While studying the still life genre for my master’s thesis I came across a book called ‘Looking at the Overlooked’ by Norman Bryson. This short book is a concise history of still life. Of all the history books I have come across on the genre it is the most informative on how the genre began and evolved. Early in the book Bryson uses the word, quotidian. Having never come across it before I had to google it, and clicked to hear it annunciated. Quo-tid-e-an, meaning ‘everyday’. Bryson
used the word in reference to Chardin, an 18th Century painter known for just that, painting daily ongoings and objects in his own environment. His works hold a particularly soft touch that exudes a sense of love for the subjects, as well as a sense of specificity. Chardin was a turning point for me — in his works I found a place to situate my own practice within the genre. I adored 17th century Dutch still life and still do, but there was something either boastful, staged and or excessive in those works. In Chardin there are casual cloves of garlic, bread recently cut, or brioche for dessert. His work celebrates the everyday, and doesn’t monumentalize it, two things I find critical for my own work.
Now, ready for a classic Mollie move? I’m going to tell you a different story and bind it back to this like the gluten of our dreams.
In December of 2019 I flew to Germany to live with a long-term partner, a trial period for two months. I had hoped for bliss, and ideally I would end up staying, starting my fairytale life. Unfortunately, the moment I exited the arrival terminal a deep instinctual knowing kicked in and said, ‘this is over’. What I did have though was two months, and I still wanted to give this relationship a fair chance. So as that flame died, I considered what would set myself up for handling a break-up responsibly. I had two months without my part time job, or daily obligations. So, I spent my days painting, and baking. I realized I was baking a lot of ‘treats’. I didn’t want to eat them daily, but I loved making them. My actions, and beliefs didn’t align. Then I realized I had the opportunity to face a fear — sourdough. I thought, if ever a time to teach myself sourdough, this is it. I bought a notebook specifically for taking copious notes and religiously following Maurizio’s step by step instructions. I built my starter, and moved into the sheer terror and excitement of making an actual loaf. The day of my first bake was laced with profuse sweating, increased heart rate, and an anxiety attack. But, when that first loaf emerged and we ate a hunk still warm together, I knew I had struck gold, because BREAD IS QUOTIDIAN. Bread is every day. Bread is wholesome. And (IMO) this method of bread baking is the best bread for our bodies. I was no longer making something delicious and decadent, I was making something delicious and nurturing. So, while the soon-to-be-ex spent his days at work, I spent mine in his apartment: painting, baking, watching My Life in Sourdough, reading blogs about sourdough, and listening to sourdough podcasts.
When we said goodbye in February 2020, I had a small Ziplock baggie containing my new specimen. Little did I know what was to come, as I entered the departing gate a ticket agent casually asked, ‘Have you been to China in the last two weeks?’.
Returning home, I continued a twice daily feed. I started to bake at home, a solid constant in a swiftly shifting world. As things started to shut down, I continued to bake two loaves and with every bake, I gave one away to someone I think needed it or had been good to me in some capacity. It felt correct to be giving things of nourishment at that time, it wasn’t a cookie to drown sorrows in, but a portion to a meal, bread isn’t extra, it’s fundamental. Bread is connected in its structure, which seemingly radiates connection between us. Bread is beautifully, wonderfully, unashamedly, quotidian.
I continue to share my second loaves, and it has helped me build community in my new home and remains to be my gratitude practice. Every time I slice into whatever loaf is on the go I am reminded of the other half of that batch being cut by a friend, or neighbor — often the sharing of my second loaves bridges an acquaintance to friendship. As an artist quotidian will always be an adjective to describe my work, and if most of my life can mirror this I find I am my best self. In sourdough maintenance and baking I feel one more piece of myself has found its place in the puzzle of putting me together.