Philip E. Harding
Honestly, I’ve been a little self conscious about my current project and unsure how to talk about it. With most of my previous projects I had a clear idea about what it meant and why I was making it. Not so with the ropes. I find the process of making them engaging and the results beautiful, but I can’t say what they mean or what they are for. I feel like I should make something in response to climate change, racism, or rising fascism. If anything, this project is a retreat into aesthetics, art for its own sake. Whatever the meaning, I now think I know what the catalyst was for starting this when I did. It involves some difficult years with my brother John.
Briefly, in September 2017 my brother began sleeping on the recliner in my studio. In the previous few years his life had fallen apart. He lost his job, burned through his savings and was estranged from his wife. Just getting health insurance took way too much time but once we got it we were able to get a diagnosis, that of early onset dementia. With a diagnosis he could get disability and in March of 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, he was able to move into a group home, followed by assisted living in 2021 before he finally passed away in May of 2022, age 64, and only 16 months older than me. While John was living in my studio I focused on digital art, mostly thousands of patterns, of which some can be found on my pattern works page. When he moved out I made a couple of paintings but I felt the need to make something more physical. I built my first rope making machine, unboxed the massive quantity of yarn I had accumulated over decades for just such a project, and began twisting it into rope.
Caring for someone with dementia is a slow motion train wreck. It starts slow and at first you don’t know what it is but when it is over you are left with a sort of PTSD. Everyone processes grief and trauma in their own way. For me, I walked back and forth the fifty odd feet between the rope machine and a fixed point down a long hall, laying out each strand one by one, hour after hour. The work gave me some mental and emotional space while letting me keep busy. Ropes are not expressions of grief though they may be a metaphor for how I was spinning things over in my mind. As objects, they have a tactile physical beauty and making them has allowed me to explore pattern, texture and color in new and tangible ways.
December 2022 I stopped making ropes and began making some new wall pieces. I am still working out how to use them. I first tried some macrame knots but those felt too clunky so I’ve focused on simple hangings. Most are about 80 to 82 inches tall, but I’ve also made some horizontal sets, one three feet tall and a full 12 feet wide. I also took a set and wove them over dowels held in a wooden frame.
In September 2023 I will be exhibiting these and more
(or entirely different works) as the featured artist at Richland’s
Allied Arts gallery, aka “The Gallery at the Park.” I’m
not sure how to price them so I’ll probably start low and raise
them later if they do well. If you think you would benefit from an escape
into physical beauty, or would like a personal studio tour to look at
and talk about art, don’t hesitate to ask.
Return to Index