A N N H O L Y O K E . O R G | A M E T H O D O L O G I C A L C A T A L O G U E O F W O R K S
08 | D I V I N E M E D I T A T I O N S
Twenty pen-and-ink drawings, 1982
Black ink on paper, in black, handmade wooden frames
Each 30 x 20 cm ( framed : 31 x 21.5 cm )
Sammlung der Berlinischen Galerie, Landesmuseum für Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, Berlin [ Collection of the Berlinische Galerie, State Museum for Modern Art, Photography and Architecture, Berlin ].
A year after completing KANTSTRASSEN—and a decade and a half before beginning WORKS AND DAYS—I based the series of pen-and-ink drawings DIVINE MEDITATIONS on the compelling language and imagery of John Donne’s nineteen Holy Sonnets, which number among his “Divine Meditations.” My own DIVINE MEDITATIONS turned out to be an especially satisfying piece and the first of mine in which I realized a strict, if straightforward, concept generated and governed by the attitudes and formal parameters of a specific literary work. Reading and rereading the poems each day as I went to work, I often had the odd sensation that I was transcribing, or even re-writing, them with my pen’s metal nib.
To begin, I ruled the rectangular field (20 by 12.6 centimeters) of each of the twenty drawings into fourteen nine-millimeter-wide vertical columns : one, that is, for every line of the sonnet form. I then scratched and hatched my way down, and across, each page, line by line, over and over again, with black drawing ink, until spectral, super-ordinate images revealed themselves upon the paper’s surface : images that appeared of their own accord, “automatically,” out of the interference patterns created by the closely crossed pen strokes of which the drawings exclusively consist. These came to resemble thick and creviced bark, or the twisted roots and branches of a dense woodland.
It was precisely this manifestation of the protean nature of material—of the very simple materials and methods I was employing—that I had been hoping for in proceeding as I did . In later, more elaborate works, I’ve since found that such phenomena are most apt to occur at what I like to think of as the dew point below which thought precipitates as thing. At such a juncture, one can safely put aside the data and decisions that have driven the work, as this is the point where meaning becomes sense : the moment when a piece—formed by hand and mind into a sensuous, sentient reality—becomes the vessel of one’s memory. This is the moment I’m forever chasing after—why, I think, I work at all. This is where, and how, arrested after a long pursuit, Idea itself informs my work , and my work—as tangible evidence of my grappling with, and grasping, the matter at hand—provides me with the satisfaction I seek.
I even wonder whether, if and when one’s work is able to do the same for others—to speak in a voice of its own and satisfy the intelligence of their senses, too—that it is then that one might call it Art.
As soon as I’d finished the drawings DIVINE MEDITATIONS, I had full-scale reproductions of them made xerographically, and bound, together with copies of Donne’s nineteen Holy Sonnets (the first of the twenty drawings served as frontispiece) into an edition of twelve handmade books, each measuring 30 by 20 centimeters.
In 1998, the drawings were once again reproduced—with the image size again 1 : 1 with the originals—in Das Künftige hat ein Morgen, the book published by the Literaturbüro Ostwestfalen-Lippe, Detmold, to accompany the VII. Literaturbegegnung Schwalenberg, the seventh “Literary Encounter Schwalenberg,” an interdisciplinary series of readings and concerts, in which I’d been asked to represent the visual arts with an exhibition of my work. Here, the poems were given in Donne’s original orthography, but set in a sans-serif typeface, which produced an arresting, if unsettling, effect.
This history of publication notwithstanding, only when all twenty drawings are viewed together—side by side, in a line, or as a block of two times ten, or four times five—in the very plain black wooden frames I made to house them, does their cogency become apparent. For those frames form a significant part of the work as a whole, at once massing and restraining the forces of its subtle, but extravagant, energies and unexpected turns of phrase.
Four stages of a trial copperplate etching (unica), 1969, each impression 20.2 x 12.4 cm.