ON THE ANIMAL - Leather, Fur and Hair

24 Jan 2018

ON THE ANIMAL

 

Leather, Fur and Hair

 

Leather, fur and hair - all things, that as artisans of fine brushes and tools, are within our realm.  All things that remember that they were once animal.  

 

Leather remembers.  It demands, quite rightly, respect: it once was alive and it wants you to know that. It is skin, after all - it longs to be touched, caressed and loved.  The oil from one's skin softens leather over time.  We create leather accessories that beg to be held, skin on skin, day in and day out.  While we mostly believe that fur coats look best on animals, we recognise and respect the long and ritualistic traditions across the world, from Native Americans to Siberian shamans to sable-wearing Byzantine priests of yore... inhabiting the qualities of animals; becoming animal by wearing their skin.  We remember the wild, the savage, the feral.  We think of ancestral voices prophesying, of flashing eyes and floating hair, of the sacred unspoken connection between human and non-human. Try as we might to distance ourselves, engrossed in our civilisation, we are never really far away from looming nature, be it mighty uncontrollable weather or untamed chimaeras of the mind.  There is a place for ancient beating drums in our hearts.  We are all animals.  Our artistic heritage started in caves.  The trance dances of the shamans involve leather, fur and hair and it is at this edge, between life and death, between human and animal that our most archaic beliefs are revealed.  Fear, magic, life, death, the explained, the unexplained, the mysterious, the timeless: the wise old shaman wears his animal skin and beats his leather drum to a tune that only he hears.  He calls to his spirit animal; he becomes his spirit animal.  Instinct is honed; the bond is formed. 

 

Brushes remember.  Like shamans, they were born to dance. Our brushes are made from the most superior of all animal hair - the finest sable from the cold, quiet borderlands where Russia meets China.  They remember that they once were tails; a kind of fifth limb, alert, alive and acutely sensitive to the world around them.  Like martens and weasels, they want to dart across pages, flick with joy and make magic.  They ask to be used, to move around, to be kept animate.  The artist learns how to use the brush; the brush learns how to be used by the artist.  Left alone for too long, it returns to its roots, bending to the will of no man.  True animal hair will always keep a spring in its step; this is its inherent beauty and why it is so sought-after among artists.  But a brush can be tamed: with constant use, it eventually softens and moulds to the hand of the painter, bowing only to the one that trained it and, used to its master, answering only to them.  Yet it is no slave - it never fully surrenders, it remembers its wild origins and kowtows to its master only after some effort - so this is a meeting of equals.  Instinct, honed; the bond, formed. In time, the brush becomes one with the hand of the painter, melting into a final unison where hand follows mind.  It yields and flies in formation. Yoked and ready, it executes its strokes deftly and with precision, wordlessly listening, through feeling alone, to the images from the heart.

 

We must find joy in our tools, paint with alacrity and remember the animal, always ~

 

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