I sat in my studio not knowing what to do. Our friend, the farmer and artist Ed Gulley had just been diagnosed with brain cancer the day before. Focusing on work that morning was not easy.
Really, the only thing that had any potential to hold my attention was to start drawing, and draw big.
So I found an old quilt that someone gave me and on the back of it I began a drawing. But it wasn’t right, I don’t even remember now what bothered me about it, only that I wanted to start over. So I laid the quilt on the floor, face up, and in between the appliquéd flowers or sunbursts, I started to draw with a black permanent marker.
You can see how the original quilt design influenced my drawings. How I fit them in the white quilted spaces between the appliqué.
When I was in art school, my MFA thesis was based around unraveling doilies and afghans and reconfiguring them. Since then I’ve been drawn to the idea of undoing what someone else has done and remaking it.
It doesn’t feel disrespectful to me, because I’m taking what other people no longer want, because it is damaged beyond use or has lost its original usefulness, but don’t want to throw away, usually for sentimental reasons.
I started removing parts from quilts with the first Fabric Painting I made a few years ago. So it was natural for me to start removing the appliqué, like a sculptor carves a piece of marble to reveal what she sees inside of it.
Over the past five months I’ve hand and machine stitched, re-appliqued original pieces of fabric and new ones, and used permanent markers to draw on the old quilt.
There’s an old velvet needle and pin book, a lady’s glove (like a painted hand print on a cave wall), a felted snake and wolf from a bible class. I used pieces of an old Victorian wall hanging that Veronica sent me made by her grandmother, including a moon, star and butterfly. I stitched on some of my own drawings too.
“Tattooing” the Goddesses face was one of the last things I did.
I remember walking into my studio after a difficult day and seeing the Goddesses eyes looking at me. I felt reassured by her. As if she were a touch stone, a grounding place to come back to.
About a month ago I got the idea to “tattoo” her face. I looked online for images. But it wasn’t until last week that I had the guts to start it. I was afraid, because if it didn’t work, there was no turning back.
But it did work.
And the strength that comes through in her expression, I believe reveals in myself a new strength that I’m feeling within myself. I probably didn’t finish this piece until now, because I couldn’t have done it before.
I didn’t have it within me.
I can’t explain each image on this piece and tell you exactly what it means. Like a painting, it’s a combination of them all together, placed as they are, that make the whole piece work.
I can tell you that the first version of my Flying Vulva is in the “moon” on the back of the wolf.
And that many of the images come from my visual vocabulary that I use again and again (like the red boot).
The words “No one has to die for me to be free” came to me sometime during the months I was working on this piece. At the time I was dealing with some of the psychological holds my birth family had on me.
I though of when my father died over 20 years ago and how afterwards many things in my life became easier without him. And I wondered if I might feel the same kind of freedom if other people were no longer alive.
It actually makes me uncomfortable to admit I had this thought. But I know I’m not alone in it. And at certain times in people lives, like when people are on the verge of a divorce, it’s not uncommon for spouses to imagine each other’s death.
But I didn’t really want anyone to have to die for me to feel free.
I want them to be able to live their lives and me mine, without the tether between us that was weighing me down.
I also thought of how when my friend Ed learned he was going to die, he finally felt a freedom he had never known.
I don’t want death to be involved with my being free.
This fabric painting acknowledges death, ( the owl, which in many cultures is a symbol of death and the in the autumn tree) but it isn’t about death. There are just as many symbols of life and rebirth (the flying vulva, the sunrise, the dancing woman, butterfly, the snake ).
“No One Has To Die For Me To Be Free” is about finding freedom from the inside out. About being free within and being brave enough to live that freedom, in what ever form it takes, out in the world.
“No On Has To Die For Me To Be Free” is Sold
for sale. It’s 32″x42 1/2″ and is $500 + $25 shipping.