Britain’s National Gallery recently started #artgold on Twitter to promote their Art Gold film series. People and museums took over the hashtag, tweeting golden artifacts, golden jewelry, and art of gold. I got into the act, too, because my wall hanging Fishy Cento was partly inspired by a painting in the National Gallery.
I was preparing artwork for my first solo exhibit, which opened in the winter of 2002 at the Colour Museum in Bradford, U. K. In other words, I was preoccupied with wall hangings most of the time.
“Mom, will you ever make me a wall hanging?” asked my then six-year-old daughter, Eva, with a look of yearning on her sweet face. How could I resist? She loved fish, so we agreed on a fishy wall hanging.
The fish in her own aquarium were the models, but they didn’t take orders very well. “Hey, fish! Hold still, so I can draw you!”
They darted around, ignoring me. Eventually, though, I cobbled together a pretty good sketch Eva’s fish, and they appear in Fishy Cento. Speedy is the Golden Orfe and I think the red fish is Bulgey.
When it came time to create a background for these woolly fish, my process came to a standstill. The aquarium water was clear, so the background to the actual fish was the wall behind the aquarium. Black makes bright colors pop, but black background seemed too stark. People think of water as being blue, but even if it is blue, you wouldn’t see the blue-ness in the small area the wall hanging portrayed.
My Sheffield friends Betty Spence and Helen Neale and I met for a coffee one day during my struggle (unbeknownst to them) with the background color. Helen had been to the National Gallery in London. She told about a painting of a horse, which had a golden background. No pastures or barns to distract from this horse—oh no—just the horse, surrounded by gold. The painting was probably Whistlejacket (c. 1762), by George Stubbs.
Bingo! I had my background color. Thank you, Helen!
The next question is, what in the world is a cento? I found it one day when I was reading the dictionary, looking for words with “cent” in them. It can mean ‘a patchwork garment’ or ‘a collection of verse.’
The fish have patchwork garments, so there’s that. I also wrote some fishy verse to use on this wall hanging, but as the piece progressed, it became obvious that the poems wouldn’t fit into the picture. They’ll have to wait for Fishy Cento 2.
In closing, I recommend reading the dictionary. It’s pretty interesting. Also, next time you’re on Twitter, look up #artgold. You’ll see wonders.
See more of my textile art wall hangings in the Gallery section of this website.