Paleolithic Hand Prints – in brief
In prehistoric parietal art the most common themes were abstract signs; figure paintings, mostly of animals; and painted hands. There are two basic variations of hand paintings – prints (an archeology called ‘positive’ handprints) or stencils (‘negative’ hand stencils). Either the hands were painted (typically with red, white or black pigment) and then applied to the rock surface, creating a handprint or the hand was placed on the rock surface and paint pigment blown through a hollow tube (bone or reed) or spat onto the hand from the mouth. Left-hand stencils are more common than right-hand because a right-handed person typically uses his stronger right hand to hold the pigment tube. The world’s oldest stencil is part of the Sulawesi Cave art, Indonesia, dating to (37,900 BCE).
As far as age and gender are concerned, recent analysis of hand stencils has shown that Paleolithic art, or at least the caves where the art was created, involved men, women and children of all ages. According to Professor Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University, who studied the hand marks in the French caves of Pech Marle and Gargas, and in the Spanish rock shelter of El Castillo, a strong majority of the hands belonged to women. His research findings raise the possibility that the role of females in Stone Age art was greater than previously thought, although – since we don’t know for sure that hand paintings were created by “artists” rather than mere “spectators” – no definite conclusions can yet be reached as to role or purpose.
In this deeply autobiographical work hand prints are present as ‘I’. They represent the overt hand of the artist and are purposefully disruptive, undoing the tidy graphically of the underpainting.
It’s odd, the more layers I add to a painting the more I feel encouraged to ‘dig’ into the work with the layers drawing me in to the surfaces to make sense of the relationships between image, mark, overlain. Confusion, it would seem, is helping me see the work at one remove, the layers bring surprises and many are happy ones.