Friday, July 15, 2011

We give thanks - a visit to Whangarei library

On the back wall of the ground floor of Whangarei library there’s a painting (created in 2003) by a group of local intermediate students. These young artists acknowledge the influence of Nigel Brown and their work reflects his iconic paintings which tell stories and myths using a mixture of images and words.

Around the outside of the painting are the words: we give thanks for the invention of the handle without it there would be many things we couldn’t hold on to. Inside the painted frame there are images of hands grasping saw handles, rose stems, a garden spade or fork, the handle of a ghettoblaster, the woven flax of a kite, a carving, and the elegant, flowing lines of (what to me looks like) a seahorse. Beside each image the students have written their names.

Looking at the painting I thought of cups, teapots, scissors, door handles, the smooth bone handle of an engraved knife I bought in Spain in 2009; the way my hand curves around things, that useful opposable thumb that allows so many things including the ability to grip a pen in order to write; the way a child’s feather-light hand held mine as we crossed a busy road.

Then I thought of how we hold on, hold out, hold forth, hold down, hold back, hold up, how we try and get a handle on things, how we say, ‘get a grip’ if we think someone’s losing the plot. I thought about how porous and flexible and metaphoric language is, yet how it’s rooted in our sensory experience. I thought about how metaphor is a handle, how it opens connections between my physical and emotional senses and my imagination, how making connections is a way of creating meaning.

I took a couple of photos of the painting on my cellphone because by then I wanted a copy so I could go back and re-read it.

When I look at it again now, I think about how some paintings, like some songs and movies, work on me like a really good short story - how the artist/writer/actor/singer creates spaces for the reader/viewer to enter; how being able to transform objects into texts makes them alive and three dimensional and how powerful and pleasing that is.

For all of the above, we give thanks - without them there would be many things we couldn’t hold on to.

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