Sometimes when I apply for something new, I rewrite my artist statement on the spot. I think of new ways to describe what I want people to know about my paintings. Honestly, writing an artist statement is a little stressful. I'm not great with words.
Here is the new one I wrote last night while applying to be a part of something that is a stretch for me- opinions are welcome!
I’m not laying blame on anyone, times have changed, the knowledge we need to survive has changed for us. It serves us better now to know a hundred different corporate logos instead of a hundred useful plants in a day's walk from home.
But I notice weeds and paint them. Growing in the cracks of sidewalks, along roads, in between train tracks, and in the carefully tended gardens of our grandmothers, are plants with whom our ancestors had relationships. They gave them names based on what they observed about them; coffeeweed, scotchbriar, white man’s footprint, and bloodwort are a few. They boiled them into teas, rubbed them into wounds and on rashes, added them to stews, placed leaves and stems on sick children, and learned which plants were helpers. These weeds and wildflowers would signal the health of the land as well as the passing of the seasons to people who relied on that knowledge for survival. The relationship with these plants appears in the songs and poetry in every culture all over the world as far back as we can find.
Now human attention is elsewhere. Simply identifying a wildflower is beyond the scope of knowledge for a lot of us. I spent many years not noticing the wild plants bursting their way through in untended places except as an indication of a forgotten square of land.
I gradually became aware of the weeds. I noticed the same sweet fragrant smell on disturbed land, an old strip mane, near my parent’s house as I did on disturbed land, a construction site, in Washington DC. Now I realize it might have been pineapple weed, which looks like tiny pineapples and can be brewed into a tea that cleanses the human digestive system as well as clearing the reproductive systems of postpartum and menstruating women. Does it do the same for the land? Growing in soil that is compacted, depleted, and possibly contaminated, I tend to think that it does offer cleansing to the land too. This is what interests me now.
So I notice weeds and paint them. I’m identifying them and looking up their stories and putting them in a painting to share. I’m learning from my ancestors and passing their information on the best way I can.
Margaret Shipman, February 2024