Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Poetry collaboration with Radley College

Last year Oxford Scribes were asked if they would like to take part in a joint exhibition with Radley College, a private boarding school for privileged boys near Oxford. They would write the words and we would produce calligraphy inspired by these poems.

An exhibition was planned for March 2013.

A group of calligraphers, including me, went to visit the school in September and were invited to lunch in the panelled dining room before demonstrating how we plan a piece of calligraphy to the five boys who turned up. I showed a Powerpoint of the collage piece that I started at Malvern - see post from October 2012 Mick Paine Workshop.

Finally in November the poems had been written and were distributed among Oxford Scribes - preferences were taken into account where possible and all poems were allocated to calligraphers with some people being asked to do 2 pieces.

Some of us have met together since then to share ideas and find starting points for the work. We looked at suitable colours, layouts and old copies of Letter Arts Review etc for inspiration.

This is my first poem in the form I first saw it:

I wish I could take language

I wish I could take language, and
Unroll it like a dusty carpet.

I would lay it out on the ground;
I would clean the regular patterns.

The smell of sappy wood and candle wax,
Or something older still.

I would keep its surface unblemished,
And keep away the dirt and filth.

I wish I could take language, and
Remove its signs of wear

Where new tears have been created,
Where colours have worn away.

I wish I could take language
And heal its wounds,

Wounds we have formed words for.

Joshua Dernie

This is my final piece for 'I wish I could take Language' - I was inspired by the colours of turkish kelims, suggested by the line 'unroll it like a dusty carpet' - and decided to use this lovely textured paper which I had in my store. I found it was impossible to use a pen without picking up the fibres, so I had to use a pointed brush. I kept the design fairly free, compensating for lack of space by overlapping and shortening words and using ampersands where necessary.

My second allocated poem was:


I am a picture that can't not be,
bound and bordered in what you see.

I am you trapped in this place,
now and forever lost in a face.

I sit in your thoughts
and hide in my dreams.

I live in a lie
and it mutes my screams.

I question life
that is not what it seems.

And I have no answer
For I am not me.

Callum Godfrey

I chose this piece because I saw it as a book or using some kind of device to create a reflection and I had several initial ideas but I kept coming up against the same problem i.e. that the first two verses were so much longer than the rest and it looked top heavy. The capital M is much wider than the other letters of the title too which did not help. I had had in mind the effect of broken glass and reflections but after several attempts and the equivalent of about three full days working on it, was still not happy with the background.

Version two and still the problem of the long verses at the top even though I had broken the lines in two. It was better in capitals than italic (done in charcoal pencil here) but it just wasn't working - so I went back to the computer and tried some quick layouts in Word with the two first verses next to each other and then the whole poem started to make sense as statement and response.

So this is my final version using W&N silver gouache with a little white in it and a dark red reminiscent of the back of an old mirror with the opposite colour used to pick out the dots between the words, a device used in old manuscripts. The hand used is based on the cursive roman I have worked with before with a few personal adaptations e.g. the curly G inspired by the David Jones workshop before Christmas. This final piece probably took 6 hours to letter also with a pointed brush with each letter built up of several strokes - it was starting to flow more easily by the end of the page!

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