One year ago, nursing my then 9-month-old daughter, I was explaining to a friend that my tits felt like socks with change in them. She had just given birth and understood what I meant because prior to me speaking she had asked me, “when will my body stop feeling like a coin purse?” We whooped. But then, in some sort of private communion, we each rubbed parts of our body that felt funky from their newly renovated status’–our bodies and minds were now homes. Like the wholesome caricatures my algorithm had been feeding me at 3am, I felt ’grounded’ by the experience of it all. But for me, more of a goblin caricature, the word meant something rebelliously different; it wasn’t vegan, or ecclesiastically pure, it was runny, experimental and meaty. I had morphed into an ambivalent urn whose organs had graduated from secret, functioning to misplaced and loud: a goblin shaped womb-purse.
Paintings can feel like coins in purses to me sometimes–nothing but loose change–a currency that feels like too much effort to spend. But every now and then, I feel at home in a painting, I feel carried, contained. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay, “The Carrier Bag of Fiction”, she adduces that our ancestors’ greatest invention was the container: the basket, the net made of hair, the home, which challenges the preferred tale that the Hero’s sword or stick or blunt or killing tool was more useful, more necessary, “before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that forces the energy inwards.” It reminds me of a time I was commissioned to write about an artist. I went to their studio, and they showed me the tools they used to paint with. Swirling around wielding a long pole, they asked me if I was familiar with how Matisse used to paint using a nine-foot-long-stick. Thank you, I said, for the reminder. Unlike my coin-purse friend, I didn’t really share any regions with this stick-wielding-person–we spoke different languages. It was evident that our loyalty to civilisation was very different. Like Le Guin, the civilisation I speak of is that of the Hero– “if that’s what it took, to make a weapon and kill with it, then evidently, I was either extremely defective as a human being, or not human at all.”
“That's right," they said, "What you are is a woman.”
While visiting Sally’s studio, talking much about our shared muchness–motherhood, our beloved Rainbow Region, and our tri-monthly encounters with Hero-painters, she showed me some Louise Bourgeois paintings I’d never seen. Floored.
‘Femme Maison’ (1946-7) which can literally be translated as ‘wife house’, ‘woman
house’, or ‘housewife’, is a collection of paintings that depict naked figures with
houses for heads. 1.74 years deep in my new purse-bod-life, I was spinning. It's literal,
yes, but it's in its literalness that it emancipates. “The female figure’s identity is
obscured and confined by domestic architecture and, by extension, her role in society” , the internet tells me. I don’t disagree but I'm also provoked by this biographism; it's in
this type of narrative building that sidesteps Bourgeois’s humanity (and acts as an alibi
for art history’s laziness.) Trying to find Bourgeois’s own words regarding these
paintings I came across a clip of her drawing. With charcoal she draws a circle and
right before she’s about to draw something inside the circle she looks up and says,
“what I am going to put inside, what is inside this space, is under my control. And under my control, I want my fears.”
If the body is a container, that contains things to be contained, and the mind is the shelter, or sometimes prison, that contains the body, what is it that contains the mind? Words? Words hold everything. Paintings, like words, can be read–they are a way to describe what's going on, what people actually think, do, feel. Paintings, like words, when conceived Herolessly, act as vessels for civilisation–a place where everything in this sack of a world, “this womb of things to be a tomb of things that were” (Le Guin), is housed for us to see and make sense when there is none.
Sally paints vessels in the form of vases, portals in the form of windows, and emancipation from both of those things in the form of rooftops. Message received: her renovations are finished, she has capped her furbished vessel and is singing into the abyss from the lid/roof. But it's in the hues of blues that she guts me. In that Audre Lord sense–Sally's blues acts as links between our sense of self and our unexpressed feelings–whether mild, calm, or brooding, we are all surrounded by ourselves. Blue separates bodies from land, minds from sky–its peace, rest, meditation, but it's also the harbinger of sadness, depth, mystery. Blue contains us all.
As a woman, a mother, a klutz in a Hero-ardent world, Sally paints. She paints quilts for warmth and cut flowers as a keepsake of living. She is weaponless in her message while remaining full to the brim. Because of that, Sallys paintings appeal not only to your mind, but to your humanity.