In the latest of her regular drawing columns, artist Louise Clarke divulges how links between the Moon, menstruation and mark making were instrumental in forging her art practice.
I sat incredulous when my granny told me that my periods were connected to the Moon. Aged 12, I couldn’t believe that the calm white disc that was still the obsession of the nation, even a decade after the first man landed upon it, was silently altering my newly menstrual body.
My granny said it was active and unknowing, like love. Love pulled our hearts, just as the Moon was moving and caressing the fluids in our bodies. By way of explanation, my grandad, after a torrent of questions from me, reached for his toolbox and then drilled some small holes in our corrugated iron shed, laying out the curly metal shavings on his bench. Then, slowly, he moved a magnet towards the shavings. They instantly perked up. He circled them carefully without touching them. I watched, pop-eyed, as the shavings turned and moved, following the magnet as it looped wide like the sheepdog bringing in the ewes. My granddad said he thought the next village would be able to hear the penny drop inside me.
And so began the process of drawing and marking of time, which, in one way or another, I still experience on a daily basis. I chalked out five-bar gates everywhere and learnt what a calendar meant beyond the names of the days and months. Already an obsessive drawer, every night I’d check the Moon, draw it in precise detail and mark a day. I invented numerous systems to measure and map the sky and my relationship to it. Drawing the constellations was a portal into another language of symbolism. I became a cartographer of my movements, combining these with the astral dot-to-dot up above me. The walls of my bedroom were covered in drawings, maps, plans charts and notes. It prompted a curiosity that went even beyond the Moon.
I look back at my grandparents’ cocktail of beliefs, partly the result of their age and farming background, fuelled by myth, science and a need to connect and understand nature. However real, or otherwise, the lunar connection to my monthly cycle actually was, it was a magical idea.
I can see many manifestations of this early, primal experience. I still mark out time in five-bar gates; they are dotted around the studio walls and in notebooks; they are the perfect way to tally the rows of my knitting. When I’m making work, I transform into a disorderly, feral version of myself, but aside from this I am a self-confessed lover of spreadsheets, databases, lists and order, and I spend way too many hours accounting my life. I even enjoy organising and compiling my tax return, narrating my monthly activities in neat, labelled envelopes.
I’m still drawing on walls and through my practice I’m weighing up life, oscillating between disorder and structure; pushing, pulling and trying to find an everyday equilibrium. And each day when I sharpen my pencil, the curly shavings remind me of my granddad’s metal shavings, and the passing of time.