The culprit: a selection of new acrylic paints which I bought a few weeks ago. They had been sitting on the shelf, in tidy rows, mostly well behaved, waiting.
I have been in a period of transition with my painting lately. In the past, I've painted with oil paint - sometimes mixed with a cold wax medium to create more texture and luminescence. And the paintings have been mainly abstracted landscapes. Nature is almost always the inspiration for my visual work.
Lately, I've been wanting to experiment with materials I can use at home - my home studio is too small to leave a large canvas sitting with oil paint drying on it for days and days, and I don't want to fill the air with toxic fumes.
I have been wanting to find a way to combine what I've been learning through my recent foray into collage, with my abstract paintings. I decided to try painting on paper - mostly Japanese mulberry papers which are incredibly strong - with acrylics (a technique that some collage makers use to get exactly the colours they want). This, of course, resulted in a tremendous mess.
A tremendous and incredibly fun mess. There was a certain freedom to having my things lying all over the floor: paints, brushes, pallets of baking paper and cardboard, print making rollers, pieces of cardboard and toothpicks to make designs with. Then I knelt down and got to work. I painted, and rolled, and crinkled, and put papers together to transfer paint from one to another...This went on for quite some time. (It didn't used to hurt this much getting up again after sitting on the floor the floor, did it?)
The papers were hung to dry in batches on a makeshift line over my desk.
Today, they are all dry and ready to be used. After a frenzied clean up, I'm ready to experiment: ripping, cutting, layering, applying the papers to cradled wood panels: essentially, painting with paper.
Between work sessions, while waiting for the paint to dry, I read Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale." Now, given that acrylic paint dries in no time at all, and that I'm a slow reader, the fact that I managed to finish this book in a couple of days speaks for how enthralled I was. I couldn't put it down. I thought I had read it some time after it came out in 1985, but after the first couple of sentences, I knew I hadn't.
The book is fascinating on many levels: for Atwood's mastery with words; for her cutting wit; for her disturbing and sometimes outrageous vision of how close we as a civilized people are to tipping over, into a chasm of fanaticism, bigotry, ignorance, and oppression. Her writing is at times that of a poet (her first collection of poems "The Circle Game" - written when she was still in her twenties - shows a poet with amazing word-craft and razor-sharp insight); and at other times that of a master of clean, spare prose, with amazing attention to detail, and portraits of people that are at times startling, and at times touching. All of this is peppered with a dry, black humour and irony.
This reminded me of another book of hers - which I did read, a few years ago - and which I now want to read again. "Negotiating With the Dead" is a collection of six lectures she gave at Cambridge University as part of their Empson Lecture series in 2000. In these lectures, she discusses writing and the role of the writer. It's almost worth the bibliography alone, as she makes reference to so many other books of literature, myth, religion, theatre, poetry...the word "intertextuality" comes to mind when I think of these lectures - and when I think of her writing in general, come to think of it.
Leafing through the book, I found a couple of passages I'd underlined, perhaps eight years ago. One of them was this:
"The title of this chapter is 'Negotiating with the Dead,' and its hypothesis is that not just some, but all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a fascination with mortality - by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.
You may find the subject a little peculiar. It is a little peculiar.
Writing itself is a little peculiar."
So much of Atwood's writing is infused with these archetypal, mythological references. A journey to the Underworld, a place which fascinates us all, but where only heroes (and lowly writers?) dare to go.
So, back to my journey through messy studio, an encounter with a new medium, and now to try to blend two rather disparate techniques into a pleasing, cohesive whole which makes some sort of aesthetic sense to me. A journey not quite as magnificent as that to the Underworld and back, but rewarding nonetheless. I'll post some pictures of my attempts. If they work out.
And...those are the ends of the tassels of my scarf, in the picture above, not my hair. Really.