Sometimes you don’t know how you get there, but it’s still nice to know where you’ve been.
I read Canadian artist Robert Genn’s latest newsletter A Treasured Mapbook, this one on the joys and advantages keeping a journal while traveling and painting. Mr. Genn writes often and well about issues concerning art and artists. You can read my tongue-in-cheek response below his article.
What delighted me was another reader’s comment on the accompanying image of my small bear sculpture. She thought that the markings on my little bear looked sort of like a map, too. I was thrilled by her observation, and it got me thinking.
There are so many kinds of journeys we take, and so many ways of recording them. Ways that may help us, looking back, to see how far we’ve come from. Perhaps, in journeys where we feel we travel without a map, this backward look gives a hint of where we’re headed, even when we aren’t sure ourselves.
Perhaps my very body of work is such a map. And so is this blog.
Re: the markings on my artifacts, I’m often asked what they mean. I have to say, I really don’t know for sure. And even when I do, that changes over time.
Some echo the markings in actual cave paintings. Their meaning is not clearly understood, though many new theories abound. Even the myriad hand prints only confirms that many ages of people frequented these places, not why.
So I add my own little handprint, and add mysterious little dots and scratchings.
I work quickly, not thinking too much about where I mark, and how often, sometimes falling into compelling rhythms (“One-two-three-four-FIVE, one-two-three-four-FIVE…”) or compulsive counting (I try to always have odd numbers of marks, such as the incised lines in a horse’s mane.) For awhile I felt I had to etch tiny fern-like patterns on each one, a urge that eventually manifested into this pod series.
Each little animal or artifact seems to call out for a certain “look”, and I do my best to oblige without always understanding why.
Then I listen to the stories my collectors tell about what they see in the markings. One, a musician, sees an ancient scale of musical notes. Another, an astronomy, cherishes the thought that the seven dots in a bull’s face is indeed an ancient star map of the Pleiaides. The hand prints often speak to healers.
I am delighted and enchanted by such stories. It means the piece has left my hands, and has truly become an object of meaning to the new owner.
So the idea of the markings-as-map, as I chronicle this “word map” blog of my latest journey, appeals. Once again, just as I wonder what place my art has in the world, it calls me back. Encourages me to take “one more step” with this work, with this incredible journey called life..
My art still urges me to look around and see, to really see. And to reflect and record what I find.
It’s always been there for me. I’m the one who walked away. And now, perhaps, I find my way back again.