Why Desire?

November 2, 2011

scriptorium robert kushner

One of my favorite modern composers is Maurice Ravel.  In listening to his music, it always seems to me that his mind was steeped in the elegance of the 18th century but, inconveniently, he found himself trapped somewhere in 20th Century Paris (admittedly a very pleasant place to be trapped) but still not the dix-huitième of our cultural fantasies.

With disturbing frequency, these days, I have begun to feel trapped that way about myself.  Consequently, one of the desires, one of the underpinnings of Scriptorium is the yearning for spatial and temporal relocation.  In drawing, I always leave my mundane concerns behind.  It has always been like that for me.  It is the one great escape of my life: being totally attentive to the object of my scrutiny, the technical reactions of my materials, and the ground I am drawing upon; going somewhere else for a few hours.  But there has been another sort of pleasurable dislocation in Scriptorium.

Often while working with the old papers, I began to wonder what it was like in Istanbul printing rows of flawless Arabic grammar in 1860?  What did the room look like?  What were the smells?  Who was the bookbinder in Hartford binding double volumes of Shakespeare and to whom did he give it over for stamping gold on the edges of the covers?  And just what was Hartford like in 1830?  Probably a lot nicer than it seems to be now. Or, just who wrote that Italian manuscript that I have rendered unreadable through my “art”?  And what was it about, anyway?  Or, I can picture the woodblock carver in Japan producing pages of text incorporating the most elegant curling script with no errors whatsoever.  Often during my drawing sessions, I have felt that I was in their workshops, or at least their milieu.

These flights of mind are the desires that are the basis of this work.  With our ultra sophisticated, and plugged-in contemporary world seeming to be dissolving or at least devolving slowly before our eyes, there is some comfort in these desires for what feels (and, of course, this is blatantly nostalgic) to be simpler times. Nostalgic reverie or not, I desire them.

Robert Kushner, New York, 2010

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