Things have not been going to plan. Which turned out to be good thing, because from pain, discouragement and uncertainty came a new, unexpected artist’s book.
With two exhibitions hot on the heels of each other early next year, I need to be producing good work steadily. If not rapidly. My exhibiting parter Leah Higgins commented with gentle teasing about my golf obsession when I took a couple of days off midweek to go and watch The Open last week. Then her messages on Facebook started to get a little worried when I posted that I’d ditched a planned studio weekend to go and watch over the whole weekend as well. No sweat, I thought. I’ll put in the slog in the evenings this week and all will be well.
Except that I woke up on Monday and quite literally could not roll over to get out of bed. Spasming back muscles and sciatic nerve pain. Great.
So much of the week was spent, not dancing around the studio having fun, but either shuffling around like an arthritic hundred-and -two year old or sitting propped up on a rocking chair reading and journalling and trying not to move. No art making for me. Pain gets you down after a while, And not making art gets me down after a while. And this felt more than a while. So, when I came to feel today I could cope for a while working in the studio all my ideas and enthusiasm had gone. I knew I was self-tasked with making art about my childhood and stories of St.Helens. I just couldn’t think of a single interesting thing to do. St.Helens is not an obviously interesting place.
So I did what artists do and got some khadi paper and started to scrape paint on it at random. And I made boring sludge. Just like my mood. What a surprise. But I do know from past sludgy days that every thing – in life and on paper – seems to get better with the addition of Golden Hansa Yellow Medium paint. So I glazed all the pages with that and put a little glow into them. Then I set them out on the table with overlapping edges. Which I liked. Because, that’s what I do all the time – overlap strips. I ripped the pages up and overlapped them and sewed them together, because that ‘s only ever going to make things better. And then I saw it…
I had me a scroll. A scroll that was starting to speak to me of Africa. Thanks to my association with the African Fabric Shop I am the kind of person who can instantly lay their hands on a bit of genuine kuba cloth when its needed and so, If I had lived in Africa was born.
Do these ideas come from nowhere? Yes and No. I never set out to make a scroll about Africa. But ,when I had been sitting on that chair I was reading about journalling your childhood religious experience. As I worked with the papers and began to see the colour of Africa under my needle I thought about how as a child I always wanted to live abroad. I was brought up in a church where missionaries came to speak and cardboard collection boxes with the faces of woeful African children sat on the sideboard. I knew a young woman who worked with the Quechua tribe in Peru. One of my playmates was born into a tribe in Iran Jaya then adopted by a white British woman and brought to the UK. She passed through Hong Kong and gave me her photos which I hung on my wall. A paternal uncle lived in Tasmania. Family friends resided in Jerusalem. One step-cousin lived in the Netherlands and then Germany. The other got herself shipwrecked of the coast of Chile. I always thought that I would live abroad.
Then, I qualified as a lawyer, limited myself to the jurisdiction of England and Wales and never did become an expatriate.
This book will go to the TRACES exhibition as a trace of my childhood, a trace of my dreams and a trace of the African themed art I used to make. I have not added text – recognisable nor asemic – to this book because the pages are blank. It tells a story that never was. Or is that a story that is not yet?