101 Deweguns (My part 1 of Chapter 2)

February 29, 2024  •  Leave a Comment











Let's chat about your invitation to participate in the 101 Deweguns : A Living Hearts Legacy project of Reconciliation.                        How did you feel when you first heard about being invited? What were your thoughts at that time?

Simple, it was an unabashed -"Wow, an invitation to participate."  "That's really cool".   I did not anticipate it really happening.  "It was cool".  The 101 Deweguns project is far reaching involving many participants within its layered stages/chapters. My part is just one part among many. Much like the drums, just one drum among many, like the stories to be heard, a chorus of efforts. My part in this chapter is the design and painting of the deer skin surface of a single drum. The invitation was good news!


The invitation marks the beginning of a creative journey. Can you share a bit about that journeys beginnings?

I found quickly, I couldn’t sleep,- too much nervous anticipation I guess. Strange enough, normally I am excited about painting, but now I was just nervous… Somehow it was no longer simply between me and the subject and the painting medium. Suddenly an audience had intruded. I became worried the art wouldn’t be up to measure. I worried the art wouldn’t satisfy the ‘audience’ in some way. Which messes up the normal artistic relationships. All art is about relations, first and foremost that of the artist and the ‘story” being embodied in the visual work. It's not about the “end user”, that’s more design territory. So the question that harangued me through my nights was ‘How do I shift the focus back to where it belongs – on the story to be embodied’.


Considering the ritual of the drum's birthing process in a separate ceremony; how does this distinctive aspect influence your concept of the drum as "art"? Tell us a bit more of your thoughts concerning this.

For most ‘western’ art, art is an object without utility. Which makes sense when you consider it.  The viewers relationship to art, if based upon utility would be about leverage and ‘what can this do for me…’ , whereas once an object is without or severed from utility, as in placing it on a pedestal or within a galleries white walls; well then the only relationship with the object that one can have, is a personal one, grounded as equals – how we experience our art culture. It's within that kind of relationship (as equals) that one can understand, gain insights, grow and learn.

But these 101 drums will have both individuality/(spirit) and utility… so what gives?  Possibly, if one has a world view of everything being family, of everything having some respected place, then does one need the in-utility of art in order to approach the object/being as of being equal merit? Probably not.  After all, being severed from utility doesn’t give more value to the art object, it only allows the individual to approach it with more respect, (as one does between individuals). So possibly there is no paradox here of the drums being individuals and with utility.

There seems a huge social distinction in that. In being able to approach things as already valued, versus assuming they have some utility. Does that make 'western' art a crutch we socially use, so that we can regain that ability to approach things as inherently worthy in and of themselves? Maybe. Interesting questions to ponder, but this approach-ability as either art or as spirit/object needs my acknowledgment within the 101 Deweguns Drum project.


The drums hold a special significance within the project. Do you see them as works of art, as solely as functional objects or as instruments, or do they transcend into something more? How does your artistic vision align with that?

I would say that depends on the context. In some ways these distinct social paradigms alluded to above get exposed in this 101 Deweguns collaboration. I guess within the ceremonies they are not art, they are something more. Yet in a gallery space they would only express themselves via being perceived as ‘art’. So in some ways they are all of that. Art/artifact/object/instrument/spirit/self … As McLuhan pointed out, it’s all in the how we interact with the media to understand its impact. Neglecting certain aspects of the drum is to our loss, recognizing and respecting the varied roles opens so many more doors of discovery to us.


In this collaboration, how does the drum's identity as both a spirit/’object’ and artistic expression influence your painting approach? Can you explain how this inter-plays in your creative process?

My art usually determines its own scale and form. It’s balance derives from its own composition, not some frame size … So this smaller round drum shape decidedly changes that normal approach… there are new avenues to explore here …

A few months back I broke my foot. And after some time, I’ve been able to get back into the studio. I hop around on one foot. It’s awkward, and I can’t paint for long periods, I even need to sit to work for now, but a smaller painting size for the 101 Dewegun’s project is ideal. Painting on that scale is now doable, I can move around the studio with the smaller art piece using small awkward hops …. My painting can move forward in bits and starts. I couldn’t have proceeded if I had remained with my usual painting method.

