Grist for the Mill
“If the painter is open to the world, everything becomes grist for the mill, even things one doesn’t expect or even doesn’t consciously like or want.” – Stuart Shills
I am hesitant to buy “art supplies” – things that are manufactured solely for the purpose of “making art.” I prefer things that are immediately available in my domestic and work life. Pens, pencils, sticks, thread, paper, rocks, clothing, furniture – familiar things, things easily taken for granted, things that are just part of living.
I am drawn to the intimacy of domestic objects. And the dross. Wallace Stevens says, “The whole world is less susceptible to metaphor than a tea-cup is.” Our material culture reflects our experience. Our ‘things’ become elements of a language of living.
Held at Hand
“Totality makes sense only if it can be brought to human proportions, which is to say, held at hand…Grasping, as in comprehending or holding, is both sensual and violent.” – Camille Henrot
There is metaphor in making, too. I crave direct contact with the material world. We may be very dependent on our visual experience, but there is also an intelligence that comes from touch. I am stubbornly determined to do all my labor by hand – usually the slowest and sometimes the most inefficient method available. I want to resist that pressure of making more more more faster faster faster.
I write. I draw lines to separate and connect things; I sew and weave materials, to make them stronger, or to finish something that appears incomplete; I pin things, fold things, tear things, cut holes in things, and repair things. Sometimes I find things already ‘made.’
Hand to Mouth
“– what is this security and balance that’s supposed to be so good? What’s wrong with living emotionally from hand-to-mouth in a world that’s changing as fast as it is?” – Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
I cling to ‘handwork’ as an act of rebellion and also as technology for sanity. In The Golden Notebook, Anna asks, “What’s wrong with living emotionally from hand to mouth?” The phrase ‘from hand to mouth’ implies poverty and desperation – being beholden to the urgency of the present moment. I am attracted to this phrase, but skeptical of it’s negative connotations. What’s wrong with attending to the immediate? There is the necessity born of material poverty, but also a poverty of the spirit. I feel the need to resist forward progress until I’ve taken a much closer look at my surroundings, at myself, by conversing with materials through manual labor.
I wish to reinterpret ‘from hand to mouth’ as ‘from making to speaking.’ Materials – clothes, mud, paper, string, pencils, rocks – and Methods – drawing, sewing, writing, mending – speak volumes. They are the material metaphors that speak about the uncertainty, the vulnerability, and the sensitivity I feel.