MARIAN MAGUIRE – Meander & An Untitled Journey – 5-29 Nov 2019
I started the big grey drawing in February of 2012 during a brief artist-in-residence stint at the Caselberg Trust House in Portobello on Otago Peninsula. I wrote something about it at the time which I have just reread. I find it interesting – what I said and what I didn’t say – because my memory of what I was thinking is different from what I recorded. I talk about various ideas for the shape of the work, I wondered about the nature of art and thought about how pictures have a life of their own once they’ve left the studio. I talked about my recently released print series, Titokowaru’s Dilemma, and my anxiety around its reception. I mention the Otago harbour walls built in the nineteenth century by prisoners from Taranaki, Titokowaru’s relatives, wrenched from their homes for resisting the colonial push. I had been intending to research further into that but recognized I wasn’t up to it.
It surprised me that I didn’t mention that the first anniversary of the Christchurch February earthquakes occurred when I was in Portobello. Perhaps I had no words for it. Perhaps I didn’t want to put words to it. A friend of mine was killed in the CTV building and I was thinking a lot about her and her family. My father died in the November just past and I was thinking about him too. Tears had come to my eyes everyday for the past year; shock, fear, distress, grief. While in Portobello I decided to stop crying. Maybe I didn’t want the drawing to have anything to do with any of this. I wanted to set off on something new.
It’s interesting that I called the big drawing an untitled journey. The two little drawings that go with it are untitled as well. It’s unlike me not to title things. It’s like I didn’t know where I was going. And I guess I didn’t.
I remember I enjoyed making the drawing, was absorbed by it and excited to see how it would resolve. I’d had the grey Rives for about twenty years and always wanted to use it in a print but hadn’t been able to make it work. It’s beautiful.
According to my notes, my first idea was for two symmetrical ovals side by side like lungs, modelling the lines so that the two enclosed areas glow out of soft grey gloom. It wasn’t long before I decided that would be too boring. By this stage I’d already drawn the central panel of two sets of vertical stripes and was working on the top central panel that diverges to the left and right. It could be architectural, I thought. Arches with key stones at the top and pediments at the base. I’d need a series of arches for that to make sense. Six panels wide not three, eighteen sheets altogether I estimated, gridded up with 4H pencil and shaded with HB. I knew I would lose interest and it might not even look any good. One benefit of doing laborious things is that there is plenty of time to change one’s mind.
I wrote that I wanted to do something positive, something with more life to it: ‘…which is why I have decided to make the drawing about energy flow and I’m trying to get it somehow to bounce. I won’t know if this will work until it is finished and up on the wall. It’s going to take weeks to make the drawing so if it doesn’t bounce it will be a complete waste of time. Nevermind. There are plenty of dead ends in art.’ I also said, ‘It’s going to end up a big wobbly linear thing that gets pinned on to a wall for three weeks and I will go and frown at it every now and then, then walk away. It’ll be wrapped up and put in a drawer and sometime in the future I’ll be curious about it and it will be rehung and I’ll have another look at it.’ I guess that time is now.
There was a whole other thing I was researching while working on An Untitled Journey – I’d brought lots of books with me to Portobello – voyages into the unknown as Europe explored the world. I was thinking about circumnavigation; arriving back at the same place but being changed by the journey. Time/experience/ knowledge make a difference. I’m continuing to work with that idea.
The Meanders. Lines which move when they can, stop when they can’t, turn corners around terrain. They are labyrinths/puzzles and satisfy my interest in pattern; patterns that repeat and patterns that alter. The Greek Key, that continuous angular line that hooks back on itself repeatedly, is also called a meander or meandros. I like the sound of the word ‘meander’. It seems to change direction between the ‘e’ and the ‘a’. Gordon Walters borrowed from Maori kowhaiwhai to make patterns that hooked back on themselves curvaceously. I’ve borrowed from Gordon Walters, and through him kowhaiwhai, over the past few years but have reverted to the Greek Key this time around.
I only finished the concertina meander in the hallway yesterday, the day before this show opened, having made it to give my hands something to do while thinking about this writing. It by no means embodies my thoughts, I don’t expect it to, it has been a companion to me while I was thinking them. Ultimately, the concertina meander has to succeed on its own terms, separate from my motivations, memories or musings. Perhaps it is good, perhaps it is a mere curiosity, I don’t know yet. I’ve included them amongst these other wandering lines because I sense that in some way they all have something to do with time.