Published in You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends by Dorothy Iannone edited by Lisa Pearson with an essay by Trinie Dalton (Siglio, 2014).
Dorothy says that she often considers figuration a crucial part of her textual arrangement and in that, she pencils everything out then allows “the eraser [to be her] best friend.” Her compositions are intricately planned, but once started, she lets their contours inform the story; in this way, she says that she cannot make a mistake. “I judge it aesthetically, with no regrets,” she says. “It was the best I could do at the time.” Therefore, her texts are matter, fixed in space by time; they aren’t in opposition to or in competition with the visual, pictorial components but are integral: first, as elements in the picture plane that seek to more significantly connect the artist to the viewer, and secondly, as generous clues to her visual acuity. Like painting studies, the anecdotal, text-based elements reveal source material, initial gestures and sensibilities, observations and psychological interests predicting imagery that position reading as a synaesthetic, physical viewing experience. Again and again, Dorothy refers to her stories as art, does not distinguish between textual and visual narrativity, rather says all creative practice propels the artist into a unified exploration. Her artwork, then, can and should be “read.” Often, statements affirming this notion of unified narrativities are written in all-caps.
ART IS THE WORLD I HAVE CREATED WHICH NEVER LETS ME DOWN, A WORLD TO WHICH I CAN RETURN AGAIN AND AGAIN AND SMILE AND BE IMMORTAL. (17)
ON THE CONTINUING JOURNEY TOWARDS A SHORE WHOSE DISTANCE SOMETIMES SEEMS EVEN TO INCREASE + NOW, FULLY AWARE THAT THE WAY MUST CERTAINLY BE A SOLITARY ONE, I SIGH + WONDER IF I WILL EVER MOVE FROM THE VIEW IN WHICH I FIND MYSELF TODAY. BUT NOT TO GO ON NOW IS DEATH. (18)
While some of the language in this book exists purely as text to be read, these texts above removed from their pictorial context, lose something. Dorothy’s typography varies widely, the letters themselves evoking beadwork, woodcraft, wobbly cursive a ghost might write in dust, telephone cordage, illuminated manuscripts, coiled rope, tattooing, tendrils and vines; it sometimes grounds her figures against a background, like wallpaper, or it appears as signage, or it even sometimes acts as umbilical lifelines on the page as it literally “draws” characters together in the compositions. More emphatic messages might be in bold, or larger in scale than figurative elements or interior thoughts conveyed in smaller script across the same image. On occasion, text and image are separated, placed across from each other in a book spread (Danger In Düsseldorf), or on multiple sides of 3D projects. Her liberal application of hand lettering around her figures is what, in part, gives her artwork an ornamental sensibility, but two major factors distinguish her lettering from sheer unadulterated ornamentation. First, ornaments are elements that can be removed, while the object they’re adorning “remains structurally intact, recognizable, and can still perform its function.” (19) Secondly, “ornament is decoration in which the visual pleasure of form significantly outweighs the communicative value of content.” (20)
Neither definition suits Dorothy’s typography, which is a primary component in the compositions and not only invites reading for content but cues the reader in to mood and tone of the content expressed. The way she establishes handwriting and figuration as equal partners in a communicative system reminds me not only of likhiya but also of medieval Japanese image/text traditions like haiga—pictorial haiku painting—and again, emaki, a yamato-e (picture-scroll) style that “illustrates, usually with accompanying text, literary works, moral tales, biographies, and legends concerning the origin of celebrated shrines and temples.” (21) Her writing invokes reverie in the making—laboriously spelling out every word, in pencil then in ink, a commitment of each sentiment expressed twice to memory. Her writing becomes her, is textile, lyric, part of her body’s tissue as much as it is a material constituent in her artworks. The carefully designed, slow rendering of the text commits it to the artist’s memory, as I mentioned in the opening, an act of live revision like the variants in Emily Dickinson’s “scraps,” though poet/artist Jen Bervin corrects that word to call them “a sort of small fabric” in her and Marta Werner’s art book facsimile of Dickinson’s envelope poems, The Gorgeous Nothings. (22)
This essay can be read in its entirety in You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends.
17. Dorothy Iannone, “An Icelandic Saga,” in this edition, 23.
18. Dorothy Iannone, “Position Report #4: On The Continuing Journey,” in this edition, 289.
19. Trilling, Ornament, 3.
21. Okudaira, Emaki, 11.
22. Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings (New York: New Directions Press/Christine Burgin, 2013), 8.