There have been two distinct fields of interest for me in poetry since 1967: the lyrical (written to be spoken) and the visual (written to be seen, and sounded ‘silently’ as iterations within groups of arranged letters).
Starting with my first solo exhibition in 1978, The Everlasting Stone, I’ve integrated words and phrases with physical materials to make visual poems as sculpture; and also integrated poems into graphic prints using scale and colour to change the way the lines is seen, taking reading off the page and onto the wall. In this first show scrap pieces of granite and marble were engraved with short texts, or in one case with a typographic concrete poem, Moonday. This is the only time I’ve used a gravestone, although the techniques are those of monumental masonry this profession is far wider than making memorials. I didn’t want to be stuck making punning ripostes to death’s victories, so the sculpture-poems (sometimes of only one word) explore love and language.
These experiments have been exhibited and published under many names including Word Works, the title of a folio of large screenprints made in 1979. My art-poetry practice over more than forty years has generated a plethora of word art works in a wide variety of materials and scale, some of which are on permanent public display. The Morning poem illustrated is engraved on a basalt crystal, which is now in the grounds of Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery. The poem has been ‘published’ so far only as this sculpture, and as screenprints discussed below.
The words on the basalt crystal are in four lines, with spaces between phrases, to slow down and add rhythm to reading:
in the freshly unfolded…. archives of
our sleep …. all loves undone…. in threads
weaving slowly…. sun’s dream…. a golden
warmth …. covers us with morning
Compared with the poem’s layout as printed on the page, where the conventional left hand margin acts like a flag pole and the lines ripple as narrow flags in a Westerly breeze:
in the freshly
of our sleep
all loves undone
a golden warmth
covers us with morning
Morning is one of three lyrical spoken poems chosen for the Lovepoems folio of screenprints, made in 2007 along with four visual poems, a total of seven which are put through variations in graphic presentation.
With the Lovepoem suite of twenty different screenprints, there’s exploration of how the visual presentation of a poem effects its reading upon a viewer, who is affected by the difficulty of viewing and reading simultaneously. There is a strong contrast between the printed words of the poem in silver and the busy pattern background. In many of the prints the poem’s speech becomes overwhelmed in the ground pattern. However, viewed at a slight angle the silver ink jumps out, making the text highly visible. Poetry is essentially a spoken art of memorable words, and I’m trying to make these poems sit as a vocal element in a visual domain, ready to be said aloud or silently voiced by the viewer.
Although printed in 2007, the folio was not completed and released until 2017. Of the nine sets of twenty screenprints, two are in public collections so far, at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne and at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. There are also individual prints beyond #9 for some, which have been exhibited in solo shows including at Australian Galleries in Sydney and Melbourne. Printing by Zulu Graphics, Newcastle, using papers by American Crafts of archival quality, acid and lignin free. The lifetime guarantee of art, out and about, with afternoon sunlight coursing across the glass, fading paper; whereas the remembered poem lives on untainted by time in minds and mouths.
I wanted the Lovepoems to push foreground (words) and background (pattern) into a collision point, with no middle ground; using thick silver ink to make letters which stand out, especially when catching light as the viewer moves; to see and to compare how both short lyrical poems and typographic concrete poems would find their own place on a field of energetic visual activity. The tensions between the lyrical flow of words, or — in the case of the concretes their geometric patterns making progressive iterations — and the attractive semi-abstract graphics challenges the definition of an ‘illustrated poem’. The poems want to be heard, and their voices rise above the background din, turning graphics made to be cut up for scrapbooks into a space where poetry can live on a wall, framed but not tamed.
As an example of the typographic concretes, Lovepoem #1 is featured as the cover of this issue. Four variations are included in the folio. In the second variation, using larger squares of colour the letters sit across rather than within blocks. Although this is asymmetric compared to #1, letters each connect four squares with their various forms. The addition of three extra Os makes a dynamic intersection of two Vs and makes the interaction of the two words integral to the structure.
I’ve often remembered Ernst Fischer’s dictum (in The Necessity of Art, 1959): “Form is the atomic structure of content”. To me, these are not ‘pretty pictures’ but challenges to the visual, tossing words into the frame; and also to the verbal, contradicting the purity of the white page where words have only themselves to argue with.
In these four variations, the typographic poem (the typograph) as foreground is imposed onto background fields which demand the eye’s attention, with various spatial and colour relationships. The first is the most satisfying for the formal obedience of letter and square; but the second and third variations have their own formalities, even if the positions are more like the fluidity of dance movements.
In the third variation, the letters each straddle four colour squares. Love as romantic love is one of poetry’s drawcards, when it is love in all of its kinds and humanifestations which makes the world go round. Don’t get me started on politics.
In the fourth variation the visual poem is placed on chattering type which is mostly in random arrangement but within which hide ‘passion’ and ‘I love you’, as shown.
In 2008 Lovepoem was made as a wall work with letters engraved into granite tiles, held in stainless steel rails. This, again, is questioning poetry’s formal demand for uncluttered clarity (black text only, on the white snowfield of the page) against celebrating the interference of overlay and juxtaposition, and colour’s impact.
This solid form as a wall sculpture is one of a series of the typographs or typographic visual poems made as solid objects. Several have been made as large-scale works, which can be seen on the website richardtipping.com in the section Public Art.
For example (in no particular order):
– Richard Tipping, April 2020 Mayfield