The materials and objects before me: keys, aprons, doll’s vests, tissue paper drawing, chairs, garments, stitches…
The reasons I choose things are not always obvious to me. Why these two chairs? There was something about the colour of the wood finish, the pattern of wear and tear and dust. They are related. Family.
The doll’s vest, knitted wool, warm but scratchy. A garment with no wearer. Found in a box with some keys. With a skein of unbleached linen thread.
The keys, unidentified and unidentifiable, rusted, mark the surfaces they are placed upon.
I’ve been in this studio for three weeks, and I’m slowly unpacking my head. New things/old things. I rearrange them with each other. I sew. I draw: with ink and stitches.
I choose these things because they speak to part of me. But sometimes I don’t know what they say. Sometimes it takes someone else to point these things out. The relationships then become obvious. My hands have chosen blindly, but my hind-brain knows better than my fore-brain. My fore-brain does the faking until the hind-brain takes over with the good stuff. The disregarded thoughts band together in my psyche until they reach critical mass and suddenly I am able to see.
I am not troubled by having had a terrible childhood. In fact in many ways it was ordinary, in some ways idyllic. But I think my work is a way of still decoding elements of it. I was the youngest child by 8 years (two older brothers). By the time I was conscious and remembering, all those around me were adults.
I think my life has been spent trying to understand what the hell has happened. I remember key people vaguely, my brother remembers them clearly and even with fondness. I still have moments when snatches of overheard adult conversation from 1969 (age 8) come back to haunt me. I don’t even know if they are real. I imagine around them. I invent, re-invent, and confabulate, from the small specks that floated into my small world.
I spent my early childhood half-way up the stairs on a half-landing in the turn of the stairs, out of sight (and mind?) from those downstairs. I was drawing, writing, reading to lined up toys. I was, I think, a fairly solitary child, I entertained myself.
Things weren’t explained to me because I was a child. Many things only made sense to me when I had my own children. A couple of things have been revealed to me in my conversations recently, which prompt (true/false) memories of other, overheard conversations from decades ago.
My art work is, I think, a continued effort to make sense of the outside world in relation to my inner world. I make work about children, then women, mothers, daughters growing into mothers… Then I circle around. I look at the same things from ever-changing perspectives.
I have, in the last couple of days, reached an epiphany about this decoding. My hands search for the clues. They find the objects. I work with the objects, trying to discover why I chose them. In them lie secrets and lies, truths falsely remembered.
My childhood was lived in the wonderful fort half way up the stairs, built of books, paper, pens and pencils, nature, and the weather rolling in over the hills. I lived with Enid Blyton, A.A.Milne, Edward Lear and Irish folk tales, read, and told straight from the horse’s mouth. I escaped while the real world went on around me, the real world wasn’t FOR me.
So now, as an adult, as an artist, I pick it apart.
My life choices, in retrospect all seem like a quest, a historical attempt to decode. It’s all added to the pile of evidence. All of those jobs part of the quest to learn how people work and think and behave and interact. Everything a quest to decode that which I have presumed everyone else already knows. Everyone else has revised for the exam. I never did.
In order to be a parent, I read. I played, I listened, and I read some more. I learned to the point I could teach it to others. Some of it made sense, some of it didn’t.
All of this is in my work, this messy soup of confusion, love, guilt, ignorance and misunderstanding. I still know nothing of myself. Sometimes in the working, I see a whisp of smoke I can’t grasp… A hint of something… The work is clearly all about me. I’m trying to make sense of what life is, what art is. I have no idea if anything I discover will be of any use to anyone else.
In those rare moments when an element comes into focus through a phrase, a melodic or lyrical hook, a remembered chorus, a repeated stitch, a repeated stroke of a pencil, the feel or smell of a garment…. In those rare moments of clarity, it is of use to me.
I think…….. As the world wasn’t meant for me as a child, it isn’t meant for me as an adult either. I often feel estranged, isolated, still that on-looking, bewildered, half-ignoring child.
Being an artist is the only way. One step closer to decoding is also one step closer to death.
But I feel a settling, a contentment.
The work is supposed to be like this.
I am supposed to be like this.