Marja-Leena Rathje
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another hand


Some readers may remember some of the collagraphs of my hands that I made earlier this year for an edition of one of the pieces in the series Silent Messengers: Writing-on-Stone.

I'm now working on some new pieces and I'm thinking of using images of hands again. I've been looking at some of the proofs I printed from the several collagraphs I made back then. This one shown above is a trial print of one of the first experiments in taking an impression of my hands. I rather like it its ambiguity for the new work.

But I can't find the collagraph! I've looked everywhere at home and in the print studio. It's small and light and may have been accidentally chucked out with waste paper. So, I've scanned this one and only print of it and maybe, just maybe I will use it as a digital image in combination with the other pieces I'm working on. I still want to have some kind of hand printed image as well so we'll see how this develops. I usually have an ephmeral idea in my head as to what I want, but when I actually work with the piece, I like to be able to respond to what it says to me, to make it 'sing'.

Marja-Leena | 17/10/2007 | 15 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Printmaking


Hello, Marja-Leena,
I wrote a haiku for you:

imprint of black hand
singing its song with fingers
so long and slender

Olivia, thank you, how fabulous!

I too am struck by the ambiguity of the image and its emotional message. I like being able to see figures in there as well as the obvious hand. I am interested to see how you will use it further.

I like this. I want to walk up to it and look closely at the whorls in the print. I would like a hand print like that on a pole in my garden. A surprise, waiting for me as I came round a corner.

I absolutely love that image! There is so much in it. I do hope that you show us how it develops.

Wonderful image. Made me think of tree bark and wood grain. Human fingerprints upon tree fingerprints, as it were.

Marja-Leena: Your hand-print has a meaning which dates back to the 16th century - coincidence but true, and it shocked me when I first saw it. A small Maori tribe (Paiu), near the east tip of the north island of New Zealand near Keri Keri & Paihia in the Bay of Islands, used a symbol almost identical to yours to mark the spirital and private boundary of their tribe. The Spirit Wairua, with certain 'marks' burned on boundary posts, meant other Tribes were either welcome or forbidden from entering their territory.

ngā kupa whakamāoritanga - keora

Olga, herhimnbryn, rr and MB - thank you for all the very interesting and encouraging comments!

Guess what! I found the collagraph! This morning I opened one of my drawers at the studio and there it was saying hello to me. I printed a proof of the digital images and tomorrow I hope to print the collagraph over it. A work in progress still...

Roger - that is an amazing story, thanks for sharing! Though it's not really surprising as hand prints have been used by many different cultures around the world for a very long time. I imagine they have differing meanings and purposes, often hard to read these days so yours is particulary meaningful.You could even say hand prints are the first form of printmaking. What does that Maori phrase mean?

ML - The translation basically means:

'My message spirit' & Keora is a greeting like 'Hello.'

The tribal chief made the prints on trees and/or posts using a type of pitch-blend (bitumen)smeared on his hand and always on four sides in compass directions. If a tribal member comitted a crime, the same print was placed on their back. The bitumen was set afire for a few seconds so the person was marked for life. I'll try to find a picture & send it to you so you can see for yourself - it's quite a ritual!

Roger, thanks for the translation and more fascinating information. So you've actually seen these hand prints being created? The marking of the back sounds like a painful tattoo or more like the branding of steer. A Maori version of 'an eye for an eye'. I'd love to see a picture, if it isn't too gruesome.

Sounds like you're off to good start. It's interesting piece, since it looks like you places you inked hand on a piece of scrap wood. Then colored the background with the remaining ink.

Cathy, it's interesting how both you and MB see a wood like texture, and I agree. As I described in the linked article, I made the collagraph with acrylic medium and gel, pressing my hand into the medium. Once the collagraph was dry, I inked it and printed it. So this is the print from that. I hope I can get an equally good impression of it tomorrow, perhaps in colour.

ML - Yes, I've observed both rituals in 1963 - 64 while working in New Zealand flying a DC 3 cargo plane from Auckland to distant points throughout the north island. The pictures I took are B & W taken with an old Brownie Box Camera. I wasn't allowed to photograph the 'branding' - and it was quite disturbing to watch; it actually made me sick especially when it was a young man or woman. I have over ten-thousand photos in prints & slides but I'll surely make an effort to find a picture for you to see. The Maori's did a lot of rock-art showing how their civilization evolved too, although most of it has been obliterated by white settlers - disgraceful!!!

I've come a bit late to this. I see figures in the fingers of the hand print, which give it a new and fascinating dimension. Please do use more hand prints and show us the results.

Hi Joe, not too late! I'm glad to hear that you see more than just fingers here, for I like to have images with more than one dimension. I do hope to use more handprints - thanks for the interest and encouragement.