Hayley Smith

Artist Statement

The Hand of the Maker Series.

Over a decade ago I took a trip to Canyon de Chelly, in Northern Arizona. Accompanied by a Navajo guide, a friend and I hiked down into the Canyon and saw many inspiring things. However, it was one particular experience that resonated, that lead to this new body of work.

We were taken under a rock overhang. It was cool and very dark after hiking in the Southwest sun. Slowly my eyes became accustomed to the muted light. The rock walls were covered with handprints, in vivid earthen colors that belied the image’s age. Towards the bottom of the rock face were tiny children's handprints; the prints getting larger as they ascended the rock. They were small by our standards today. The people shorter. The people who made these prints, the Anasazi left the Canyon at least 700 years ago, but left something of themselves behind. A portal to the past, and to the future. As time dissolved, I experienced a powerful urge to connect with these people. How I wanted to place my hand palm to palm with the past, in doing so, becoming part of their future.

Since my visit to Canyon De Chelly, I have seen many pictographs and petroglyphs throughout the Southwest. The handprint is the most common representational rock art image worldwide. The oldest known handprints are to be found in The Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d'arc, Southern France. The images have been carbon dated between 32,000 and 30,000 years old. One does not need to be a great artist to make a handprint. A handprint may be common, and at the same time it is as utterly unique as it’s maker. It is the hand of the maker. A tool for communicating, for making images, a tool that is right in front of our faces. We all have a unique perspective of the world, yet rarely see ourselves in our world. I am however keenly aware of my hands and the work that they do. I am able to see some part of myself in the world through them.

The idea of making a handprint is not an original one. When we leave a hand print, it is an existential act. “I was here!” Humans have been doing it for millennia across continents. Many of us as children, at home and in school made handprints in art projects. In the town where I live, people drive around in “Art Cars” festooned with handprints. Bodies are decorated with handprints amongst many other marks for tribal celebrations. The hand as symbol is very powerful. The significance of the hand is to be found everywhere. Our hands and minds can be our greatest tools, and the artifacts created by those tools, by civilizations both old and new are both prized by our cultural institutions, and taken for granted in our everyday world. These artifacts and the rock art I have encountered, communicate much about the people who made them. The language that they speak, transcends the verbal.

I have seen many portraits of artists, yet the images I have found to be the most enduring, are those of the artist’s hands: Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keefe and Pablo Picasso to name a few. To see their hands is to know their work. And to know their work is to see the world through their eyes. In doing so our world is enriched through the hands of the maker.