated with unpleasant experiences, loneliness, melancholy, even suffering, in our personal space? I am not talking about museum type of art here, which is a different story.

I don’t have an answer, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Agony on the Wall

  1. Desislava

    Изкуството, истинското творчество не би могло да бъде подвластно на една мантра. Красотата на всеки piece of art е в неговата многоликост, именно в онова “feel something, but cannot express it”. Нашите емоции са амалгама от тъмно и светло, много лични, различни, неповторими и вероятно затова можем да виждаме красота в тъгата и сълзи в усмивката. Най-силния пример за това е музиката, мисля. От What a wonderful world на Армстронг до Реквием на Моцарт…

  2. A Kaleva

    I think saying that time in traffic is ‘part of being dead’ is … well not quite accurate. The whole point of being dead is that you feel nothing, whereas your frustration from being in traffic is actually clearly quite a strong feeling. In fact the reason I think this painting works is because most people feel something when they see it. Not that I am an artist but surely if it evoked an emotion you can share with others successfully, that makes you even more alive … or at least more of an artist.


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