Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A New Definition for a Family Tree

(This piece was already framed before I got to photograph it so there is some reflections visible in the images. I hope it doesn't distract too much.) 

In the post “An Art Process That Has Deep Roots” I discussed the research work I did for a special art piece that sits at the heart of my family. It does actually hang over the hearth in my family home. I promised that I would share with you the story of how this art work came to be.

My dad has been a youth and community worker for a very long time, as long as I have known him in fact. He is passionate about his job and has committed much of his time to the community he has worked with for the past thirty years.

A couple of years ago now, a celebration was organised for my dad by the people in his job to honour the contribution he has made. Our whole family was asked to be a part of this heart-felt and moving occasion but in secret, because it was being planned as a surprise.

It was a beautiful evening; what seemed like crowds of people came out to be there for dad. They sang him songs, they told stories and they made speeches about the man that he is. One of the speeches given by one of dads long-time co-workers spoke of him in such a way that conjured the image of this tree into my head. I can’t remember the speech exactly now but what I was left with was a strong, tall, deep-rooted force. It had a loving heart at the centre of it and far reaching branches that pushed out and touched other people’s lives. It felt like an organic and ever-changing life that was firm and rigid but also flexible and moving.

My dad, as I know him, is not a materialistic man. He does not place a high value on “things”. So to endeavour to make him some “thing” that was complicated and time-consuming was risky business for me. I truly felt though, that I wanted to try and capture something of that evening; to take in the special things that were said about a member of my family and create my own expression of it that we could hold on to and use to commemorate the work my dad had done in his life.

As I explained in my previous post, I set about researching and drawing trees of all varieties, trying to explore and encapsulate the image I wanted to convey. I decided I wanted to make the piece out of hand-made felt. I had learned felt-making techniques in college and had always been drawn to this active and hands-on process of fabric-making.

My dad loves everything Irish and so I decided I would have a clear yet sombre Irish spring sky in the background. I used a natural uncoloured fleece, wisps of a rich blue and strands of silk fibre that ripple and shine when worked into the felt. I made pieces of felt from various shades of green for the landscape around the tree. I also made and bought multi-shades of brown for the tree itself. I had bought some beautiful vibrant red fleece for another project and this did perfectly for the heart that beats at the centre of the tree.

After I had completed my research, I designed the finished piece on layout paper. I made a template from this design for the whole tree shape. I cut this shape out in felt and sewed it down onto the background. I then chose to make a more complicated template; every branch and every bit of bark texture had to be given colour and form. I chose to use light and dark tones of brown to define and shade the tree to give it a layered look that had dimension. I embroidered each sliver of brown felt into place and also used the embroidery thread to give extra detail. I added smaller and more delicate branches with tiny buds with tips of green. This was to signify the new phase, the next chapter in dads work. It symbolises springtime regeneration and natural cycles of life.

Some pieces of work stand out as an obvious step forward in your ability to communicate an idea and your skills develop to a whole other level. This is one such piece for me. I was very focused on the quality I wanted to deliver in this picture. I meticulously worked every detail and finished it to as high a standard as I was capable of at the time.

I attribute this to the force of feeling that was behind this piece. I was inspired by the creativity and positive energy of others. I was also much more experienced having worked on many different projects and I gave myself the space I needed to make something that would be meaningful to me in the long term.

I gave this art work to my dad for his birthday and I do feel he appreciated the gesture I was making to him. I have challenged my dad my whole life about his work and the time he spent there. We have a loud and combative relationship; always arguing, debating and joshing each other. But there is a strong love that binds us together through these stormy seas. We always try to find a way back to the safe harbour of our relationship.

What I attempted to do with this piece of art was to leave my complaints and child /parent disgruntlements to one side and honour the man who has worked so hard as to deserve such a special occasion to be created for him. I wanted to see the man not just as my father but a man who has dedicated his life to strong beliefs, relationship and walking his talk.

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