"I am the skin. Not constructed for logic or even truly for love. But designed instead for trying, always trying, to keep the world apart from my being, to prevent myself from coming undone." - Life Drawing, Robin Black.
"Without that intricate feel for life, there would be no artists, whose cunning is to make sensory and emotional maps...." - A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman
Detail of "Priestess sample, cotton-covered stainless steel yarn, partially burned off, September 2014.
I left off here last April, heading into unknown territory. I knew I wanted to keep weaving, but artistically, that's about all I was sure of. I found myself in need of data, of facts, of minutia, some detail of information I could assign to each string I weave with so that they could tether me to the ground and keep me from floating away into the great wide open.
So I spent some time making maps, of hikes I was taking, of paths and roads that I trod or drove along daily, trying to assess my coordinates, both literally and figuratively. After spending so much of the last few years planning out and weaving the large coverlet-inspired wall hangings, I wanted to get back to drawing. I wanted the immediate gratification of going to the table and making something in one day. I was doing The Artist's Way with some friends and was writing morning pages religiously every day and wanted to be able to get up from that and go make something with my hands that didn't require expert calculations, yarn counts or structural integrity analysis. I wanted to pull out the crayons and scissors and tape and have fun.
As I documented some of my body's movements through its surroundings, both past and present, I began to pay attention to a quieter but no less adventuresome journey, the one within. Almost without noticing, I found myself one day drawing what my heart looked like.
Pen and Ink, Oil Pastel, Watercolor Pencil, May 2014.
The gates opened. I started drawing pictures of my soul, my skin. And within a few days I knew that I wanted to make these drawings three-dimensionally, which would require me to first weave various yardages that I could use as membranes to construct from. In other words, I had discovered that I needed to weave my skin.
Meanwhile, I started working on material for a collaborative show called "Synesthesia" that I was participating in for American Craft Week at Flow. One of the collaborators, Katie Vie, has a line of what she calls anointing oils, 7 handcrafted botanical aromas, each designed around her concept of female archetypes, different facets of each woman's personality, such as mermaid, girl child, warrior, queen, etc. Since I had been working with the idea of weaving skin, it seemed natural to me to attempt to weave the skins of these 7 archetypes, to evoke their essences through fabric, to let the genie out of the lamp if you will.
Weavings for "Synesthesia" October 2014
Working on these pieces was exactly what I needed to do to move into a more personal place of making. Meeting with Katie and Lisa Mandle, our other collaborator in the show felt less like a planning and work session and more like self-indulgent playtime; we sat in my studio and smelled Katie's oils, picking out words from our reactions to them and selecting yarns to reflect the words. In this way we were connecting scent to texture, creating a synesthesia-like way of working that served as a touchstone for me to weave from once alone in my studio at the loom. It was such a different approach for me to weave this way, purely sensually, without placing all the emphasis on the end product, but rather allowing myself to play and let the fabric almost weave itself.
If there is one thing that has stuck with me through this season of self-discovery in the studio, it is to let my mind get out of the way so that my fingers can make. It's a matter of trust, really, trusting some combination of your instincts and learned skills to connect with the mystery within to make something real.
Oh and there was one more discovery - buried deep in box of art that my mother had saved from when I was a child I found this:
"One thing I would like to do is Be An Artist." 1974.
Note the big hands and the "I love you" on the shirt. I remember some of my art from those days, but this one caught me by surprise. I had no recollection of it. It felt so validating. I sometimes feel selfish, narcissistic and even escapist holing up in my studio for hours on end. But finding this little premonition made me see that if you are lucky enough to be doing what you were meant to do, what your little kid self wanted you to do, then it is probably going to be the most generous thing you can do for yourself and everyone you come in contact with. Art as an act of love. Love as an act of life. That's a life I can live with.