Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Polished Light



We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.

– Junichiro Tanizaki In Praise of Shadows

There are cultures that mark the body with ink: dark, permanent patterns that sink into the skin forever. They are patterns without light; marks that seep pigment deep beneath the surface of the body. There are others that nick the skin, patterning the body with row after row of shiny, raised scars. Tight, like a fabric rolled out over the skin’s surface, the pattern is a penetrating and permanent decoration worn for life. Others add layers of powdered and painted colour to the face until it becomes a canvas, painted and drawn from edge to edge. Elaborate accents heighten chosen features and erase others entirely. Then there are cultures that conceal their adornment under cloth: decoration for private enjoyment. In public, they are shrouded in darkness, but for sound: fabric rustles and metal jangles even when obscured. There are also cultures of magpie collectors, drawn to the dapple of light and smoothness of a stone’s surface. Colour is emotion. Vital. Pungent.

If the human habit to adorn is ancient, so too is our thirst for light, and those surfaces that capture it. But light chooses its recipients with care. Pebbles on the beach glisten with dampness. Removed from the shore and stored elsewhere they grow dull and uninspired. Similarly metal and stones shine more brightly, the more they are worn. Hidden away in dark boxes and drawers they threaten to grow dim, lifeless. Their need is something akin to haptic wisdom: knowledge acquired through touch. Worn in the open air, collecting light, they take on a new life and absorb light. They reflect colour – splashes of apricot, moss, jet black and pure white that Bruce Chatwin, on a journey to Patagonia, found in the rain washed landscape: It stopped raining and I came to leave. Bees hummed around the poet’s hives. His apricots were ripening the colour of a pale sun. Clouds of thistledown drifted across the view and in a field were some fleecy white sheep: colours borne of nature’s integrity. Not fabricated or forced, but derived from light.

At night, light gains strength. Stones and glass shine brighter. Japanese folklore speaks of the maborosi, a strange inexplicable light that draws fishermen against their better judgement out to sea – and death – at night. Kabuki actors stain their teeth black to draw attention to their eyes on stage. This pull towards light is both curious and ancient. The pate-de-verre work of Maison Gripoix is no exception. Smooth, saturated surfaces of poured glass have demanded light since the company’s beginnings as a wholesaler of glass buttons and beads in the 1870s. They also respond to our most ancient desire to decorate and adorn ourselves. Simple. Saturated. Reflections not of the world around us, but of a treasure trove of curiosities: curated by a magpie, directed by a magician.

Bloom (issue 15: 132-137)