Illustration: Rayna Gillman. Kaddish.
In this particular series of artwork pieces textile and mixed media artist Rayna Gillman appears to deal in fragments of generational memories. These are often physically overlaid in her work and can sometimes resemble a collaged and annotated journey. However, there is always more than one way to tell a story, even a fragmented one and Gillman's work gives us a creative glimpse of the magnitude of what has been lost and the fragile nature of what little has been saved.
All the examples shown here of Gillman's work seem connected to the idea of the transitory nature of human life. They give an indication of how tantalising are the memories of past generations and how, in time, they become little more than so much scattered detritus with very few, if any connections to the contemporary world that they helped to produce and in which we inhabit.
Illustration: Rayna Gillman. Cacophony.
It is the casualness of recent generations, twinned with the relentless built-in obsolescence of the consumer market, which has shaped a world of discard and indifference. This lack of regard and respect for the past, whether it be in the form of a kitchen utensil or the lifespan of an individual, is beginning to have an effect on the contemporary world that we live in. We are faced with mounting piles of disconnected memories that can be clearly seen at any local carboot or garage sale. These sales include not only the fashions and fads of the recent past, but perhaps more troubling still, the discarded family portraits, letters and other personal ephemera of lives no longer seen as relevant or having any merit.
Illustration: Rayna Gillman. Early Frost.
By reusing and reconstituting these vulnerable and precarious fragments from the past Gillman offers us a compositional story that although broken and disjointed, refuses to dissolve and disintegrate altogether. She, in some respects, underlines the fragmentary nature of our world's view of the past. We have glimpses of old photographs, personal correspondence and other items that a human life leaves behind them. It is very little and very transitory, but perhaps that is the point. The imagery from past lives can never amount to anything solid enough to remotely identify itself as a character or a life. It is even unimportant whether or not these fragments are linked to the same person. What is important is that they are memories, small tokens of a life that we will never be able to experience in the round.
It is fascinating to explore the work of Gillman and try to explore these remnants of life and to see how the artist incorporates them within a composition. She reproduces hand written work that quickly becomes a textured background, while photographic portraits become isolated islands within those textured backgrounds.
Illustration: Rayna Gillman. Endpaper: Epilogue.
Text in all its forms has proved to be a rich source of inspiration and resource for this particular group of Gillman's artwork pieces. Text can have a powerful foreground affect such as can be seen in banner headlines, which grab immediate attention. However, text can also have a more soothing, personal and comforting effect, especially in the form of hand-writing. It is in this form that Gillman uses text to good effect. By using it as a background texture, it can be seen as in some ways handing us perhaps more personalised glimpses of lost lives. Even though the words may not be legible, it is more important to recognise the fact that they are generational and part of a heritage and a vast data bank of memories that is fast slipping away. If we are unwilling to change our outlook and attitudes towards the casual discarding of the past, then perhaps it is for artists such as Gillman to recognise and to document that passing, if nothing else.
Illustration: Rayna Gillman. Momento.
This article has featured only a small sample of Gillman's work. A much larger gallery of work can be seen on her comprehensive website. She also has a regularly updated blog where her working process can be explored. Both of these sites can be found in the Reference links section below as well as an Amazon link to Gillman's book Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth, and a dvd of Quilting Arts Workshop Printing From Your Pantry.
All artwork was supplied with the kind permission of the artist.
Rayna Gillman's website
Rayna Gillman's blog
Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth: Stamp, Screen & Stencil with Everyday Objects
Quilting Arts Workshop Printing From Your Pantry: Gelatin Monoprinting