Dreaming of Snakes

I am terrified of slick slithering serpents, which I suppose is only natural when you grow up in the land of upside down. Where the seasons are backwards and all the animals try to kill you. So, it seemed weird at the beginning when I started to draw them. I had been influenced by the growing trend in snake tattoos by artists all over Instagram and the vulva artworks I was creating that were using patterns that resembled scales more and more.

In 2018 I couldn’t stop dreaming of painting a really, really enormous snake, every creative tendril in my body was seeking this illustrious design. So, I started sketching, practicing the form, the twists, where the bottom meets the top and how they warp like ribbons. Next came the smaller paintings, where I would try out different ideas.

And then the digital drawing, where I worked out all the nitty details like size, colour and composition. Finally, I was ready, I had a 120 x 180 cm piece of MDF that I had started creating a different painting on a year prior that I couldn’t get back into, and I set myself up in the kitchen and sketched out the beauty. Using spray paint and permanent markers I stenciled the vulvas into the tubular body one by one.

There was a break in the process however, as I went to New Zealand at the beginning of 2019 for a few weeks. I started editing the digital drawing onto photos of surfaces I saw on the trip, imagining the snake growing even bigger in public spaces. I desired, and still do, the ability to put the snake out into the world. On the last day of my trip I received an email from a gallery in Launceston, Tasmania, saying that my application for a solo exhibition in March had been approved. Immediately, I knew the snake would be included.

Exhibiting interstate had many challenges, and of course for me the biggest one was how to get large scale sculptural works and paintings there without shipping (in the traditional sense). Luckily, I had a father who I could hire out for cheap labour and a 4WD that could fit everything which we couldn’t buy there.

But the snake painting was still a conundrum. It became clear that I would need to work on a piece of fabric that could be rolled up for transportation and stretched on site. But once I was working with fabric, I was no longer painting with paint alone, but textiles as well.

Using a Cricut to cut the vulvas out, I began sewing 4-11pm every night after work and on the weekends when I wasn’t also making the rest of the work for the show. I had about a 6 week turn around from being notified that I was successful to opening night, it was a whirlwind of painstaking needlework. I was sewing right up until the morning of the opening, sitting in the hostel after we had left the daily install and also on the floor of the gallery space.

But at last ~ it was done

I thought this would be the end of the snake obsession, that I had well and truly worked through that idea. But, it keeps following me, and I’m sure it won’t end until I spray a version of it onto a wall, staircase or garage door somewhere in the world.

Recently I read Mirka Mora’s excellent biography My Life: Wicked But Virtuous. I loved it so much, I then read it again, this time slower, seeping in her thoughts, memories, and wild life style – something not so dissimilar to my own in some respects.

She was a fiercely dedicated artist, nothing came before her work and she used her life experiences to sprinkle memories, motifs and stories throughout her painting and textile dolls.

One particular artwork continues to capture my attention, Little Girl Dreaming of Red Birds (2014), where snakes alongside birds, little girls and other animal like figures hide in a garden of leaves and flowers.

This artwork started coming to me in dreams too, and there was only one way to deal with it, take it off the page and put it on a canvas of my own.

I fused her snake with my vulva designs and created a new painting for my study.

Ultimately I had plans to turn it into a tattoo design, but before inking up, I hung my version in my new work space in Istanbul.

This helped not only to keep the obsession alive, satiating that desire from my dreams to see it all the time, but also gave it a prominent space where I would see it everyday working from home.

After 6 months, a tattoo studio moved into my apartment building and I knew that it was time.

When I turned 30, my parents gave me a gift. Opening the little black box, I found a braclet made by a local Victorian jeweller that was inspired by my tattoo. Things keep coming around and going around in this snake fantasy.