A la recherche…

Some artists spend a great deal of time on background research before they begin. I confess, I don’t.

My partner Neil obviously gets a big buzz out of studying things in minute detail in the lead up to making work. At present he is looking at Mexican altars, so I get Spanish icongraphy served up as breakfast conversation with my eggs on toast; but I have found that, while I read widely and will follow up on trains of thought as I go, the starting point of most of my work is in my memory already.

Perhaps you don’t remember ragbags. I grew up in more stringent times. Fabric was up-cycled until it wouldn’t go any further. Buttons were cut off shirts for reuse. Patches were cut from old garments to repair slightly newer ones. The repository of old material was the ragbag, a large hessian sack in the laundry. (Every now and again a man would come and take it away and replace it with an empty one; I never found out what happened to it after that.)

My mind is a bit like the ragbag. Those who know my paintings will recognize the aptness of the metaphor. Previously unrelated thoughts are joined and processed and emerge as what I hope is art.

My visit to Japan earlier this year encouraged this way of thinking. Although I had read about boro previously, I had never seen examples before. Boro is a practice of stitching and patching that developed in Hokkaido, where fabric was a scarce and treasured commodity. The resultant garments and quilts are many-layered, having been repaired again and again over sometimes many decades, even centuries. These garments were considered shameful until recent years when private collections began to come to light.

The examples of boro that I saw were almost painfully poignant. They revealed poverty, but also great dignity. There was not a stitch or a patch on them that seemed to have been placed carelessly. They demonstrated  balance and harmony as well as pathos, and invited close examination and a deepening of understanding. Born of necessity, they had become art.

A more recent example of up-cycling was to be found at Mixer and Jun’s studio ‘Saiseiryu’ in Fujino. These two lovely people turn old things into new, creating unique and beautiful objects in the process.

I have gone completely nuts over the practice of top-stitching, called sashiko.

All this is bound to end up in my painting…

Depth – layering – harmony – poignancy – if my paintings can embody these qualities I will be happy indeed.

Boro, Amuse-museum, Tokyo

Boro, Amuse-museum, Tokyo

sashiko fan from Saiseiryu

sashiko stitched paper fan from Saiseiryu

painting not yet titled (detail)

recent painting not yet titled (detail)

recent painting, not yet titled (detail)

recent painting, not yet titled (detail)

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