Slow Learner 1–32 - 2007

“trial and error           we find the centre” (1)

My first concern in addressing these copper plates was to find the centre. Thinking of Beckett, and of Michelangelo, too, I used those ‘compasses in [my] eyes,’ as recommended. (2) I failed, of course, but next time failed better. And I thought of Eva Hesse, and “that certain pleasure of proving [myself] against perfection”.(3)

Most characteristic of this project, though, was the way I tried to integrate into my work on the plate exactly what I observed in the proofing: I thought that if I, too, could ‘square up’ my plate, and my body; if I could maintain consistent pressure on my graver; and if I could ‘roll’ through the plate with fluidity and ease, then not only would I get a good drawing/gravure, but there would be a nice integrity between the making and the production of the prints.

With my stance wide open now – right leg forward, the left leg poised behind – I hoped to add spring to my lines. Real control sets in only on the fourth day: thus the title of the suite Slow Learner.

(1) Tamar Yoseloff, ‘Marks’, a poem based on the works of Linda Karshan. Published in the artist’s book, Marks, in collaboration with Linda Karshan (Pratt Editions, 2007), and in the author’s collection Fetch (London: Salt Publishing, 2007).

(2) Vasari’s ‘Life of Michelangelo’. Michelangelo said that one should have compasses in one’s eyes, not in one’s hands, because the hand executes but it is the eye which judges.

(3) Lucy Lippard, Eva Hesse (New York: Da Capo, 1992), p. 142.

Finding the Centre: Dante, Beckett, and Michelangelo - 6 June 2007

“I am as the centre of the circle, to which all parts of the circumference stand in equal relation; you, however, are not so.” Dante, Vita Nuova XII, lines 21–22

Thus Love, in the form of an angel, declares perfection to be his preserve, in the symbolic form of the compass. Te poet, by contrast, must content himself with “circling round this place [the centre], whatever its shape and extent may be” (Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable).

Earlier in Beckett’s novel, the Unnamable had declared that he “likes to think he occupies the centre, but nothing could be less certain”. No. All he and the other mortals can be sure of is that “from centre to circumference… is a far cry, and [he] may well be situated between the two”.

A far cry, indeed. So far, in fact, that to get this measurement wrong spelled disaster for Michelangelo, in Rome. Now 81 years old, he was called back to that city to rescue his three-part vault over St. Peter’s. While he had made a model of the vault to ensure accuracy of construction, its completion was left to less remarkable artists, for whom Michelangelo’s complex and intuitive design was “beyond belief”.

“Instead of a vault with a single centre… There should have been a great number [of centres]. And the circles and squares that come in the middle of their deepest parts [the vaults] have to diminish and increase in so many directions, and to go to so many points, that it is difficult to find a true method.” (1)

Michelangelo knew, as Peirce put it, that by “supposing the rigid exactitude of causation to yield… we gain room to insert mind [or intuition] into our scheme.” (2) Rather than a geometric correctness, he sought an “overall harmony of grace…”, one that even “nature might not present.” (3) And so he recommended that the artist should have compasses in his eyes, not in his hands, because the hand executes, but it is the eye which judges. (4)

(1) These comments are distilled from Vasari’s ‘Life of Michelangelo’

(2) C. S. Peirce, ‘The Doctrine of Necessity Examined’ (1892), in Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel, eds., The Essential Peirce (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 309.

(3) Vasari.

(4) ibid.

Eight × 8 moves - Winter 2006/Spring 2007

“Where 1000 variations of three simple movements fill up the time between train and train.” Hugh Kenner, on Beckett.

And so it happened. On the 27th and 28th of February, while making prints at Pratt Editions, in Kent, three simple movements filled up my time between arrival and departure by train.

Down-up-turn, down-up-turn, repeated 8 times for each work. Once I’d succeeded with the special-edition print, twenty further images followed, each the result of those ‘three simple movements’. (1)

Out of twenty, eight were selected to become a portfolio, entitled Eight Moves (2007). And the form? It’s a vertical rectangle divided once down the centre. Or nearly: according to my intuitive self.

(1) This print is called Eight Moves. It accompanies the special edition of Marks, the artist’s book by Linda Karshan and Tamar Yoseloff, published by Pratt Contemporary Art, 2007

Spring 2006

“It’s a question of something that happens, almost a routine, and it is this dailiness and this materiality… that need to be brought out.”(1)

Forms ‘show up’, then shift in obedience to my intuitive sense. Here’s “what mind and body can do”.(2) And heart.

