Works on Paper

Why Desire? by Robert Kushner

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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

Scriptorium: Devout Exercises of the Heart by Liz Riviere

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Scriptorium consists of 500 small drawings and paintings executed directly on pages of old books and manuscript. They will be exhibited pinned to the wall with simple dressmaker's pins. The arrangement is variable as to dimensions and number of images.  The pages have been removed from discarded and damaged books from America, England, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Russia, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Tibet and Japan. They date from ca. 1500-1920.
Each page supports a drawing or painting of a flower, leaf, or plant drawn from life.  Scriptorium has been executed over the year of 2009 both in my studio and during travels to Rochester, Colorado, Long Island, and Panama. Consequently, there is a wide range of seasonal flowers. They have been drawn on the page using many different techniques and conventions of depiction--from faintest outlines that nearly disappear in the blocks of text, to strongly rendered forms that nearly obliterate the text underneath them. The ink lines or the areas of color react with the absorbency of the paper and the density of the text in an infinitely varying manner.
I am intrigued by the resultant layers of visual connection from one finished page to the next, and also by the fact that this information is, for the most part, dispensable knowledge: an old logarithm table, the text of a Noh play, an old handwritten property deed. But then, some of them are very potent texts: Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, and religious treatises. All of these pages miraculously survived in one way or another and all of them came into my possession either by gift or purchase of distressed books.
A scriptorium is the room in a medieval monastery where old books were copied by hand. Devout Exercises of the Heart is the title of one of the books whose pages I have used, and is also a metaphor for my sustained activity on this project.
I would like to think that these superimposed flowers in Scriptorium bring the pages back to life, make us wonder who owned and read these books, and through their foxing, notations and even burned areas, allow us to ponder their varied histories.

Robert Kushner, New York

A recent review from Denmark's Weekendavisen reads:
"In Kushner's work hundreds of years of testimony and recognition of flowers grow across the typography, the letters and the Babylonian confusion of world languages. It is well thought out, well seen, and beautifully done, yes even moving, to witness how language literally is flowering in Kushner's scriptorium. Language is being touched, we are being touched."