All roads lead back

The older I get, the more it feels like every new idea I have is an evolution of the last. I know, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but for me each reminds me of one piece or another of art that I didn’t – or haven’t yet – made.

I might have mentioned I am studying an online non-fiction writing course at the moment. We’re on Week 2 and it’s become really difficult – now we have to write about our emotions in 200 words or less.

The course textbook is Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach. It’s well-written and certainly inspiring. He makes you feel as though you have a story to tell and starts with lots of tips to move past writer’s block – to just get writing, and to do it every day. The first exercise was to set up your writing space. I had a nice corner in our dining room (the room that has never, in our history, been used for dining in), but sadly this was dismantled shortly after in order to re-decorate.

The second chapter though began with an exercise to draw a mind map of the first neighbourhood we lived in as a child. The author discusses different responses to this exercise he has had in the past – from an ‘X’ on a piece of paper through to a comprehensive map complete with collage and paint. In fact the creator of the latter map spent so long on it that she didn’t have any time to write that week. This seemed like my kind of exercise.

Quite quickly I was reminded of a drawing and a painting I made some time ago. The drawing, the most successful of the two I felt, was on pieces of graph paper glued together and was of the second house I lived in with my parents as a child, the house before my parents divorced. On the paper I moved around the house, recounting memories as I drew rooms, fireplaces and staircases. These I noted on the paper, and as I built up my drawing some got overlain, the gradual building up of memory over time.

94 2004
94 (Exploration of a childhood home) (2004) Felt-tip pen, ink and pencil on paper

I like this as a drawing but I felt (perhaps naïvely) that ‘final pieces’ to hang in a gallery should be paintings on canvas. Moving to canvas, the painting was simpler and being on gloss paint I was less able to add written notes. It’s a drawing in paint.

119 2004
119 (Exploration of a childhood home, II) (2004) Permanent marker on gloss-painted canvas

My mum still lives in the town I grew up in, and even when I was a child living there we lived in a total of three different houses in the same town. My memories of this place are therefore current as well as going back as long as I can remember; I have a lot of memories associated with the town. I concentrated on my walk to school which was largely unchanged despite the house moves and school moves between first and middle schools.

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Mind Map of the first neighbourhood I lived in as a child

I started to think about taking this further. I could start to build up the map, as before overlaying memories with translucent paint or collage using tissue paper. It could become three-dimensional, a hanging installation with wire or thread connections, and translucent tracing paper buildings.

The year after I finishing my art degree I was really interested in journeys and for a time recorded all of my journeys in my sketchbook. A line moved from one page to the next. I took single lines from tube or street map with a scalpel. I pitched an idea for an installation describing my journeys in wire or threads among cardboard houses.

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