After performing a little trick on my subconscious, preparing canvases that would serve as a final piece if everything went wrong, I was prepared to make my final piece. This post details the schemes I employed to force myself not to fall back into old habits as I created it.
I set up a situation that lent itself to the chaotic, because I wanted to create something bolder, with much more energy than the canvases. On the morning of Christmas Eve, amid piles of presents and food, with people in and out of the house all rushing around, I laid out 150 Bamboo Letter Folds and started printing.
This sounds autobiographical but I include it because it was instrumental to the process. With all this going on around me I couldn’t fuss over minute details, I had be fast and economical. In Part 4, when I studied Matisse I learned that you can’t copy spontaneity, you have to commit to it.
Once the Bamboo Folds were laid out I tried not to fiddle too much with the arrangement. I wanted a sense of rhythm but didn’t want it to look too forced or organised. I felt the piece below that I had previously used as a print block was too orderly and static.
I also used a new Gelli Plate, which was much larger than I am used to. This unfamiliarity was useful in the same way as drawing with your non-dominant hand, it invited the unpredictable. It also allowed several units to be printed at once, I taped the blocks together but mindful that I wanted an all over effect I tried to avoid regular shapes.
This led to much mirth in the house: “Mum’s playing Tetris!” but in reality it was me trying to control colour without predetermining the outcome. Pre-planning is a habit I have been trying to break since the Paolozzi affair in Part 3.
Yes, I was still plotting on paper but this was different- I was containing the colour palette for continuity not deciding what the finished product would look like before the sampling stage.
I was really pleased with the printed outcome. Engineering an environment for things to go wrong and accepting the imperfections that occurred, worked really well. As such I am content that the piece reflects the most import lessons MMT has taught me.
The project, however, had one final sting in the tail. A problem occurred as I sewed the pieces together, I am hopeful that I caught the issue in time. I set about joining the pieces using the methods I had practised below:
It hadn’t really occurred to me how quilt-like the piece had become. It was intended as a wall hanging that could also be worn around the shoulders of my bookworm, symbolising how wrapped up one can become in a good book… or the power one can attain by learning to read. (Remember, I work in a Primary School)
It wasn’t until I had stitched almost half the piece together I realised what I was doing: After being so conscious of avoiding any making that felt comfortable, I had slipped back into old habits. The functional stitching that was supposed to be slightly rough and ugly, encouraging the formation of scaly spikes, was become decorative or worse disappearing entirely. The whole thing was becoming flattened, it looked better when the units were further apart. I stopped.
I had this issue in the back of my mind over the next two days. I recalled an article about Phyllida Barlow in the Guardian, earlier this year:
“She uses the shortest route to get something done. She improvises, makes shortcuts, disregards time honoured craft techniques.” ¹
I decided to glue the whole thing to a sheet of muslin and have done with it! I had a solution but perhaps more importantly I had finally uncovered a heroine of Sloppy Craft. Barlow appeals to me much more than Josh Faught who is held as an exempla of an unkempt aesthetic throughout Patterson and Surette’s book. I never thought I wanted to be a “Bish-bash-bosh” artist (as Richard Wentworth calls Barlow²) but on reflection I can see the attraction!
I tried to blend my ‘almost’ mistake by adding some stitch over the left hand side that wasn’t sewn together. I think I rescued it in time. The unfortunate consequence of changing the plan at the last minute means it is now rather stiff. It also won’t fold. I had imagined sending it to my tutor in a box, packaged with tissue paper, like expensive dress. The lid would be lifted and this light, amorphous ‘fabric’ would spill out. I imagined it would be soft and drape – instead it is like a great big board. It will still bend around my bookworm but it will be more like a shield than a cloak!
¹ and ² Charlotte HIGGINS writing in The GUARDIAN, 9/5/17