Change can be good. Certainly when I welcome the drum, itself will again express anew via my painting in changed manners.


Yet considering the intrinsic nature and self-identity of the ‘spirit’/drum, the drum holds so much symbolism already. How does its essence inspire your creative journey within this project? Tell us some about the interplay between the spirit/drum and your artistic expression within this context?


The drums have come from afar, and have identities in their own right. Many have contributed to there coming into being. Now I need to bring a surface expression to that unique identity, to tell this 101 Deweguns story in this given/discovered way.

Within each drums are engraved 13 names. The 13 is significant in the lunar calendar for in part their being 13 cycles in a year. The names are a memorium and when I receive the drum, some time will be set aside for ameeting between our spirits in the studio. Even the presence of the makers of the differing parts of the drums needs accommodating and recognizing before my part begins.

I know I will alter the drum visually, and I do fear not respecting its burgeoning identity adequately. So before it can be handed off to another, for its journey with them, I visually will retell part of the story for retelling.  This has in some ways the dangers of the ‘telephone’ game. Here I don’t want to distort the real meaning of the story being told. So I figure I need to practice painting the image I plan to use, so I can focus on the act of painting when it comes time to relelling this story.


Reflecting on this intrinsic nature of the drum, how does it inspire your creative process? How do you shepherd it through a realm of artistic expression?

The image I have chosen is an analogy and a parable of sorts. I’m trying to show anothers’ story, so we can have insight into the actual reconciliation process. I’m looking to symbolize those who are undertaking this process of reconciliation of a healing of sorts. So, I have proposed to paint a stylized image of a monarch butterfly against an open sky which has paused to feed during its migration south.

I see the monarch as emblematic, as it embodies a fragility of tools; a determination to fly marathon distances against astonishing odds, it carries out an inter- generational pilgrimage to a better place; and its colouring reflects the theme of One Child Matters -Orange – the why of this all. So the Monarchs journey is the parallel I am making to the Reconciliation efforts. Long, difficult and necessary. Yet doable.


So, have you reached a point of finality with the imagery adorning the drum's surface? Or does the creative process continue to evolve, like the drum, a living, breathing entity? What is your journey through the evolution of your artistic expression as it unfolds upon this unique canvas?

As I await the drums arrival, I have tried out practice works in order to see if the colours shift, to better understand the juxtapositions within the paintings composition. In effect to practice the doing as well. For sometimes the lesson is not so much the story, but is in the (re)telling of the story ….

The monarch imagery comes from an autumn walk by a river, taking a photograph of a moment, then digitally reworking the image, and then reworking that derivative and now to reworking that again into the painting medium.

Aesthetically, in this “painting” derivative, I’ve moved to reducing the size of the Monarch, shifting the attention somewhat more to the expanse of the sky that is the stand-in for the journey to come and be traveled ...The sky has drifted towards some blue on the edges, and bright off white with tones of yellow sunshine bursting through. The butterfly has flipped (though it seemed quite comfortable alighting upside down), I find it now being upright, there is less confusion on the viewers part of what is going on. So composition wise, the image has changed for the better.

Although the practice piece is a square work, this companion piece solidifies in my mind the structure of the final work to be. The direction to pursue in the final drum painting now is more stable, leaving me free to explore any spontaneous happenings when it comes to actually painting the drum.

The actual drum piece has been created over some time with its siblings (an earlier chapter). It’s arrival here likely will be a few months out. So the direction I will finally take has some interlude now to percolate and become anew once again to me when I do welcome the drum into my studio. I suspect that will be around the start of the summer. Im looking forward to that.




© GAMcCullough      2024


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