When I was a girl I was expected to help my mom with chores around our home. Not just to be helpful (though God knows she needed it with our family of eight), but also in order to learn how to care for my own future household. Early on, she taught us the proper way to set the dinner table and how to:
- wash dishes & clean up the kitchen
- use the vacuum & dust the furniture
- fold “hospital corners” when making beds
- iron shirts – at least 5 steps in a particular order
- sew on a button.
Useful skills. Skills she needed a hand with I’m guessing. But she wasn’t a clean-freak; I still love her “clean to the eye” motto, which meant pick up the newspapers and toys so, if company happened to drop by, the house would look neat. She was a practical woman, and I’m thankful for the means I acquired under her casual tutelage.
I have mixed emotions, however, about a story she told me when I was sweeping the kitchen for her one afternoon – a tale my grandmother conveyed to her when she was a girl. It’s about a man who visits a household to observe two girls clean up the floors of the home. The first one sweeps the broom around the room in a flurry finishing in record time! The second uses small brush strokes, slowly and methodically gathering the dirt particles so as not to scatter it or drum up dust in the air. The man selects as the winner the more conscientious of the two – the young woman who took her time and did a thorough job. Yay! What was her prize? She got to be his WIFE! (It is a primeval story, of course.)
This morning I felt crunchy crumbs under my toes as I stepped toward the coffeemaker. Too early for the noisy vacuum, I went for the broom to quietly gather the particles. This story about a man choosing his bride based on what is revealed in her approach to sweeping dirt still comes to mind every time I grab a broom. In our garage my husband displays one that has seen it’s better days next to a framed poster of Jasper Johns’ painting entitled Fool’s House. Bob insists on hanging them together prominently – he LOVES this diptych he created. It’s been moving around with us for more than three decades.
Johns’ broom series is engaging because he took an actual broom from his studio, screwed it to a stretched canvas and let it “sweep” an arc of oil paint across the surface. His creative process of using commonplace objects, along with his paint marks and scribbled labels caused a pictorial tension that was new to viewers back in the 60s. His Flag paintings caused more of a sensation and made him famous, but I lived with the broom for so long I believe it influenced me as much as my mother. I collect objects to incorporate into my own paintings. I am known for this among family and friends.
In fact, they add to my stash – save stuff in plastic bags and say, “Here, thought you could use this…” Back when I had a studio in downtown Rockford a fellow artist called to report she’d just driven passed a smashed bucket laying on the corner of Madison & Market that looked like something I could use. It became the background of the lion’s face of St. Mark for my Bible Story series.
Every walk with Roxy & Ringo is an opportunity to find shapes on the ground to put in paintings. These found objects are organized in shoeboxes and crates stashed under tables and on shelves around my studio. I believe for most artists the creative process involves the use of basic elements of design and lots of practice with their medium. This is true for me as well, but my approach tends to get messy and troublesome before I’m able to organize the best presentation. Especially if I want to include one of my precious found objects. But with care and focus it can become a meditation of making harmony from chaos, and it suits me.
Out of curiosity, I searched my Etsy shop to find that 34% of my items presently shown include imbedded found objects. Here is one of my favorites entitled Grace Note. Grace note defined:
- a musical note added as an ornament
- a small addition or embellishment
- Jasper Johns, Fool’s House, 1962. Oil on canvas with broom, sculptural towel, stretcher and cup. 182.9 x 11.4 cm. Private collection, on loan to Walker Art Center, Minneapolis © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017.
- Flag https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78805
- Jasper Johns painting series of brooms: https://artillerymag.com/outside-la-jasper-johns/
- A “found objects” search of my Etsy.com/shop/GrantviewStudio