Can't Never Could
A series of printmaking artworks created using recycled bedsheets during the University of Montevallo's Inaugural Stephens Fellowship Artist in Residence in June 2022
As an artist, EVPL continues to rhetorically investigate the concept of utility as it relates to social expectations, systems, and bias. This series of prints titled Can’t Never Could analyzes these research interests through the lens of the artist’s childhood memories with their family in rural Alabama (a poetic feat as the works were completed during the artist’s return to their home state). The prints function as venerations of resourcefulness and reallocation, using the artworks’ own materiality as a foundational assertion of this celebration, as the matrices were printed onto thrifted bed sheets that were themselves given new purpose through reuse.
As reflected in the naming, the relief prints in this series depict instances of rural resourcefulness: adapting gourds to be birdhouses for Purple Martins, gleaning the corn left behind for Corn Cob Jelly, and learning to cook poisonous pokeweed into Poke Salad. In each instance represented, an organic object is nurtured from the earth with an intended utility, not merely purchased and later disposed of.
In pondering products constructed for reuse, the artist drew from the history of patterned flour sacks from the Great Depression, which many households repurposed into clothing, washcloths, quilts, etc. Upon consulting with their grandmother, the artist was able to work from actual fertilizer and feed sacks from her childhood, and those patterns are emulated in the sculptural prints titled A Purpose of Repurpose. By using these flour sack patterns, the artist explores these same topics of resourcefulness and reallocation by rhetorically conflating the history of vintage patterns with the contemporary use of disposable forms.
There was no utility in patterned packaging other than giving a bit of joy to those who were already appropriating the fabrics out of necessity. By printing designs onto flour, fertilizer, and feed sacks, companies gave forethought to further use—even adapting with soluble inks so their logos could be removed from the fabric. However, contemporary packaging is made not with the anticipation of reuse but with the intention of promotion and advertising—of disposal and re-purchase—with edge-to-edge promotional text and imagery. Capitalism does not benefit from reallocation. Why prompt the repurposing of textiles from used packaging when companies can promote the purchase of both the fabric and the packaged goods?
In synthesizing these recognizable symbols of pattern and form, the artist satirically criticizes the lack of intentionality within modern consumerism. Surely, egg cartons should not be literally constructed out of patterned fabric, but perhaps they should be reconsidered with intentionality for further utility. Companies have plenty of excuses to avoid sustainable solutions—while continuing to gouge consumers’ and exploit the poor—yet, institutions have the choice to do right by the population and by the planet. And, at the end of the day, Can’t Never Could.