Sunday, March 29, 2009

Visionary Artwork 2

Journal Pages

Notes working towards a visionary artwork that can be described, articulated, but not contained. Notes jotted down at white heat, to be expanded later, because you really need to run out the door right now but don't want to lose the thought. Notes that might be presented later as notebook verbatim, perhaps as a poetic journal. (A genre that strongly appeals to me, which I practice by default if not always by conscious intent, with my Road Journal.) Also an artistic journal. A photographer's daybooks; an artist's pages. A logbook of transformations.

Calligraphy of the Body

Many pieces of visionary artwork began from photographs of Mystery: often a little blurry, motion-blur or depth of field, as photographs of Mystery ought to be. Motion blur or camera shake seem appropriate places to start, as Spirit is always in motion, always moving, breathing, dancing. Many names for the Divine are verbs, not nouns: Living is dancing. Or Spirit That Moves In All Things. Or The Breath of God moved across the waters. Or the loom of time is Indra's breath.

It's good to start with something a little mysterious in itself. Something that doesn't give you a quick thumbnail answer or narrative. Something that stops you long enough to be contemplated. It's good when it's a little inexplicable, a little hard to capture. (And harder to capture in words than in images.) Catch it by one wing, but don't try to hold it, don't try to pin it down.

water birds 2

Lines from a poem merged into artwork. I don't remember now if the lines came first, or the image was there, and inspired the lines.

the night goes walking like a bird,
bobbing its head around every flame,
filling the spaces in between with dark, shiny feathers

A single image, a little spare when just words. Add some evocative context: imagery, blur, expressive typography, and something greater than the sum of its parts just might emerge.

One weakness I feel most writers have is that they don't think about presentation: the way things look on the page, the proper use of spacing and placement, the best choice of typeface. In other words, design elements. I've been a graphic designer, a book designer, a layout artist, a printer, and I've designed original typefaces. That puts me in very small minority of writers, most of whom in my experience are conscious of none of these disciplines. I know of few poets who are even aware of design, and fewer among those who have set their hand to it.

There are few poetry presses, even, who have done much with book design or illustration; those that have, such as Copper Canyon Press, stand out from the pack. In their early years, they were a small-budget press in which the publisher often handset the type for a book; I have several of Copper Canyon's old first editions, and they are sensual experiences in themselves. Paper, ink, and typeface choices all made carefully, as complementary aspects of the process of publishing. There was a fondness for Deepdene type in those early editions; it's a strong, classic typeface, very good for poetry setting, not well known now or often used currently. This is the sort of thing poets ought to think about, and rarely do. Ugly presentation does your words no good service.

I've done a lot of commissioned cover artwork and illustration for books, magazines, and music albums, and interestingly a lot of that commissioned work falls into the category of visionary artwork. Some have been pieces that were requested by the artist because they had seen an existing piece of visionary art, which they wanted a version of for their publication; this CD cover was one of those instances. (We're getting into nuts & bolts of the business here, and demystifying the artistic process, I know, but bear with me.) When you're an aspiring visionary artist, you might still need to be a working commercial artist, and this project paid a month's rent at the time. Sometimes I also get to do the typography: I often try to convince the client to let me do the typography, as part of the art itself, as this opens doors into a greater potential to be able to integrate art, concept, and type. Just as in a vision-poem piece, the words become part of the artwork itself.


Follow the blur. Spirit moves too fast for the naked eye to follow. The golden statue at the center of the ring of light, seemingly motionless, is flickering: not moving, or moving so fast, and returning, and moving, that it's too fast to catch, except by the flicker, the blur. The gold streak across the redblue eye of sunset.

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