1. Beckett, in notes to his German direction of Waiting for Godot.

2. Matthias Bärmann, in his opening remarks to the 15th-anniversary exhibition at Galerie Biedermann, Munich, April 2006.


The New York Tour - Autumn 2005

I arrived in N.Y. like a dancer on tour with my body, my mind, and choreography in-scribed. (1) But the ‘theatre’ was new, as was the stage to be ‘set,’ and so certain adjustments were made. Standing upright and alert at my new table, or stage, I quickly adjusted my stance: “Every movement in the studio must be [graceful].”(2) And “all true grace is economical”.(3)

My movements had become less than graceful – even cramped – as my short upper-torso was not long enough to see my now longer lines through in one arc.(4) So I resumed a stance first taken in July 2004 when, also presented with a new table/ stage, I secured my position by placing one foot behind the other, gaining extension and spring in my moves. (5)

Now my ‘swing’ has become more like rock’n’roll: I begin by rocking backwards, then forwards, or downwards, then upwards, through the first two repetitions of the line. Repetitions three and four are yet more dynamic as I roll right through the centre of my line.

That first line is performed ‘on the flat,’ as it were: both flat-footed, but also flat-leaded as I hold my pencil sideways, thus producing a flatish, widish mark. Then, rising onto my toes, ‘en pointe’ over the work, I also lift my pencil point to a loftier position on the sheet. Thus poised and concentrated, I proceed to bisect that first line. Just as Apelles claimed to do.(6) “There are so few [movements], but so many variations.” (7) The variety is assured by the subtle shifts in choreography, according to my intuitive sense. Judgement follows, measured always with those compasses in the eyes: that I may receive what I have brought forth, and “so bring forth as [my] intuitive sense aspires to receive”.

1. My choreography is not only written, or in-scribed: it is also sounded, or scored into my being. This is what I listen to, and what I mark out “exactly as it is scored” (John Cage, advising Christian Wolf; see studio jottings, ‘Selected Jottings, Autumn 2004’, 6/11/04).

2. Bruce Nauman: “Every movement in the studio must be artistic.” Mapping the Studio, Tate Modern, 2004.

3. Samuel Beckett. See studio jotting, ‘Selected Jottings, Autumn 2004’ (25/11/04).

4. See my description in the studio jotting ‘Summer 2005: The ORLO, Natural Forces, and Giving Up the Notion of Convergence’. Photographs also bear this out.

5. See studio jotting, ‘Flashing Conviction, Summer 2004’ (20/07/04).

6. According to ancient lore, the Roman artist Apelles proved his superiority over his rivals by his ability to bisect their lines. Thus he’d leave a mark of his presence: “Tell them Apelles was here”.

7. See studio jotting, ‘Flashing Conviction, Summer 2004’ (21/07/04).


Selected Jottings and Reflections: January–June 2005

“My fundamental work is the way that I work,” and that I go on. How I stand and move in the studio is crucial to the work: every movement must be graceful, and “All is economical” (Beckett).

With the sheet flat on the table, ‘listening to’ those internal numbers and rhythms that guide my moves, I work my way round the page, turning the paper anti-clockwise through 90° on the stroke of 2, 4, 8 or 16 before starting the count again.

1–2–3–4–5–6–7–8 turn

1–2–3–4–5–6–7–8 turn

5/01/05 - “Where 1000 variations of three simple movements fill up the time between train and train.” Hugh Kenner on Beckett

And also like Beckett, it is the FOOT-FALLS that matter: “It is about the pacing… The fall of the feet. The sound of feet… The words are less important…” (Beckett, in Conversations with and about Beckett by Mel Gussow, p. 34).

This is how I begin each day: by the sound of my feet on the studio floor.

4/02/05 - And then capturing the sound in my marks. This I do, as ever, with “exactitude winged by intuition” (Klee), and with “diligence joined with quickness” so as to bring “promptness” and “dispatch” to the work (Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting).

5/02/05 - Each drawing has its own ‘sound-work’ behind it. You could explore each drawing “movement by movement” (Folko Jungnitsch, conductor).

28/02/05 - “Attention must be paid!” says Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman. Yes. Attention must be paid to the sound, and to the precision of the line that captures it.

1/03/05 - Standing, always, with CORE-STABILITY (stability of my corps). This stable centre is what gives the work its strength, symmetry, balance and grace.

Finding the right posture: standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders relaxed but always LIFTING FROM THE CENTRE: This is my centre of gravity. Now I can begin, and begin again. And fail. “And next time fail better” (Beckett).

6/03/05 - While always in alignment (line-meant). What does the line mean? When it is graceful, when it follows the line of gravity, “it is nothing but the path taken by the soul of the dancer” (Heinrich von Kleist).

