For Ulrich who would have been here like a shot and whom I am going to miss forever.
Everything’s a story. My life, a myriad of stories trailing behind me: childhood, MA in Fine Art, my husband and two sons, books, books, books, a discovered penchant to write, a career in children’s books with a number of publications clattering along the cobbles over my shoulder. Each one tied to a string that makes for the bundle I hold in my fist. Colourful strings.
There are 28 stories on exhibition. A couple even have something you could describe as a plot, others are merely images that by being sewn together provide the possibilities of plot.
This is the story of how these rag books were made:
It starts like so many of my stories, rummaging. This time at a church fete. Our Lady Help of Christians. I am holding in my hand creamy cloth, scrunchy, yet soft. It has a light shine. I have no idea why I want it or what I will do with it but the feel of it, like a tiny electric charge, transmits some unknown potential. I have to have it – this is despite many pieces of unused cloth jamming up the cupboards in our small house.
At home, I snip off a square and look at it blankly. At last it says”Draw me” and I run a black finerliner over it. The line skates off, pirouettes and stops. More and more lines, loops, slashes, scribbles. The cloth draws beautifully.
What about paint? I bring out an old watercolour box that I’ve had since my student days. A glass of water and a brush and it’s pops and blobs and streaks and wobbles. One transparent wash overlaps the next. The colour shapes remain discreet, the delicate edges crisp and clear and fine. There is air between them. Thank you, Our Lady.
So let’s start…except I need some shape, I need a story. A friend is sewing a rag book for babies. We should have rag books for adults, I say, idly chattering, not thinking it through. I began elaborating. What about cloth book newspapers? Imagine passengers getting onto the plane with their cloth newspapers draped in their hands. On their laps as blankets. Turned pages on their neighbour’s lap. The Watercolour Cloth Press? Yes, why not?
But I’m no newspaper head. What subject matter should I paint? Another friend, an artist, looking around my kitchen. Why don’t you paint all this? she suggests and I do. I start right where I am because there is a welter of possibilities lying around in heaps at arm’s reach. The endless source matches the stream of paintings I am itching to apint. Then the streaking, the blobbing, the scribbling in my Zozo hut. Endless hours of it. One hundred and ten pages of that have made it here.
So that is why it’s domestic associations.
I am not only invested in my little cocoon of home. Eventually, the wider world calls. I take my silly domestic ‘objets’ out, I put them into the car, on the dashboard which functions as a mantelpiece of sorts, out, out, with me to the local cafe, to the reading club I run at Rosmead Central Primary School, with me to shop at Fargo’s in Salt River, with me to Endlovini in Khayelitsha. These are the domestic excursions.
And the other elements, the stamps, the hangers, the large ‘contents pages’, the cloth tags, all the bits and pieces grow from my life – what I have found, what is around, what friends have suggested, what my husband can and will do.
They say that every person, every author, every artist has really only one story in them which they tackle again and again from every direction. In retrospect, I can see how these works fit into a life-time’s interest in experimental formats and materials bridging the divide between genres and age-groups. The child in me and all the children I have written and illustrated for. The glorious riches of a private sensual life and the social urge, a desire to seed it – or perhaps more accurately, awaken it – in others. The freedom of the fine artist and the rigour of the illustrator. Somewhere in this territory, I hover.
So thank you to Our Lady Help of Christians, who helped me despite my not being a Christian, to Sue, to Lynne, to Robert and to Jill who buys me paint when she goes on her travels and Pippa Firmin who schlepped me more cloth from the UK when Our Lady’s basket was empty.
The last story I will tell is not a story. It’s a poem of only a few words, and not a very good poem at that. If people only get this, I’ll have done my job.
The joy that is making, the joy that is painting.