Bend until you break through
With a little help from Eric
An acquaintance asked me recently how my diagrams were coming along. Diagrams! He might as well have ruffled my hair and said How are you enjoying your nice little hobby? or Isn’t it great to have an interest?
I used to take umbrage at this kind of thing – Hello! My craft is legit, I work long and hard and sometimes my fingers bleed! – but I’m less shrill about it these days. If a person doesn’t see why you’d pursue an art practice, be it a vocation or a hobby, I figure they’ve never met Eric. And that’s sad. Eric changed everything for me.
Eric is my miracle worker. He’s not just mine; plenty of people get to hang with Eric, if they’re lucky. He works his magic on musicians, writers, artists – even accountants and lawyers. Some know him as the flow state, or the zone, or the pocket. I think of him as a benevolent creative partner who drops in and gets stuff done. He eats a lot of time, but he’s worth it. When Eric’s around, the world opens up.
Eric lives on the fun side of the divide between daily grind and wonder. When he comes over, he brings his A game. He busts down doors to let the fresh breeze in, tossing trivial niggles out through open windows and sweeping inconsequential concerns under the mat. He has a Taser, too. (I know, he sounds like a dick, but he’s more of a Fixer). He’s merciless on pests like impostor syndrome, monkey mind, and that whining mosquito that masquerades as good judgement but is really just doubt.
So things feel pretty safe with Eric. Once he’s settled in, it’s quite relaxed and uncluttered. Time stretches and warps, and nothing else matters. It makes for great storytelling conditions.
Plotting a yarn
That’s essentially what I’m doing when I front up to the work bench to make things out of wire. I bend and flex material until a story takes shape. Sometimes it’s a tiny story, and sometimes it’s War and Peace (abridged, but still). I’m aiming to capture a moment, elicit a feeling, evoke something. The finished pieces hint at something that’s just happened, or is about to happen. There’s always a dog or two in the frame, and why not? Dogs have character written all over them, and they’ve got the best tales. Dogs in a moral quandary, dogs mid-argument, dogs planning a bank heist; the narrative potential is endless.
I can’t tell you how the stories come together, exactly – that’s more Eric’s department. I just know it’s satisfyingly tactile. I stand up to work, and begin entirely without a plan. On both counts that feels more fluid, more conducive to happy accidents. I take lengths of coated wire and feel my way into them, bending and shaping and twisting until I hear a heartbeat, metaphorically speaking (Eric’s not that good). When a story starts to appear, I pin it down. I snip finger lengths of hair-thin wire from a tiny spool – that satisfying snick never gets old – and use it to gently hand-stitch the creations onto pillowy white etching rag.
When Eric’s on his game, all this goes swimmingly. No messing up, no starting over. Hours tumble effortlessly down a very deep well, and good things happen.
But occasionally Eric nips out, and I’m left dealing with a capricious wire hound that simply won’t sit still. I prod and poke like a phlebotomist searching for a good vein, coaxing it into submission. Occasionally I’ll scratch myself a new fingerprint on the jagged edge of an errant tail, or bring a hammer down on my thumb while tapping pins into paper. If I’m lucky, Eric swings back in before things get shouty. Hey, did I miss anything? he’ll say. Here, I brought you a glass of alchemy. Drink up.
Feeding the muse
Eric isn’t flaky, but he does enjoy a bit of sensory encouragement. So before I’ve even got my candy pink pliers out, I’m setting some mood.
I’m incredibly lucky to have a dedicated work space, and one whose raked ceiling throws off the teaky scent of old jetty timbers. Just add a fresh brew of stovetop coffee (Eric likes his with a square of dark chocolate) and that’s the aromatics sorted.
For the soundscape, I prime the Bluetooth speaker and let the wide world of podcasts unfold. I can come away from a session of creative play knowing more about Russian oligarchs, Leonard Cohen lyrics and String Theory than I ever thought possible. (Yes, diagram guy. String Theory). The dulcet tones of Ian Chillag and Richard Fidler are on the soundtrack to some of Eric’s best work.
I suspect Eric also responds well to the look and feel of the gorgeous timber box frames stacked in the corner, patiently awaiting the final creations. Ashley makes these for me in his gumtree-shaded workshop at the edge of a seaside town. You can tell by the ancient boat marooned in his driveway that he’s all about beautiful things and old-style craft. His frames are made from sustainable hoop pine. He makes them nice and deep, without glass, so the wire creations can stretch their legs out, casting playful shadows that change with the light.
That’s the front view, anyway. On the back, I hide the treasure.
The twist at the end
I don’t consider an artwork complete until I’ve flipped it over and planted a little love note on its rump.
For this, I plunder my stash of vintage magazines, scissors in hand. I snip simple shapes and build a tiny canine collage, gluing it to the frame's pine backboard and augmenting with black ink. The result is a whimsical confection, a folly, a tiny ‘wink’ for whomever finds themselves in receipt of the piece. Only they know it’s there. It’s like a secret handshake; an artless gesture that demonstrates what a pleasure it’s been.
You could call it a diagram, I suppose. I prefer to think of it as something less pragmatic, more life enhancing. More Eric, as it were. More charmed.
It’s also for him, of course. He’s usually long gone by the time I’m pasting the discreet missive onto the back of the frame – he has other commitments – but he’s still in my thoughts. That papery pooch with the wonky legs and the glue in its ears is my way of saying Thanks a bunch, Eric. Please come again.