A small female octopus has remained in my heart ever since I watched My Octopus Teacher. Her short life held many things, including— surprisingly— a connection with a human, despite caution , instinct, and perhaps fear (who knows if an octopus can feel fear?). She opened, accepted, and had a rich and unique life because of this.
“……an octopus’ main experience of the world is the tension between fear and curiosity.” ~~from an interview with Pippa Ehrlich, co-director of the film
This documentary broke my heart. I will most likely never watch it again. But her story lives inside of me now— a lesson in living. I had to pay respect to her and so I created her in beads.
The story of the bead project:
- I searched the web until I found just the right image of an octopus. It had to have life, grace, and flow. Lucky for me, the one I finally found also happened to be an intricate cross stitch pattern! This made it quite simple to print the pattern and choose similar colors for the beads.
- I spent considerable time contemplating the background. It couldn’t just be a plain monotone color without thought or life or meaning. Though she undoubtedly would have popped and been very pretty on a sea-blue background, it would have made for a shallow picture, without depth or thought— something that you look at and think, “How pretty” and then turn away from. So the background that I chose represents her life. The white and clear beads are the clarity and purity of the water, the vast and limitless expanse available to her, and they soften her edges, making her seem not-well-defined. The whites/clears of the water and her own ghostly pale grays merge in places, making her one with the water. But of course! She is an octopus after all, a soft being who must spend her life camouflaging herself and avoiding predators. The galvanized marine-colored beads represent the richness and depth of her environment, the ocean itself which teems with life and nourishment. They are the viscosity and silkiness, the suspension and flow that supports the life that lives in it.
- Embellishment ideas have flowed through my mind constantly right from the beginning….. a starfish— what size? color? —placement? A tall seaweed forest? -colors? -material? Sea floor? -rocks? sizes? —arrangement? Fish? Edging? Header for hanging? Bottom fringe or themed embellishments? Long bottom? Short bottom? Focus? Is this a small project or is it part of a much larger canvas?
As I’m just over halfway to placing the 14,706 seed beads for the base of the project I am still mulling the finishing touches. I will not know what it will look like until I place the very last piece on it and call it done. You see, as the work emerges, it brings with it a life of its own. There is constant evolution happening in the visions I can see. I have minimal control over what it asks (and sometimes demands) of me.
You will see her in many different lights. If viewed close up in bright light there is the ‘work of her’— the individual building blocks and their separate, distinct colors. Each bead and embellishment a working part of the whole. In my opinion, not a pretty view when each is taken separately, and yet a necessary view in order to understand all of the tiny elements which make a whole. But when you back up and see her from a distance her personality emerges. You will be able to see her in many different ways with each change of light and angle. When the water around her shimmers with life and she is matte; a real being in a ‘live’ world. When the water around her is flat and seems like nothing and she is flat too, merging with it as you try to see her edges and can’t. When you enter the room and catch sight of her from an angle, and the light is just so……did she move?
I love the languid gracefulness of her sinuously waving tentacles. I’m there with her and can almost feel the viscosity of the water as we gently, slowly sway with the currents.
There are 39 rows left now. She is almost complete. Like the producers of the show, I don’t want to assign a personality to her, don’t want to humanize her in any way. She is too precious and pure to be contaminated that way. This is one of those times when you can feel a sort of love for a being and be perfectly okay that it’s not returned—you know it can’t be— because there is nothing selfish about this feeling.
She came off the loom last week. I don’t know if I can find the correct words to describe the feel and drape of the finished, beaded ‘fabric’. It’s a bit luxurious, with a satisfying weight, and almost a fluid movement to it. Very fitting for this project, yes?
There was finishing to be done, some ends to be woven in, most ends knotted in groups of four and still waiting to be contained in the leather of the top and bottom borders. The bottom has decided that it will be the sea floor: some ‘rough’ sand ridges with scattered shells representing an abundance of life. This is what I’m working on now. Small pieces of abalone shell are representative of rocks scattered about the sand.
The bottom border is close to completion. I’m now adding the jute twine to the edges. Of note: this jute twine is well over 30+ years old. It’s something my mum had in her ‘junk drawer’ of tools, strings, and odds-&-ends of doodads to fix things with. I remember this roll of twine from decades ago. In all probability, it’s decades older than I think, as she had a lot of items she saved from her own mum’s house that she never threw away, proclaiming it all good and useful stuff that would last forever! It’s things like this that contribute to the meaning of the art, although most people who see it will never know.
14,706 beads have been married to soft deerskin leather, cotton fabric, a thin base of fine Florida sand overlaid with coarse, gritty Maine beach sand, miscellaneous shells, Swarovski Crystal starfish, a piece of Maine beach glass, a golden sand dollar finding, polished abalone chunks, a black lip shell starfish, the findings that support the hanging, and of course, the old twine. Not including the hanging twine, this piece measures about 9 1/2 inches wide and about 10 inches tall.
This mixed media piece of art has taken months to plan and finish. Sometimes her and I just needed a rest, other times I needed to stop and listen to what she wanted. Occasionally, certain pieces that I envisioned just couldn’t be found, and that told me that they weren’t meant for this piece. I near completion with mixed feelings. Her and I have been working together for months now. A sort of partnership. I’ll miss that even as I look forward to my next projects.
Until you create something, you can’t know or recognize the depth of soul that goes into a creation. ~~DLFarley