Silvered rainy days lend themselves to introspection and small, domestic chores and crafts. The subdued gesture of a hand on cloth, a well-researched and well-loved idea that then sidles up to the less-familiar and potentially unsetting: These are the things of which small magics are made. These are also the things with which Lindsay Bowyer, who goes by the Instagram moniker _honey.poison_, makes art.
It’s no secret that in the last 10 to 15 years, art has been enriched by a resurgence of materials, methods and ideas once securely in the province of craft. Artists like Ebony G. Patterson and Ben Venom use techniques and materials more often seen at street festivals than art fairs and museums. (To be clear, this is a vast simplification of contemporary craft). Of the place where his quilts intersect heavy metal music themes, Venom has said, “When these two opposing forces meet, the result can be catastrophic or something entirely new.” And while the idea of the handsewn occult object is not entirely without precedent, it does bring into high relief the decoupling of embroidery and fashion. What was once ‘mere’ decoration has entered the realm of meditation and transformation.
Bowyer works in needlepoint and embroidery, media with ties to ideas of domesticity. The craft conjures images of fusty upper-class women embroidering their days away, yet it also gestures to something less obvious, something occasionally hopeful and a little dark, as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrates.
Like the Queen’s handiwork in that fairy tale, Bowyer’s pieces are meticulously worked and small enough to hold in one hand. They take hours and hours to make. She works on them in her free time–after work and after her child has gone to bed.
When asked about the catalyst for them, she says, “Before this, I was doing mixed media with animal remains … [but] good materials are hard to get your hands on, and it’s very time-consuming to prepare them. I had been playing with the idea of incorporating textile and needlework for a while, and I’ve always been drawn to using multiple materials.”
She works slowly and tends to showcase her wares at pop-up markets and other non-traditional spaces. When we meet for coffee and talk, she seems reluctant to don the mantle of artist. Perhaps that’s because, as an art historian who now works at MOCA Jacksonville’s education department, she is well aware of the tension between so-called ‘high’ and so-called ‘low’ art.
“It’s an interesting middle area to navigate … as there’s an intimacy in enjoying it, and there’s an intimacy in making it,” she explains. “[Embroidery] was a fine art for so long, and now it’s kind of relegated to a handicraft or folk-art type of environment.”
She also notes that her goal to make works that are more accessible can be “a strange and sometimes conflicting area to navigate … because there is so much of what we [MOCA] have that isn’t accessible. You don’t have to work in a museum to know that people who donate a million dollars get treated differently than people who only come during free hours. So I like the idea of art that is accessible and affordable.”
The central themes of Bowyer’s works are naturalism and the occult. The two subjects often overlap, so the pairing of a scarab beetle, or a snake and disembodied hand (with historical links to St. Lucy), makes a Victorian, Madame Blavatsky kind of sense.
“I grew up in a Christian household but it was far from repressive–my parents are pretty progressive,” she says. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed looking into trends and how we as a society deal with things like trauma and grief, because that was a huge contributing factor in the rise of American occultism.”
The initial trauma to which Bowyer refers in this instance is that which was inflicted by the Civil War.
“These terrible things happened and this is how society reacted,” she continues. “And I think trauma is why [occultism] is on the rise again now: People and entire groups experiencing very specific types of social trauma–whether it’s racism or income inequality or gender inequality–have found the old tools we have to deal with [these wounds] are ineffective for a lot of people.”
Even in the i-everything age, when society attempts to restructure itself (making itself great again and all), people who are hurting turn to protection magic. Theosophy and thaumaturgy are seductive because they point to secrets within and secrets without. In The Golden Bough (1894), James Frazer wrote about sympathetic magic and gods, symbols and practices and the healing power of death. Though his work has been heavily criticized for its crude, ethnocentric reading of indigenous practice, it has still provided the basis for popular stories and spiritual leaders–whether they used their power worthily or malevolently.
But perhaps as much as her compelling symbols, it’s the tactile nature of Lindsay Bowyer’s work that is so beguiling. Even as her imagery is pared down and restrained, the careful, tiny density of her stitches is as comforting to the eye as one imagines it would be in the hand. And perhaps that’s where the real magic hides: behind time, texture and taste.