Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thematically Speaking Part 2


the particular character, or aggregate of qualities, that distinguishes one person or thing from others; sole and personal nature: a person of marked individuality.
individualities, individual characteristics.
a person or thing of individual or distinctive character.
state or quality of being individual; existence as a distinct individual.

Yesterday I introduced the subject of themes in my art work. As you can probably tell, the first theme I would like to discuss is Individuality. What do I mean by individuality? For me, the theme seems to arise from my own quest for individuality; how some times difference is thrust upon you and some times you seek it out. I have also had a lengthy battle with the value and worth of individuality. My exploration of the concept comes not from a certainty of merit, but as a constant ever changing question of importance and of longing. I have questioned its existence, its worth and its relevance to me. I have longed to feel valued, special and to know that, to be me, Sadhbh Lawlor, means something. Am I just another cog in the machine? Am I just one of the billions of life forms milling about? Can one person make a difference? If that one person does make a difference, does that actually mean anything?

The Snug I am showing you today is a good example of the theme of individuality in my work. A friend of mine came to me with this commission. She wanted a tea cosy for someone who is extremely special to her. She was very clear about what she wanted - from the overall design of the piece to the details that she wanted to include. She has seen lots of my projects over the years and knew what she was looking for from me. She wanted a simple unfussy exterior in the form of a flower and, concealed under the petals, all the important things in that person’s life. I got a list of all the hobbies, treats and personality traits belonging to the person and we discussed symbols or images that could signify these things. She gave me photographs of her immediate family which she wanted me to depict in embroidery. I had done this for another project to great effect.

I feel this form of customisation or personalising in my work has been present for a long time. I remember getting a hand-made Christmas decoration from my uncle who lived in America. It was a red wooden sleigh and he had painted my name on it. There was also one each for my brother and sister. Mine still hangs on our Christmas tree at home every year. It meant and means so much to me because it was made just for me. My mam cross-stitched for years and I witnessed her sewing people’s names, wedding anniversaries, birthdays, new baby congratulations into fabric, commemorating these special events for years to come. I saw first hand how much these keepsakes meant to the recipients and their appreciation for the time and effort gone into each piece. I am sure these are just a couple of the influences that contribute to the artist that I am. 

While in college my work was more inwardly focused. I feel it was a time of self discovery, even if only in a visual sense. You begin to learn how you make art. You make so much work over such a short period of time that your style appears before you; you can see the line of your pencil, the wash of your paintbrush and the forms your hands can sculpt. But after college I developed a kind of skill for finding the expression of other people. I observed, I filed away their likes and loves, I matched colours and tones to their personalities and I made objects that I thought would be of their taste.

Also my family are very important to me and I always wanted to make things for them that would mark them out as special. I think I wanted to say “I see you”. I see what makes us the same and I see what makes us different. I wanted to celebrate the differences between us. I didn’t always have a lot of money but I wanted them to have something of value. I wanted them to have something that mirrored their value to me.

When other people saw the customised work I had made for my family I got lots of orders for similar work. I have been shown great trust and openness by people sharing with me; family stories, friendship adventures, the heartache of grief and loss, the wonders of parenthood and unending samples of the goodness that humanity has to offer.  

On a bad day, the out pouring of love I have experienced through other people in their want to give something meaningful to their loved-ones is a pure blessing. In making all the different projects I have worked on I seem to have been writing, drawing, sewing, knitting and sculpting some of the answers to my most pressing questions. Does individuality exist?  I think so, my reading of all the different looks and requests I have gotten seems to signify that yes, we do all have different wants and needs, different aesthetic tastes and things that will mean something to us and us alone. Does individuality have worth or value? Again I have to say I think the answer is yes. The effort people go to to inform me of how their loved ones make them feel, how important it is to get the right colour, the light in their faces as they describe their mother or best friend or brother. All this says to me that individually we matter to the people to whom we interact and care for.

How is individuality relevant to me? As with everyone else, I am sure, the things that make me different are both the bane of my existence and the things that save my life all at the same time. I am in a constant struggle with my own self worth. In the tug-of-war that is this struggle, currently the side that says I am of value has the upper hand and the brute strength behind it, thankfully. It has not always been the case. In this regard art has saved my life several times over. The act of creation expresses to you, in physical form, your individuality. It serves as proof to a stubborn ego or hurt soul that you are yourself and that, yes, this does mean something. Other individual artists have been a beacon of light to me on dark days. The existence of their work is balm, the telling of their story is solace, and their imperfect truths are an immeasurable support.

Individuality is a broad theme for discussion in any artists work. I’m sure I have just grazed the surface of my own here but I did want to open up the topic for myself. Some days I do just feel like a worker ant milling about doing the necessary but on other days I also feel like I am at the centre of the universe, working and living purposefully.

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