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.

Flashing Conviction, Summer 2004

Staying in stone at least awhile more. Rhythms and movement: following the sound. Te form is the result (of the movement). The plasticity comes from the rhythm; the PACE

11/07/04 - Molloy knows he needs a method but he needs his mind in the game. 

Measure without measure, coming out of the rhythms and movements of the body.                 

Like Michelangelo’s compasses in the eyes; to judge measure and proportion.                               

To perform Quad, it helps to be a dancer – paraphrase of Beckett’s notes on Quad.

12/07/04 - Beckett’s heroes describe lines and curves of relationships. As in The Unnamable.

Printmaking concerns come into play: the clarity of the line matters: and ‘wiping the plate clean’.

13/07/04 - I’m interested in how those marks and traces come into being, and how they have the power to move the viewer. George Eliot tells me how: by flashing conviction on the world (the viewer) through ‘aroused sympathy’.

The length of the line (its measure) is exactly as long as the time it takes to be made. (Te measure of space is the measure of time.)

12/08/04 - Man marks himself vertically: it’s the ground, the earth, that moves. Tat’s what makes the grid, the cross. Tat’s how we get the grid.

It is the purpose of rhythm to induce that dreamlike state.

13/08/04 - A sense of inevitability guides the work (so it must be).

Eternity, and time:

Every dance in time has a sacred model: look at Molloy with his stones.

20/08/04 - And further: Molloy – “but this was only a makeshift, that could not long satisfy a man like me”. Molloy, on turning his stones without a method. Ten: “But to suck the stones as I have described, not haphazard, but with method, was also, I think, a bodily need”. Molloy’s other bodily need is his BALANCE. Leaning into the wind, like a sail, so as to KEEP ON GOING. UPRIGHT, yet “existence is a curve” (Sartre).

Giving the simplest lines meaning. ATTENUATED MEANING.

Drawing through the page with the entire body: much more, even, than from the shoulder. Securing my position, one foot braced behind, in order to move vertically across the page, top to bottom. It’s a dance through the page, not over it.

21/08/04 - Every drawing must contain all that I know, the whole of my experience, as it has been integrated, and understood.

There are so few notes, but so many variations.

The sureness of the rhythm, as experienced in the work, helps to FLASH CONVICTION on the viewer by means of aroused sympathy.

23/08/04 - And listen to the sounds of the work. They keep me in place, and in pace.

26/08/04 - A method, yes, but no plan: knowing gives way to intuition, and to chance, while the organic takes hold in my scheme.

27/08/04 - Karshan’s characters [drawings] describe lines and curves of relationships.

28/08/04 - New table – a door – new sound. Drawing on this new surface is like carving anew. Te surface is soft, but firm; the sound is soft, but pronounced. Breath. It sounds like human breathing. A breathing machine. Rhythmic, repetitive.

Thus the classical form, the classical canon. In accordance with man’s body, his proportions… and the numbers and rhythms of the universe.

I am always choreographing the page: smiling, swaying, but never, never slouching.

04/09/04 - “Two feet walking.” Giacometti, when asked about his studio. Listen to the sound, the natural rhythm



“Standing gracefully upright and alert.” Re-reading Jill Lloyd, Redfern catalogue.

06/09/04 - The compasses in the eyes of Michelangelo, and his architectural drawings made – astonishingly – by turning them around 90° or 180°. For probably 1½–2 years I often think, while working, as I take up whatever existing trace I can muster, that I start of like Leonardo, to unleash the unconscious. But once the numbers, rhythms and turning sets in – takes hold – I operate like Michelangelo. Like a sculptor, or architect. IN THE ROUND.

And the concentration, and the PACE. The plasticity comes from the rhythm.

Again, what is arresting to see now, is how the drawings of 2004 (July and August) remind me of those first ‘grids’ of 1995: it’s the way they sit – lean – on the page. They lean into the wind, so as to keep on going.

“Listening to sound is a sculptural act; the ear, as Joseph Beuys said, is the genuine sense of sculpture.” Matthias Bärmann, in a note to me.

Yes, I listen, I carve, I sculpt. I make my way with exactitude winged by intuition, always leaning into the wind just a little, so as to keep on going.

JUST LISTEN! The ear is the genuine sense of sculpture!