Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

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I wanted to do some sketching yesterday. Whenever I need an idea of what to sketch, I fall back on the human figure. It is timeless. The purpose of figure painting, or any depiction of the figure in art, relates back to one of the main functionalities of art, and that is the communication of human experiences. It has been practiced since the beginning of time. It rests on the sides of caves, the walls of the Louvre. And just at the fingertips of our hearts.

I have many art books. I pulled a small one off the shelf, entitled Figures. I recognized the scent of the book, or should I say the bookstore. A mixture of wisdom and mildew, that only comes from words lived. The linen cover felt like home. I turned the book over to see if there was a sticker to confirm my memory. Yes. A tag from Magers and Quinn — one of my favorite bookstores in Minneapolis. I love all bookstores, but this was a favorite because of the figure that managed the store — Gary. Yes, the human experience. As we read books. Sold them. Held them. I learned of his life. Personal stories of his loves, his losses, his interests, his health, his heart.

Gary was my friend. We shared love – love of words on the page. It occurs to me now, that we, all of us, are just the words, looking to be bound together. Only making sense when we combine to make a story. An experience. The human experience.

So I paint the figures. Tell the stories. Hoping to connect. Because in this connection there is no time, no distance. When you tell me, “I needed this today,” or “I so related to this,” or “this was our story,” — my heart is full. We are in this together. Humans. Bound.

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Tiny baskets.

I was wearing my Mona Lisa sweatshirt from the Louvre when we visited the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi. Founded in 1923, it was the first art museum in Mississippi. Worlds apart. Same goal.

The Lauren Rogers Museum has an extensive Native American basket collection. Beautiful weaving. The finest detail. Within this collection, it boasts of the smallest woven baskets ever seen – or almost seen. You have to look through a magnifying glass, and still, it is barely visible. I suppose the first question many people ask is, “Why?” Baskets were made to be used. Functional. Carrying the essentials of food. So why the microscopic basket. What could it carry?

I suppose as any artist or creator, I have asked myself the same question. Is it important to make the art? What does it matter? What could my words, my paintings possibly carry? But any of these microscopic doubts are always erased by connections. Connections with you.

I recently spoke to a group of Minnesota teachers at a conference in Brainerd. After speaking, I was selling cards and books and art. As they carried their selections up to me, each person also carried their story. One woman needed the cardinal book, “Here I am,” because her young son had died and this is how he spoke to her. Another needed the lipstick book because, her mother, like mine, always told her to “slap it on.” Each person connected to a different piece in a different way. Bringing with them their stories, taking with them mine — tiny baskets.

I could feel it yesterday. This American girl, now living in France, wearing an Italian masterpiece, standing in a Southern museum, with Native American art, I knew, the importance, the significance of all, even the smallest of us, perhaps especially. And it matters. We are connected. Carried.