Archive for April, 2012

we are all made of stars

making these quote albums is an interesting way of thinking about my friendships, and what my friends have in common, while all being very different in the world. this shows up to me in the ways i embellish the quotes, but even before that, in which friends i will be making an album for : this is not something i would give to my dyslexic friend, as inviting her to struggle with tortured fonts is the opposite of kind.

the star/friends quote on black marbled card made at a workshop, with stars punched out and stuck on was loved by jay, with whom i share a love of the song we are all made of stars by moby. she  made an astute comment about how i layer up in my process art, and sees links to the discussions i’ve had with her about my recovery process, how i stitch back the pieces after so much trauma. the scarring and faultlines are areas i work at, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. lots of my beauty in the world comes from still seeing, loving and making after being deliberately damaged, and i replicate this in my art making process, taking a surface through  some major events before i put it back together. there are always pieces lost for ever, but there is always something rewarding to see and  feel when the piece is finally resolved.

the same quote on green, with a moon made of complex cloth with a crescent moon charm sewn to it is in emilia’s album, and as i think she may travel to other continents, i think the moon is saying, wherever you are, whatever phases we are in, we are connected by the tides and unseen energies…

jay has a shamanic connection with plants and can bring healing to herself and others through what she has learnt  through her visions/experiences. emilia is still learning to follow her heart and to set boundaries on how she will use her skills to save undamaged habitats from exploitation. it’s demanding work and needs humour and loving support, and she feels very bad about sneaking the odd fag when she gets super-stressed, so this image of nuns smoking will hopefully make her laugh and remind her of the bigger picture 🙂

we are all made of stardust and organic process, we are all like snowflakes, the same and totally unique : how lucky i am to have all these friends!

there will be many more albums shared, but i will be packing to move so my attention will be on that and making an heirloom quilt for stacey’s upcoming wedding 🙂


the beautiful daughters and the ugly sisters

an email conversation with a fellow artist has been making me think about when an image has to be ‘broken’ in order to move forward… when a painting is too immediately pleasing, it rarely satisfies longterm. and sometimes the artist sees that the prettiness makes it partial, that truth is rarely pretty and pretty is never the whole story.

that is part of why i believe fine art should be considered non-verbal philosophy: it’s not about making pleasing objects, it’s about inviting people to look again, first at the piece, then at their life and the world around them.

lots of people complain art is elitist, outside the mainstream, compared to, say, soap operas – but it always has been. the work people think of as so safe – van gogh, monet, rembrandt, klimt, virtually any old master and certainly most work since 1850 THAT HAS LASTED was all considered ugly, not worth buying/ supporting (most art was sponsored by church or court) and lots of it was excluded from juried exhibitions. i could be really naughty and argue that soap operas are elitist because they have a huge budget for productions that are rarely shown for more than a month, even on ‘anytime’ viewing, but i’ll stick to one hot potato at a time!

so, think about van gogh,  now considered suitable for fudge boxes and cheap calendars, but who never sold a single painting in his lifetime. think about how he painted a pair of broken down shoes and a flock of crows spoiling a wheat field with their ominous shadows. i find that particular painting so sad…having held my husband’s hand as he struggled with terrible depressive mood swings after manic episodes, i can see why van gogh killed himself so soon afterwards. my husband died of a heart attack, but even with the anti-psychotics and anti-depressants available nowadays, people still kill themselves when the pain is too much. anyway, those shoes were considered laughable at the time. why show a pair of shoes in all the inglorious detail of  cracked leather and flapping soles and broken down heels, shoes that have been worn by many people as they went down the social scale? because they have lived many lives and can tell us about poverty and thrift and want and need?  because they carry truth, are they now beautiful?  because  the painting holds a truth, is it now beautiful?

truth is beauty, beauty truth, said the poet, but we visual artists have a bone to pick with him! truth is beautiful and will set you free, IF you recognise real beauty – a pair of blazing eyes above a scarred face,or a bruised and broken jaw, a woman with lines and folds from carrying children in and on her body, a man with one leg in a wheelchair sprint, a child going to school and facing up to bullies, an old woman hugging a tree so the loggers cannot murder it, a youth rescuing birds from oil slicks, a mother in a literacy class in india shaping her first words as she breaks free of dalit/lowest caste rules to ensure her children get a better deal, a transgendered man cradling the newborn baby born from his body with tears in his eyes…

beauty is spirit and passion, with a story to tell. the bland princesses of hollywood films (the characters we assign to actresses and models, regardless of their real strengths) and the gaunt vampires of the fashion industry and women’s magazines are not blank canvasses, no one is too young to have a story, but they are BLANKED OUT canvasses.

