Friday, November 28, 2008

Handkerchief (Willow and Urn), 2006

Kym Hepworth, Handkerchief (Willow and Urn), 2006.

For Handkerchief (Willow and Urn), I used an old white handkerchief with a polka dot border that I bought in an antiques store. I transferred a 19th century gravestone rubbing onto the handkerchief and beaded it with black and cream glass seed beads. The cream colored beads were a little lighter than I wanted them to be, so I soaked them in a tea bath to give them an "aged" look. Next, I sewed clear beads on the handkerchief to look like falling tears. And, finally, I attached a man in the (crescent) moon and a star with a glittering rhinestone center to the night sky background. The moon and star originally were parts from an earring. Handkerchief (Willow and Urn) is the most direct translation of traditional mourning art imagery in my work. It also pairs materials and imagery together in a straightforward manner - a handkerchief is used to catch and wipe away tears (okay, yes, it also wipes away snot) and my weeping willow tree sheds tears.

Below are three photographs of 19th century gravestones with the willow and urn motif. They were taken at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC.

The willow and urn motif began to appear on American gravestones by the late 1700's or early 1800's, and due to the huge popularity of the Greek Revival style, it replaced the earlier winged death's head and winged cherub (or soul effigy) motifs. In Mourning Becomes America: Mourning Art in the New Nation, Anita Schorsch writes that the urn is
"...Etruscan in origin and suggesting of course the spirit of the departed. In ancient times the urn held both the ashes and vital organs of the deceased, becoming finally a symbolic bed for the departed spirit, a vital part of the death furniture of the tomb house...". Schorsch continues, "The willow branch was the ancient symbol for the house of mourning, continuing in Christian theology as a trope for the Resurrection because it has the regenerative power to grow again after being cut. Willows have always been associated with burial sites too, because this useful tree drains the ground of water, keeping the site dry for digger as well as departed."
(Source for quotes: Mourning Becomes America: Mourning Art in the New Nation, by Anita Schorsch, published by The Main Street Press, Clinton, NJ, copyright 1976.)

While browsing websites, I came across these slight variations in the interpretation of what the willow symbolizes: "...while weeping willows, with their long leafy strands suggesting the hair of a woman bent over in grief, stood for the cycle of life and regeneration." And, "[The willow symbolizes] ...desperation, grief and sadness [because] ...the leaves appear to be tears rolling down the face -weeping."

And now, a brief intermission: The Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing

And we're back. I admire the work of Betye Saar (American, b. 1926) and I've included two images from Saar's handkerchief series. The hankie collages, The Loss and Rainbow Babe in the Woods, were autobiographical.

Betye Saar, The Loss, 1977, mixed media on handkerchief, 8 3/4 x 9 1/2 in. Collection of the artist. Photograph by Brian Forrest.

"In The Loss, a cotton handkerchief with black trim has a photograph of Saar's father and Saar at the age of four. (Saar's father died when she was six years old.) The photograph is torn in half, and a small black cross has been placed at the bottom of the tear. A black butterfly in a dried leaf is in the center of the hankie. A small photograph of Saar alone is stitched in the corner."

Betye Saar, Rainbow Babe in the Woods, 1979, mixed media on handkerchief, 9 3/4 x 9 in. Collection of the artist. Photograph by Brian Forrest.

"A lavendar hankie with a scalloped edge was used for Rainbow Babe in the Woods. In the center, a photograph of trees serves as a background for a photograph of Saar in a flower girl's dress. The dress and the butterfly below are painted in rainbow colors. Fragments of rainbows surround the images. The rainbow symbolizes, as Saar explained, "...the promise that all children have of being happy and being successful and having a joyful life... like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The promise, the promise of being a child"

(Source for quotes and reproductions: Betye Saar, by Jane H. Carpenter with Betye Saar, published by Pomegranate Communications, Inc., San Francisco, copyright 2003.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trapped Butterfly Dance - mixed media 2008

Trapped Butterfly Dance is a new mixed media work that I finished in October. Many trips to Kroger, Publix, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart were made in order to buy enough sewing pins. Attention comparison shoppers: Walmart is the best buy (of those stores). The piece is surprisingly heavy, and I could inflict some serious damage with it, if I chose to. But I'll play nice. The color on the jpegs is slightly off - it reads more black and white than the piece actually is. I haven't worked with pins since 1997 and I'd forgotten how time consuming and tedious it is (ha!), but I do like the overall effect. The work shimmers, with light reflecting off of the silver pin heads and the metallic beads.

Kym Hepworth, Trapped Butterfly Dance, mixed media, 2008.

Robin and I have been watching a lot of music documentaries & films this year and we went through a mini Joy Division bingefest. In interviews, Ian Curtis's famous/distinctive/frenetic/epilepsy-inspired/ style of dancing, sometimes described as the trapped butterfly dance, was often talked about.

In mourning art imagery, the butterfly is a symbol that represents resurrection, or the soul's transformation and flight back to God. The symbol of a hand pointing up can symbolize the pathway to heaven, reward for the righteous, or life after death. Its opposite, a hand pointing down, symbolizes mortality or sudden death. In Trapped Butterfly Dance, a lead sinker hangs from each wing of the butterfly, a skeleton hand points downward, and pins surround the butterfly.

photograph of a hand pointing up on a gravestone

Detail, Trapped Butterfly Dance

At the age of 23, Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18, 1980. It is some people's religious belief that if a person has not been saved and commits suicide, his or her soul is damned and will go to Hell. (Personally, I do not share this belief.) Certainly, in terms of Victorian religious beliefs, suicide would not be considered a "good death", and Victorian mourning art reflects the religious beliefs of the time in its symbolism. These are the 20th century/19th century associations behind the imagery of Trapped Butterfly Dance. I considered including a photograph of Curtis in the center of the butterfly, but, as the work progressed, I decided to make it less specific and added the teardrop bead instead.

Detail, Trapped Butterfly Dance

Other sources of inspiration include specimen collections of Victorian amateur naturalists, butterfly wing art, and, of course, the boxes of Lucas Samaras - the artist who OWNS pins. Here's a quote by Samaras: "When I began using these sort of aggressive materials, I suppose I thought of them as being...painful...and touching them or having them in my presence was a disturbing thing, but then after I began using them, they stopped having that quality for me...They were seductive, maybe...They would assert themselves somehow, so that our senses would be...played with." Yep!

Lucas Samaras, Box #1, 1962. (Source for photo and quote: Lucus Samaras: Boxes, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois, copyright 1971.)

And here's a bit of trivia. Lead sinkers played a part in Lizzie Borden's alibi for the murders of her father, Andrew, and her step-mother, Abbi. When Lizzie was questioned about her whereabouts at the time of the murders, she stated that she was in the backyard barn looking for lead sinkers for a fishing trip. And then she ate some pears in the loft. But I digress...

Detail, Trapped Butterfly Dance