It is a self-portrait.



18/03/05 - And the capture of “fluent time” (Folko Jungnitsch).

21/03/05 - Reading about Montaigne’s Essays, how they developed from SELF STUDY to SELF-PORTRAITURE. YES.

1983–94: SELF-STUDY (through automatism and organic abstraction: waiting for my figure/pattern to emerge).

1994: The Self-Portrait appears: the way that I work.

1994–present: The self-portrait develops, in direct response to the changing subject.


1. The self-portrait must remain faithful to the subject, changing as the subject does.

– for me, becoming increasingly pared-down, essential, yet at the same time more complex.

2. Everyone who listens to himself will discover a PATTERN ALL HIS OWN.

– I can hear mine; it’s my numbers and rhythms, complete with directions to turn. (This is my RULING PATTERN to which obedience must be paid!)

22/03/05 - I am, since 1994, SQUARING THE CIRCLE, in time, under conditions of JUST ENOUGH gravity to hold my marks in equilibrium.

24/03/05 - A note on gravity: I learn from Matthias Bärmann that the meteorites I see in his home, arranged on a tray like a miniature garden, were produced under conditions of ZERO GRAVITY. The oldest one, he says, is 4.8 billion years old. And they came from “TEXAS and OUTER SPACE”.

What to say about the regular, grid-like forms one observes on these cross-sections of time and space?

“What do I know about man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.” Beckett, in Conversations with and about Beckett by Mel Gussow, p. 79

25/03/05 - Back in Renaissance Space, reading Alberti’s On Painting:

– we learn that his knowledge of painting came from his own practice. Good.

– that he was interested, too, in a control of words. He learned from Cicero a method of ANALYSIS and SYNTHESIS. We need both: “His was a brilliant mind that could both analyse and synthesize.” Eulogy for my father

27/03/05 - Alberti: On the ORLO – the outline – and VISUAL APPEARANCES. The ORLO marks the extreme limits of the subject (body). So it must be PRECISE.

One could describe the body by its OUTLINE alone: by the length, the breadth, and by the QUALITY OF THE LINE – this quality of the line is what I’m after.

“There must be no filling in.” Marcel Duchamp

28/03/05 - As in those ‘painstaking grids’ – those ‘wheels of incised lines…’ of Michelangelo. Alison Wright – compared by her with my own incised grids.

1/04/05 - And like Apelles, too. I am after the MOST PERFECT LINE, yet made and measured by man alone.

With a SOUND-WORK behind it, which can resonate with the viewer.

2/04/05 - Alberti again: I ‘happen’ to build my drawings just as he recommends:

– divide each line in half, and in half again. YES

– divide each quadrangle into 4 more quadrangles of equal proportion. YES

– to inscribe a circle within a square, divide the square into 4 equal quarters with a horizontal and a vertical line. yes. Diagonally connect these 4 half-points, forming a diamond shape. YES. Draw an arc to connect these points of the diamond. YES


4/04/05 - Here is a poem by Charles Olson (shown to me by Tamar Yoselof):

An American is a complex of occasions themselves a geometry of spatial nature.

I have this sense, that I am one with my skin. (1)



Now, drawing ONLY THE CORNERS of the square is enough to indicate the whole (form and movement).

Or marking only a short dash of line at the TOP, BOTTOM, LEFT and RIGHT sides (of the otherwise invisible square).

17/04/05 - Richard Selby remarks that he can ‘see’ the oval/circle in the form. PERFECT. (So, of course, can I).

“If we think of the forms and light of other days it is without regret.” Beckett, Molloy

Yes. Because in them we see the ORIGINS of today.

24/04/05 - Alberti: Better to correct the errors of the mind than to remove them from the drawings.

– The mind, moved and warmed by experience gives greater PROMPTNESS and DISPATCH to the work. So practice. Daily practice.

6/05/05 - Saul Bellow dies; I feel the loss.

“They told me that the truth of the universe was inscribed into our very bones. Tat the human skeleton was itself a hieroglyph. That everything we had ever known on earth was shown to us in the first days after death. That our experience of the world was desired by the cosmos, and needed by it for its own renewal.” Bellow, ‘Something to Remember Me By’

5/06/05 - Matthias promises to get for me a small meteorite for my 60th birthday. I hope – I expect – this small slice of the universe will be inscribed with marks like my own:

HORIZONTAL and VERTICALS, never confused. Leaning into the wind, just a little, so as to KEEP ON GOING.



1. ‘Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]’, from Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 185