i have  friends i think of as the  graces, because they are young (early to mid 20s), active and popular, but they are beautiful because they care passionately about making the world a better place in some way. one is a permaculture gardener and activist, one works on the legalities of protecting indigenous peoples and unspoiled landscapes from the greed of consumerism, even consumerism in the green mask of biomass fuel, a third is writing an application for a masters in photography and street culture/ ethnography informed by her streetplay work, another is starting her visual arts degree in september while caring for a mother in chronic pain, one is planning a fashion business while coping with chronic fatigue…yes, they are also pleasing to look at, but they bring grace to the world, and that is what makes them beautiful.

i also have friends closer to my age or much older (40 – 70), and including me, one has survived her son’s suicide, six have survived  abuse/attack and/ or violent relationships, one taking her daughter but having to leave her son behind, one has just had more lumps removed from her face and jaw, one has made beautiful, meaningful films and land art, partly about her experience of bi-polar affective disorder, two of us have been in very demanding relationships with men with bi-polar, one makes amazing photographic art about abuse and survival issues, one raises awareness through deeply thoughtful writing and songwriting, in particular i’m thinking of the genderqueer/ transgendered issues, one heals through shamanic connection with plants, one creates stimulating activities 5 days a week for elders in residential care, one raised awareness and created community activities for survivors of the mental health system, two were social workers, i was a craft therapist and painted, but now make assemblages, and this blog!

we are beautiful, but none of us are pretty. we are too interesting to be that bland! some of us are scarred, either on the inside or out, some are fit and healthy, some not, but we all bring grace to the world, and that is what makes us beautiful, to those with eyes to see. we are also pretty scary when we get going! we have all survived people trying to put us down or shut us up, we have all refused to be silenced, most of us experienced being called ugly because we showed our empowerment and particularly when we use/d it to prevent injustice to others.

that’s why pretty, and the bland beauty of the media is so dangerous, it silences women in particular, because very few of those ‘beautiful’ women speak up : honorable exceptions include susan sarandon, meryl streep, angelina jolie, but aung san suu kyi and michelle obama seem to be seen as too principled to be beautiful, and most of the women speaking up are compared unfavourably to the silenced, blanked out canvasses.

and at last i circle back to my point (hope most of you are still with me! i know i lost the beautiful dyslexic, sorry sweets!) which is the role of artists. we should be outside the establishment, we should have clearer eyes than our contemporary society. our work is to show up the gaps, to ask the tricky questions, to question ourselves about why it is hard to to ‘break’ prettiness to create beauty, to show up at the canvas and keep filling it in. because the artist in the email IS opening herself up, she will be painting truer pictures. her painting may become ugly as it becomes beautiful, but, ugly or not, the truth that we need will set us free.

and THAT is beautiful.

vanessa chasing hares

vanessa is a lovely gentle soul who has moved to ireland. a friend is going over to visit her so i had the chance to make a quote album for her and have it delivered, a real bonus. vanessa loves celtic hares, fairies at the bottom of the garden and spirit feathers so i found it easier to put pages together for her. i discovered with the one for jay that working on fabric is very fiddly, so went to paper, and used a whole glue stick! (yes, i know i should have used archival glue, go away!)

sorry the pics are blurry, i think my hands shook the tiniest bit, but you can still get an idea

i used cutouts from  books on egyptian jewellery andy used for his dissertation, celtic sacred art and tibetan mandalas. the books were all going mouldy after living in a cave, so i salvaged what i could and ironed them to hopefully ward off any spores…

i got out some burning tools – the electric wood burner, but also one of andy’s fork tools, a ram’s horn, heated it to red hot in a gas ring and singed away! i also played with hole punches, making holes but then glueing the cutouts back on in contrasting areas. the backgrounds include a lot of homemade paper and hand painted paper (brusho! mmm!) but i freed myself up and used …felt tip pens! DUN DUN DUHNNN! and a pigment liner and just doodled. this is new for me  and i wasn’t totally happy with the rilke page, but loved the mandala page.

i particularly liked this pairing! a nun on a slide and chuang tse’s reminder that what makes our lives good is what makes our death good. there are a few nun pix in this one, from some very old photos collected as ‘nuns having fun’, found in a charity shop! em and lai are getting nuns with hula hoops on their birthday cards!

the hare on the back cover is on a pocket for nessa to store things of her own in, and there are some photo frame pages so she can add images or favourite quotes of her own.

i hope keeping the momentum up on this one will help me finish the one for jay, now i’ve figured out why it was getting so hard! and someone else is getting a purple with stars themed one…i realised having a theme makes the embellishing far easier – aaah! aha!