Adrenaline? No thank you. Rather the shoreline where Georgian Bay meets a library of smoothed rocks. I’ve sat and stared at this meeting place for decades, at the lullaby patterns that soothe. This spring in that place has been both gentle and grand.
Grief expresses as a clearing of corners for me, the removal of deadwood from bookshelves and cupboards. Window screens are replaced, which involves the use of a hammer stapler. Decks scrubbed, then scrubbed again, until the green flower of surface mold is gone. Once begun it’s difficult to stop; the list can only grow longer. I’ve moved most of the furniture in my apartment, my studio, the bothy and the cabin, just to find and clear the floors. I am a jack russell with a collar of poison ivy infection around my neck, dogged, intense, focused.
The broader, wiser me is an old sea captain. Patiently, she charts new shifts in internal weather systems, navigates unfamiliar waters. Private waters, and also inter-relational ones – I’ve been more social this spring than in the past five years – surprised, to find people who know something of me, and I of them.
While my terrier self clears and cleans, my Sea Captain learns. I make my own pigments from trees, flowers, roots, metals and bugs, develop a basic understanding of alkalai and acid, and how some colour can be pushed in one direction or another. Somewhere in these weeks I become a laundress, red-faced and swollen-handed, scouring hundred-year-old cigarette and skin oil from ancestral linens and cottons. These are now a satisfyingly crisp white, primed and ready for a project that plays with the difference between legacy and inheritance.
I become a European Dye Master’s Apprentice, chasing Turkish Red through historic texts and 500-year-old recipes. Tea towels and organic plant fabric are steeped in dyes and inks made from eleven tree species. Apple bark makes a beautiful golden yellow, ferrous sulphate pushes that yellow to olive green. I find more colour in my kitchen – black rice (red that oxidizes to violet); Onion (soft warm yellow); Copper vinegar (blue). All this colour has intermingled itself onto watercolour, print and inkjet paper, into studio books and journals. It is unlike any media I’ve used in my 30 years of studio work. This colour is alive, it breathes, shifts in the air and light, is fundamentally, essentially co-creative.
It’s half way through the year and I have two shows to build and present, one online here in my gallery, the other a joint show with the marvellous Eileen Earnshaw in the Member’s Gallery at Centre3 in Hamilton*. The decks are scrubbed, my itch collar has healed, and after a week of pulling both studios back into focus, the steps are clear and measured. I am excited for and with this work, which feels more like satisfying, humbling play – the kind that shifts my understanding and changes my mind. Jack Russell has cleaned and revised my ink room studio, so I can show up every day, to explore and learn.
Books soothe as the shoreline does. Kimmerer, Haskell, Simard, Beresford-Kroeger swell my heart with slow, patient epiphany: it is not the tree, it’s the forest that grows and responds in multi-species intelligence. It’s not me who is aware, it is the Us of which I am one part.
Haskell has great respect for the tension between ecosystem and individual (for me in these moments is expressed in the balance point between Sea Captain and Terrier. These two could be anything, as long as their awarenesses are in contrast: an anti-vax international tennis pro who loves to knit. A brilliant actor who suffers from depression. I wonder. Might our collectively earned wisdom be the gift inherent in this tension?
100 monkeys might agree, so and thus we evolve, together.
*For more information re shows and available artwork, book work and the release of new video course material and art talks, sign up here: