Formless Thing Things Form Being in Motion Exploring Complexity
In the first place (after a letter to Seth and moving and thinking and painting with wife and a few hours of homework – reviewing Management and Organization Theory and Design no less) the first thing to do is to write. To simply write by hand, being in motion, that is, setting into motion, and all that follows, which usually happens (like today) first – after folding laundry, washing dishes, required reading, getting kiddos fed, dressed, off to school, checking email and phone messages and new assignments, touching base with wife, drinking (making and drinking) coffee, homework, family, tasks, events, chores, responsibilities, choices – after that the first thing to do is to write, after somehow quieting the buzziness of busyness, at the desk, reading something slow and singular like poems, philosophy, science, or art – something chosen, maybe a walk, maybe music, maybe a task, and then, oh then, the first thing to do is be in motion, set into motion, set being in motion at my desk with a ball-point pen (Bic) and blank, clean, beautiful, hungry, precious, anxious (anticipatory, aroused) lined notebook paper in a loose, forgiving stack, ready, ready, ready…
…for the first thing.
Which is not to say I was an object before, or that anything was ever a thing, or still (static) prior to pen + paper by my hand – no – Formless Things were Thinging Forms in all the other ways of motion, movements, relationships between tools and water, emotions, skin, utensils and hands and mouths and sounds and voices and contact continuous through air, always movement, humming being in motion beings forming thingless things forming formlessness, changing motion swerves and stoops, bends and helps listening to movements vibrations tones noticing shapes and lines and particling waves of substances moving moving attaching disseminating shapes, sequencing, paces, difference all pointing out where everything connects to everything else – the joining nature of boundaries – what is always next to – observe how the line works:
before which space was “empty” but now it holds together, walls like stitches, buildings like blocks stuck together so things stay gathered, movements, lines, dance, breeze, blood, noises, gluing, gluing, gluing every to-gether, difference repetition pattern
Categories. To keep things adjoined, combined. Lists, minutes, days, tasks, timelines, hours, keeping thingless things attached in their movements – different ways of sameness – being in motion – and so forth →
→ Forth toward firstly, to write. Being in motion, set in motion, slowly faster, faster by slowly, by hand instead of tapping, fluid choices – typing is stop-motion, discreet, discontinuous – comparatively faster but less efficient, slower (by hand) efficacy thinking images or imaginary thinking now less critical (embedded critique): fluid. I stop. Breathing continues with hand thought memory hope – NOW –
A kind of yearning motion movement in letters read as words, phrases, meanings, less representative more relational – unnatural to this and this and that and other. Confusing writing, drawing, space and time, concept object sign symptom, doodle.
To communicate. Being in motion together if sequentially the linking looping line (by hand) tracing where we meet, are joined, in movement against/with, with, with one another – here is where we meet, inadvertent/advertently.
Being in motion, set in motion by hand – to draw writing – an advert for connection, to construct lines to bring things together, to notice. Exploring complexity through being in motion. Reading is movement.
The Underlying Theory
What we found on his desk was a drawing. A very lightly penciled sketch of a woman from stomach to throat, as if seen from above to the side, one arm flung out in the viewer’s direction and her breasts provocatively displayed. Underneath were the words “underlying theory.”
Our work was to plunder his study. An author, famed for fiction and poems and writings on art, had died suddenly, and his wife had contacted us to go through his things, evaluate its worth and preserve for posterity. There were boxes of manuscript pages, notebooks and loose-leaf, letters and typescripts, recipe cards full of quotations. The library was extensive, each book filled with scribbles and markings, a signifying system of importance and reference for use in his various projects. His mind was displayed like a trail left in woods. Here the path to food, here the one to water, here the building nest, here the safety hideout. It overwhelmed us.
I had written numerous critical studies on this man and reviewed professionally most of his books. He’d written extensively in philosophy and aesthetics, with compendiums of writings on particular artists and particular works. He’d produced over a dozen literary novels and twenty or more books of poetry. He was prolific and known for the depth and acumen of his thought, the cavalier ways he used language, and the breadth of his interests and knowledge. No one knew he made visual art. None would have tagged him “erotic.”
I wondered what this drawing might “mean.” What did it refer to? Was it drawn from a picture? An image from memory? Was the subject herself the underlying theory, or was it something about representation? Desire? And what theories did this mean to evoke or give rise to? His wife did not recognize the sketch – not the body, nor an artist her husband might have copied – and it was interestingly tucked beneath blank open sheets, at the middle of the desk – the ones always ready when he came to compose. It was worn, wrinkled, as if indeed, it underlay everything inscribed above it and served as inspiration or focus, an impetus to his work.
I’ll note that the form seems composed, not a doodle. It appears to be representative. No one knows of him having a model or lover, in fact no other drawings exist from his hand. Perhaps he had need of a form to describe, an image to imagine, some desire to propel. The figure is finely proportioned, both busty and lithe, fleshy yet thin and shaped like the currents of rivers.
I’m not certain what draws me to this. In an office literally stuffed with fine books and odd trinkets, paraphernalia of printing, and stacks of diaries and drafts. Among paintings and stones and figurines of the Buddha, historical writing utensils, family photos and legal documents dating throughout his life. There is so much to uncover and know. But “underlying theory”? That grabs me.
As I’ve mentioned before, this author was a reader of depth. Fiction, philosophy, poetry, science; criticism, essays and cultural studies. There are tall shelves of monographs of particular artists, but nothing gives hint to this sketch. I am struck by this rendering – baffled by image and text. An erotic drawing is always of interest, all other concerns of this man are abstract. It beggars the biographers “who/what/when/where” yet the text writ along the arch of her back stirs me in a different direction. “Underlying theory.” What the hell? What’s it for?
A theory is made for a function, something “underlying” proposes a cause. This drawing, these words must explain something, but what?
Is it cosmic? Like what drives human vocation is desire? Or epistemological? Ethical? Aesthetical? Metaphorical for apprehension of form? I can only guess at this point but am open to ideas – I’d love to find some consensus for the book I’m contracted to write.
I ask you – how would you piece this together? I’ll share a scan of the drawing and request that you submit your hypotheses below as comments. I thank you so much for your thoughts.
In Summer’s Heat I Can Hardly Think What To Do
so I made this picture
I have filled my head with images, almost. Substances evolving, fossilized. Suggested.
“Everything may be expressed with almost nothing at all” –Jean Fautrier
Not difficult to find. More difficult to gaze.
Remember, great pleasure builds.
Canvas – paper – plaster – oils.
Pen swoop, pencil curve, scattered dusts of inks.
Essential layering and beauty, simple mysterious complexities – the female form
To mix the media, the processing, to express and discover the sculpture of painting, the painting of clay, the drawing of oil and etchings in sketch. To flurry the senses.
I hear with my eyes the wail of the hostage
I smell with my fingers the verdancy of fruit
I see with my mouth the movement of women
Conflation. “Original reproductions” – pattern and design redone yet never the same
If ‘everything may be expressed with almost nothing at all,” I have tried. His is substantial suggestion; though relatively small in size, like geometric theorems or graphing physics they structure abyssals and infinities. The body wants to know what lies beneath, or through, out, or in.
Capturing the vibratory stillness of monuments and remembered events – the meditativeness of gazing and time – with the erratics of movement and frenzy of action. Stay stare; move make; know seek.
“Everything may be expressed with almost nothing at all”
Dueling Jim Dine
“My mind was going and so was my hand,” he said, and so did I. There seemed to be some sort of automatic conduit, almost an unthinking or unconscious mechanics between what occurred in my brain and body and the gestures of my hand fisting a tool. He called his “drawing,” I, “writing”; “scribbling,” both.
He sketched a line.
I doodled a word.
We compared combinations of marks. I thought his propitious, he considered mine apropos. We continued. He smudged and scraped, texturing and smearing a darkened patch of his paper. I scrawled smudge, erasing the ink as I wrote, leaving a bleary term, as well as “melancholy knot.” He raised an eyebrow, squirting water on lines of ink, causing them to run and wriggle down the surface. I likewise thought “crow’s blood,” and wrote “mood of lightless cavern,” in carefully dropped water stains.
He squinted as if he’d been challenged. I, the I writing, watched, expectantly. The draftsman sat down.
