The inspiration for the painting came in times of fertility and steadiness, when I still was my own master. I conceived it as a mosaic of many squares, something I’d tackle a fragment at the time, then put together at last.
From the same fertility a family sprung, while the work was two thirds on its way. The last third reflected my new status: I switched from brushes to needles… matching the mood of nursing and lullabying. The materials I used, thread and cloth, subliminally hinted at blood ties, domesticity.
My embroidery gave me something to do during family reunions—other than food consuming, small talk, TV watching. It worked more or less. Less: because my meticulous, delicate stitching, needed lighting I’d rarely find in a kitchen or living room. But I always carried fabric with me—soft and foldable, wrapped around the spools of thread I’d be using. Even, sometimes, a beautiful loom I’d put near a window...
While I stitched, I hid myself in a cloud of excruciating attention to rhythm, color, and form. Luckily, all my relatives thought I was biding time—like the ladies of past centuries—and they weren’t offended by my autistic fugues. I stole moments for sewing alone, early in the morning… it restored my soul, stressed by different pressures.
Through the years, the piece advanced slowly, following life’s ups and downs. So I missed the awareness of gradually losing my sight (as expected with age). The work became less pleasant, without me analyzing the causes. It challenged me more and more. I kept going, faithful to my task, decided to end what I bona fide had started. Down to the last square.
I decided to call the piece “Sweet Relief”, when I began the sewing portion… to express my focus: exploring effects on color and form of a barely hinted third dimension. Therefore, I provided no more than a technical definition. Although, those two words were the title of a song I had liked, ten years earlier. I had fallen in love with it, even decided to learn it, listening to the same old tape a disconcerting number of times.
The lyrics expressed a wish someone makes, alone in the night. Someone burdened by trouble, as it happens to all, sooner or later (either once on a while or surprisingly often). She’s not alone, in fact: there’s a baby crying. Does it make her solitude sharper? It does.
I say ‘she’ based on the female singing voice. Though the words don’t specify gender, and solitude hits randomly—I know. I also know men sometimes are left in the care of infants. Truly, there’s nothing feminine in the song. Or masculine. In the night, the person with the blues calls for sweet relief. It is coming: the singer’s quite sure. I like that tinge of hope.
I had no idea, when I got enthralled by the tune, about how many times I’d match the scenario (such a common one, I should have guessed). I ignored it still, when I started the artwork of the same title. Maybe, unconsciously, I had begun to see it coming… not the relief but the trouble. Did relief ever follow?
It took me sixteen years to complete the labor. During that time I was calling. Did relief ever come? I dare say yes. Stitch by stitch, I put it together. With my fading eyes, my ten fingers.
Toti O'Brien's work has appeared in Intrinsick,
Alebrijes, Entropy and Random Sample, among many other
journals and anthologies. She was born in Rome, Italy, and
lives in Los Angeles.