A simple fingerprint or handprint is our first autograph. Children circumvent the paintbrush in favour of painting their hands, their first signatures merrily daubed on unsuspecting walls. Expressive and personal, they satisfy the most basic desire to create an individual impression.
Cave paintings as early as 44,000 years ago are ochre handprints of early makers. Yet were these imprints a gesture of self-awareness? Created in a variety of ways using a hand on rock as a stencil, spraying paint from the mouth or charcoal powder through a reed; tracing the outline of the hand with a brush; or simply painting the hand before placing it on rock. Instead of auto-biographical, the intent may have been spiritual - the spraying on of paint similar to the spraying on of medicine by a shaman. An early version of healing hands rather than a self-portrait.
Either way, the imprint of our early ancestors resonate through time. Like clay moulded by small curious hands - the pull of fingers still visible in the clay surface - we are drawn by our ability to transform, mould, design and grow. We use our hands for self-expression, kneading, carving, sewing, painting or playing. We pass down ancient knowledge through traditional crafts, handwritten texts and everyday rituals. We greet each other with a gesture - hands pressed in prayer, placed over our heart or a sharp clap. It was even said the handshake was as much the sealing of a deal as it was the offering of peace – an open hand empty of weapons and therefore malice.
The very tactile quality of life invites touch, and now more than ever we seem to crave that personal connection. Something handmade, hand-worked, handwritten. The artisan approach and a return to skilled craftsmanship. The knowledge of hands that guide yarn and weave stories through the turn of a lathe or potters wheel. They root us to our localities and our traditions and remind us of the people and place. We ground ourselves with nature, gesture and thought, immortalised on canvas, stone, wood or wool. The hands across time that have baked our bread, carved our furniture and woven our blankets creates a collective vocabulary and diary of times past and present. Heartfelt and handmade. Whether it is your own palm that does the storytelling, it is those things we remember and those things we celebrate.