Cy Twombly

February 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cy Twombly. Petals of Fire, 1989


It has been said that Cy Twombly’s paintings resemble writing, or are a kind of écriture. Certain critics have seen parallels between his canvases and wall graffiti. This makes sense. In my experience, however, his paintings refer to more than all the walls I pass in cities and gaze at, or the walls on which I too once scrawled names and drew diagrams; his paintings, as I see them, touch upon something fundamental to a writer’s relationship with her or his language.

A writer continually struggles for clarity against the language he’s using or, more accurately, against the common usage of that language. He doesn’t see language with the readability and clarity of something printed out. He sees it, rather as a terrain full of illegibilities, hidden paths, impasses, surprises, and obscurities. Its maps is not a dictionary but the whole of literature and perhaps everything ever said. It’s obscurities, it’s lost senses, its self-effacement come about for many reasons – because of the way words modify each other, write themselves over each other, cancel one another out, because the unsaid always counts for as much, or more, than the said, and because language can never cover what it signifies. Language is always an abbreviation.

It was Proust who once remarked that all true poetry consists of words written in a foreign language. Every one of us is born with a mother tongue. Yet poetry is motherless.

I’ll try to make what I’m saying simpler. From time to time I exchange letters and drawings with a Spanish friend. I do not (unhappily) speak Spanish, I know a few words, and I can use a dictionary. Often in the letters I receive there are quotations in Spanish from poets – Borges, Juarroz, Neruda, Lorca. And I reply with other quotations of poems in Spanish, which I have sought out. The letters are hand-written and, as I carefully trace the letters of strange words in what is to me a foreign tongue, I have the sense, as at no other time, of walking in the furrows of a poem, across the terrain of poetry.

Cy Twombly’s paintings are for me landscapes of this foreign and yet familiar terrain. Some of them appear to be laid out under a blinding noon sun, others have been found by touch at night. In neither case can any dictionary of words be referred to, for the light does not allow it. Here in these mysterious paintings we have to rely on upon other accuracies: accuracies of tact, of longing, of loss, of expectation.

I know of no other visual Western artist who has created an oeuvre that visualizes with living colors the silent space that exists between and around words. Cy Twombly is the painterly master of verbal silence.

Copyright John Berger 2002.

References: Audible Silence: 
Cy Twombly at Daros
Exhibition catalogue, Loewenbraeu-Areal in Zurich, 2002

Go see this one on your next visit to the RISD Museum !!!

For more on: Cy Twombly


Glenn Ligon

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ligon is a conceptual artist who is known for his large-scale paintings.  In his series How it Feels to Be Colored Me, he uses texts about his identity as an African-American man laying them on top of one another until they blurred into ambiguity. In another series, Ligon created a set of posters advertising himself and his friends as escaped slaves. His work serves as a critique on racism, in an America that seems to consider itself beyond racial divides.

Prompt #2

January 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Fiction – Extended Caption

1. Write down ten names of people or animals (2min)

2. Write ten names of places (2min)

3. Describe an interior space in short fragments such as: (5min)

  • sun streamed through the blinds,
  • a purple stain on the carpet
  • a white lace shawl draped over a velvet couch
  • the blue hue of daylight

Try to notice small details: what is on the coffee table? How is it lit? etc.

4. Now take one item from each of those lists and write a sentence.  (5min)

5. Make as many individual sentences as you can, only using the information from your lists. (5min)

6. Look over those sentences and choose two that you think belong to the same story. Link the two sentences, don’t feel you need to be literal, or write away the gap. Perhaps the way you link them is through repetition or a name or by widening the space between. (10min)

7.  Now, if those sentences that you’ve just written were a film, what would the plot summery be? What genre: Thriller, Comedy, Romantic, Epic, Noir or some combination of genre? What is the back-story: Boy meets girl; femme fatal comes to a bad end; investigation; deception; resolution? (10min)

8. Choose either 6 (sentences) or 7 (plot summary), expand and edit.

Mel Bochner

January 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

An American conceptual artist Mel Brochner uses language to undermine the concrete nature of both language and art.

Eleanor Heartney wrote:

In Bochner’s work, perception constantly trumps idea, reaffirming the artist’s belief that the sensuous is an essential element in even the most conceptual art.

Tracey Emin

January 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tracey Emin is known for her notoriously candid drawings revealing some of her deepest personal reflections on her relationships.  Often graphically sexual, her work is filled with witty autobiographical comments. Additionally, Emin has completed a series of neon phrases; some lengthly and thoughtful while others delve into intimacy in just a few words.

For more on: Tracy Emin

A Prompt to Consider #1

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Take a book off the shelf and write down the opening line. Then substitute as many words as possible with your own words, keeping the syntax and parts of speech intact. Then keep writing. Performing this kind of literary “Mad Lib” often creates a useful starting place for a story, especially when the sentence contains an intersection of character, setting, and situation. Or try using these opening lines, from Faulkner, García Márquez, and Plath, respectively:

Through the [concrete noun], between the [adjective] [concrete noun], I could see them [verb ending in “ing”].

It was inevitable: the scent of [adjective] [plural noun] always reminded him of the [noun] of [adjective] [noun].

It was a [adjective], [adjective] [season], the [same season] they [transitive verb, past tense] the [family name, plural], and I didn’t know what I was doing in [city]

From Poets&Writers Magazine

On Kawara

January 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Kawara compulsively executes pieces often made entirely from the written word via postcards (I Am Still Alive series, above and I Got Up At, below top), lists (One Million Years, below bottom) and his most well-known series, his Date Paintings.  Kawara has pursued many of these obsessive task-works simultaneously, bombarding the world daily with small details about his life, yet His meticulously detailed record keeping has included keeping track of each person he saw in a day and the number of days into his lifetime a work was completed.  Highly secretive, with few details beyond the mundane texts he provides, Kawara explores a place of both constant observation and interaction while remaining largely out of touch with contemporary society.