Primal Patterns

I have always used the term primal patterns to cover those most basic human instinct driven marks that alone or combined make up patterns or tell stories. So in thinking about my long love of squares inside other squares, I googled to see if ‘primal patterns’ is a thing… and found myself in the world of serious body shaping gymnasiums and fitness, so quickly backed out of there!

My next move was to squares, and I found myself closer to where I expected to be, in amongst the most basic shapes I was looking for – circle, square, triangle and rectangle, to which I’d add the line and the point.

Googling on to prehistoric mark making symbols, I came across a really interesting, fabulous article in NewScientist, 2016, about the work of paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger, suggesting that coding within rock art on cave walls could be the precursor to human writing. The earliest known human writing comes from the middle east, in what is now Iraq: “The first formal writing system that we know of is the 5000-year-old cuneiform script of the ancient city of Uruk in what is now Iraq. But it and other systems like it – such as Egyptian hieroglyphs – are complex and didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There must have been an earlier time when people first started playing with simple abstract signs. For years, von Petzinger has wondered if the circles, triangles and squiggles that humans began leaving on cave walls 40,000 years ago represent that special time in our history – the creation of the first human code.” Totally believable and thought provoking.

Because they are found in prehistoric markings on rocks and cave walls on every continent, I’ve always believed that any human, no matter how young, when given a surface and a marking tool will doodle with it and eventually come up with these basic shapes, no matter which culture they’re growing up in; and even if we can’t assign any known meaning or symbolism to ancient marks on objects and surfaces in the landscape, we certainly recognise them as made by a distant human being. Note to self – keep a closer eye on the latest news in the world of paleo-anthropology…

I regularly browse in Pinterest, and there one of my collection boards is ”lines and shapes”. Recently I came upon an image of rows of different hand drawn lines and shapes, of the kind I and countless others have often assembled, doodling basic shapes, making patterns and arranging them in rows. Though I can’t relocate that particular image right now, it carried a stern warning that this was original work and was not to be used without specific permission. It is somewhere on a site called The Pattern Base Archive which is a pattern file you can subscribe to, file your own patterns and access someone else’s pattern. Tags on the post included pattern, drawing, doodle, cubes, strips, blocks, and more could have been added like snakes, waves, concentric circles, dots, overlapping arcs, latticework, chevron stripes, zigzags, waves, hexagons… I thought the admonition a bit silly really, but, having once been hit by Getty Images there is no way I’d use that image here without permission! It took me just a couple of minutes doodling to produce this little snippet –

There’s nothing particularly ‘original’ about arranging these and other basic shapes in lines, and many of us use this kind of pattern making in our textile art.

I’m nearing the end of a current project featuring hand appliqued concentric squares, and they’re pretty primal. I’ve been thinking more about squares and grids, fusing, and hand applique, and this morning I googled around and jotted down a few notes of possible directions to explore, like x o +

I also think it could be interesting to work on, develop, or adopt something as a new, highly personal symbol for something only I know know about, and make it a kind of signature element in my art.

2 Responses to “Primal Patterns”

  1. kathy loomis says:

    I too would love to have a signature symbol but I think it would be difficult if not impossible to come up with anything that thousands of others have been using for millenia. The absurdity of telling people that they must not dare copy your zigzags and squares ranks right up there with artists trying to copyright the color blue….

  2. Barbara M Hilford says:

    Greetings Alison. I use the maths signs often in textile work. They can represent the plus and minus of life, or interactions…..conversations….monologue, (plus one) dialogue, equals conversation.

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