Catalogue entry

T02407 PRAYER STICK I 1977

Inscribed ‘Prayer Stick’ b.l. and ‘Eileen Lawrence’ b.r.
Watercolour, cotton tape and paper collage, 96 × 6 (244 × 15.3)
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1979
Prov: Purchased by the Contemporary Art Society 1977
Exh: 10th Paris Biennale, Palais de Tokyo and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, September – November 1977 (Eileen Lawrence 11); Eileen Lawrence, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, January – February 1978 (no catalogue); Eileen Lawrence: Scrolls, Chapter Gallery, Cardïff, March – April 1978 (no catalogue)
Lit: Catalogue of 10th Paris Biennale, 1977 p.144; Arnolfini Review, January 1978

Eileen Lawrence began depicting feathers in her paintings in 1971 or 1972 and soon afterwards began to include bird's eggs in her imagery. ‘Prayer Stick I’ was painted at her studio at 25 Haddington Place, Edinburgh and was one of twenty works based on the lines:

Sitting motionless
Waiting
For winter's long shadows
To stretch into spring
Beneath my window
A bird builds its nest


In December 1977 the artist wrote (published in Skira Annual 1977), ‘The bird and the shadows were real. Around March 1977, perhaps a week before the shadows, the bird could be seen bringing to a crack in the stonework beneath my window ledge, the fabric that would build its nest. The activity stopped shortly after the shadows, the bird and the nest both disappeared. Strong winds had obviously destroyed what had been built. I do not know what happened to the bird; I hope it chose a more sheltered place to rebuild. I am exploring the way in which my medium, watercolour, fuses with the support, paper. I work with a great many different paper surfaces including paper I make myself. Into these handmade papers I incorporate small fragments of my subject matter, real feathers, eggs and reeds; these are laid alongside painted images of the same subject matter. I am now also incorporating the painted image directly into the handmade papers. This somewhat illusionistic device involves a partial destruction of the painted image, in some sense a symbolic act, detailed watercolours of feathers, eggs and reeds are painted then torn up, they are introduced into the basic paper pulp and reprocessed into a sheet of handmade paper; this paper also has in it the real fragments of my subject matter.

By tearing up the painted image I do not consider that I am indulging in a negative act, or an emotional activity, but am making a very serious and positive attempt to expand the traditional limitations of my medium, water-colour on paper. I respect the skill which I have aquired over the years but I have no desire to rely totally upon a certain kind of technical facility. Once one is aware of one's limitations one can do something about pushing the boundaries of those limitations. “Decisiveness and energy must take the place of the inertia and indifference that have led to decay in order that the ending may be followed by a new beginning.” I CHING, Wilhelm translation, p.76.’

‘Prayer Stick I’ was painted on English and Japanese papers and on recycled paper discarded in the course of her painting.

This catalogue entry is based on information supplied by the artist and approved by her.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981