I roped out over my page “the knife sliced deep through parchment, carrying fire.” He leapt to and slashed his surface staining the tear’s edges black with brilliant red and orange pastels rising off the seam. We chuckled, he winked.
Picking up a squat bottle of indigo blue, he dashed it against an open field on his paper, creating a blotch slowly swelling in miniscule fronds.
I reacted. Grabbing pens in both hands I charged my page and inscribed, as if in fury, fat-felt-tipped and intimately paralleled in circular lines (by turning the paper as I scrawled) “maniacal laughter sobs from grievous wound seeping rabidly throughout his grocery list, voicemail and every phrase and memo taken in, given out, as if he could not escape the inky squid-cloud, the night’s obsessed vortex, unable to feign or dart his pollution.”
Scenting blood, inveigled in duel, he savaged his canvas with cadmium shrieks, scratching and scabbing the pulp, then clouding it with sponges of charcoal and chalk, dementing the work to a state.
Scowling, he read the above.
We rested with coffee and smokes.
At this point, he challenged me to a mark-for-mark, side-by-side, making in tandem. He moved and struck; “drak” I jotted. He followed with a long downward arc of blue chalk while I scrivened a loosened cursive “loop of sky in gravity’d tears” also in chalk. Jagging yellow up and across, all caps I shouted “WITH THE HEAT OF THE WIND’S BLAZE THROUGH DESERT!”
He spiraled while I “circled round the mayhem of the mill, her lilting light goes out.” We darken and begin to fill the ground…as he shades and scumbles
I “in the apparatus of time the world dims and pops. Stumbling gesturally through policy and poem the language drains its line. Discovering its feeble feet it finds a lure and breaths crackle in plentiful song. The patching powers perhaps the frame, caressing its fitful desire, soon it swoons and whispers. The vapor twists its noise and cogitates in action worrying, tendering, arousing limpid lisps. We vibrate and hold, tendrilling thread to conjoin. Fastening now on swoop and dive, a sistered surround, a remoteness drawn near. We are woven, our minds are going and so are our hands….”
I wish I were an I, some gathered locus of selves, remarkable.
A fullness that might be characterized, signified.
Even the assortment of lines that structure my name – hundreds of corners and swerves, crossings and redirections, don’t represent much of me.
And the little pronouns – they might direct one toward the objective subject that I am, but they’re pointing everywhere.
So I scribble, sketch, doodle and draw, adding lines upon lines, erasing, rewriting, deleting and searching thesauri and definitions…
It comes out looking like this:
or sometimes this:
signs and diagrams, theoretical possibilities, charts and patterns, fantasies, dreams
ever in search of the neologism
some necessary invented term
The following quotations are from “Putting Down Marks (my life as a draftsman)” by Jim Dine. Where he uses “draw” or “drawing” substitute “write” or “writing” and I find a remarkable similarity with my own experience making things…I find his work and thought quite inspiring to my own and wanted to share with you many writers/artists/thinkers…
“I’ve always had a wish to put down marks”
“My mind was going and so was my hand”
“I love building up, erasing, losing it, bringing it back, taking it away. I trust my method of not trusting”
“He’s always so frightened of failure and of finishing, and that moves me” (of Giacometti)
“But what is really the optimal situation for me is to get my brain around what I’m trying to do. That’s all.”
“I have a total connection between my hand and my eye – it’s just that I can’t see sometimes”
“Drawing is not an exercise. Exercise is sitting on a stationary bicycle and going nowhere. Drawing is being on a bicycle and taking a journey. For me to succeed in drawing, I must go fast and arrive somewhere. The quest is to keep the thing alive – “
“I’m interested in making a vehicle within which it is possible to feel certain things…And these emotions don’t have words. They really don’t”
“I want to get my drawing out of my heart the way photography accesses my marginal thoughts and images”
“The state of wanting to draw something, for me, is a way to capture it and that’s a primary emotion for me.”
“I want to possess them and what better way of possessing them than to draw them. The reason I wanted to possess them is they reminded me of other things that are wordless”
“Drawing is the medium which has been the blood of my life”
THANK YOU JIM DINE!
all that inspires, shocks and makes me purr
Freyja Howls is a writer, performer and activist who would have been a style icon and comedian a century ago.
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