Monkey, dressed in finery

Desert Rose
Another one that went into Gypsies, Vagabonds & Wild Mad Women (currently showing at TactileArts in Fannie Bay, NT, until the 7th of May,) although I photographed this in-progress, and then didn’t bother to take another when it was done. Her fingers are in the final work, and a bird perches on the window ledge.

Not a painting, at all, but something I did to fulfill my quota of pieces for the group show.

With so much repetitive pattern going on, this is actually a sly deception…it’s a zen tangle pretending to be a painting. The difference? In a painting, every mark is—ideally—placed with purpose…even in (or I should say, especially in) abstract paintings. Nothing is put in carelessly; a good painter doesn’t just fling his brush wildly at the canvas while he’s watching The Bold and the Beautiful over his shoulder. No mark is superficial, or accidental. In the world’s serious art schools, a mark is defined as having a beginning, and an end. Even the smallest mark moves in a definite direction, carries a weight. A mark finishes as strongly as it began, and plays a part in balancing the whole. A successful mark is one that, if removed, would ‘unbalance’ the painting…rather like a judicious comma in a complex sentence. Painters make their marks intentionally, consciously.

Pattern making, on the other hand, is a form of hypnosis. It is avoidance of The Present. It lulls awareness to sleep. It is the hand running on autopilot, making repetitive marks, while the mind floats away. It is—ironically for those who look to aimless pattern-making as meditation and to stay grounded in the present—quite the opposite of mindfulness. It is more like nail-biting, chewing gum, or swinging your foot to a fro incessantly when seated: a nervous habit that the body fidgets with, unconsciously, as the mind sneaks off to wrangle in thoughts of the past, the future, or engages in monkey chatter with itself.

The deception is upon myself. My monkey is very sophisticated. I should know better…I have read many books on mindfulness; but then, so has my monkey. Something like this picture can seem so much more ‘purposeful’ than nail-biting, or watching television, or scrolling through Pinterest for four hours. At the end of my doodling, Monkey has produced something colourful and attractive…to the unpracticed eye, it looks as though I have been very creative with my time. But making this was no more creative than hours spent on a colouring-in book, staying within the lines. I know Monkey was behind it, all along, because I produced this like an automaton, and at no point did I feel like I was putting any of myself into it. I used the heavy allover pattern-making to fill the void, to avoid real engagement, the hard work of being honest with myself. I let my monkey distract me from the challenge of really looking, from working with mindfulness and with all of myself present.

Don’t think I am feeling “down” or beating myself up, please! And no, I am not fishing for compliments. Trust me, I know what it is that I have made. I am writing this down partly as an apology for including it in an exhibition…it was not honest enough a work to be shown to others. But in the end I didn’t have enough pieces, and didn’t want to let the other artists down by not producing my share of work.

More than all this, I am amused, and glad that I caught my clever little monkey at her tricks. I am someone who enjoys discussing all the ways in which I deceive myself, and catch myself, deceiving myself. It makes me laugh. I will be more firm and honest with Monkey, next time. Every crappy thing I make is a chance to learn and grow. They say that every starting painter has a thousand shitty pictures inside…to arrive at the good stuff, she first has to paint out all that rubbish. I have a LOT more paintings to do…

I called this canvas “Desert Rose,” though its real name should be “Monkey, Dressed in Finery”.


A hundred Indian textiles

My home as an Indian sweatshop

It was Wednesday. Kris was (and still is) on a sail boat somewhere between here and Bali, so I have been alone these past 2 weeks. I had the day off…something I needed desperately, as I work the rest of the week. I planned on sleeping in, getting the laundry and grocery shopping done ashore, catching up on lots of neglected chores, cooking myself some real food to take to work the rest of the week, maybe reading a book (William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise)…possibly even (oh, frisson of joy bordering on lust!) doing some arts & crafts that weren’t travel journal related.

Meanwhile, an old acquaintance of Kris’s had just got back to Darwin after spending two years in Goa, India. This guy often brings a whole sailboat loaded with Indian textiles, antiques, and jewelry back with him, to sell to the local hippie and “ethnic style” shops in town. This time around, Australia’s customs wouldn’t allow him to bring the stuff ashore unless he got every piece labelled with its country of origin and materials. A rule he didn’t know about. You can see what’s coming in this little story of mine, can’t you?

When Mr. Loon pulled up in his dinghy with the problem, I felt compelled to help him out…felt a bit sorry for him, I guess, though I don’t really know him all that well. So Wednesday was spent at the big table on the back deck, stitching a hundred little “Made in India. 100% cotton” labels onto embroidered blankets, throws and bedspreads, shawls, floor mats, wall hangings…while the sweat ran down my cheeks and dropped off the tip of my nose (as we are locked deep into the sultry heart of a tropical summer at the moment).

The colors were fabulous, and little bits of shisha winked at me from a thousand spots, but the embroidery work was very slipshod, rough and crudely done. Very disappointing. But I guess that’s what the trade has become, for the tourist market…these weren’t artisans or master crafters; these were just poor women trying to produce as much as they could in a short time, to earn enough to help the family. I had to remind myself that, in India, the professional embroiderers are actually the men. I’ve seen some amazing stuff on wedding sarees…the fine gold work and beads mixed with shaded silk embroidery is sumptuous, and meticulous beyond belief. In contrast, the stuff I was stitching up with labels is produced for white buyers like Mr. Loon, who can’t see the workmanship even when he’s looking right at it, because he doesn’t know what to look for. He’s spent quite a lot of money on some of these textiles, he told me…a bit of a worry. You’ve all heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? I think Terry Pratchett improved on that one by adding “…if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you get what you deserve.”

But I got something for my troubles, in the end (you betcha!) When the merchant came back I put my hand on one hanging that I’d left unpacked. It was printed, patchworked silk on one side, printed cotton on the other, no embroidery or mirrors, and I liked the primary colors very much! “This one? This one I want.” The audacity.

He laughed and gave it to me. So I do have something pretty to show for the day my boat became a one-woman sweatshop! 🙂