The written word often has meaning that connects with our
humanity, beyond the time it was written. An example of this might
be the work of William Shakespeare. The deeper meaning of these
texts remains clear but often some words can get lost in
translation or undergo perjuration, as langauge evolves or
other cultures try to translate them.
Whilst making my spring series of paintings, I found myself
drawn to some words and then wanted clarification on their original
meaning. For one of my paintings I wanted to include some of the
Beatitudes from the Bible. In Matthew 5:5 are the words, 'Blessed
are the meek, for they will inherit the earth'. Why are the 'meek'
blessed? Today, 'meek' might imply a weak, tame, submissive or
The ancient Near Eastern Kings would often refered to
themselves as meek - so what is this word referring too? When a
person is unable to control or influence circumstances they might
feel frustration, bitterness or anger. Meekness refers to a person
who actively and deliberately endures undesirable circumstances. A
meek person is a strong person who when placed in a position of
weakness, perseveres without giving up. The patient and hopeful
endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as
externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and
A Secret Language Embroidered onto Fans - Alessandro
After thinking about how words change in meaning, I discovered
the artwork of Alessandro Cardinale whilst visiting the London Art fair. His
amazing sculptures are made from long strips of fabric of wood
which are carefully cut or carved and mounted together in a box. On
standing at a distance, or from a certain angle, a ghostly but
realistic portrait appears.
Alessandro's work refers to an almost lost secret, language
used by women, who were not permitted to read or write. These women
in the Hunan in China, created there own original writing system
with over 1500 characters. They used certain embroidered
fabrics and fans on which they confided to their friends their most
intimate thoughts and pains.
This series of work, beautifully suggests nature of a fan and
the idea of a concealed message. When viewing these installations,
it feels like you are receiving a private notification across a
room, that was only visible for a split moment.
Chun Kwang Young - Aggregation
As an artist I am really inspired by new ways that artists use
words and paper to make new artworks. Whilst at the London
art fair, the intricate wrapped sculptures made by Chun Kwang Young
of Korea where fascinating to me for both the quality of
craft in them as well as the originality.
The artworks are made from thousands of triangular blocks
wrapped in printed mulberry paper that form large abstract pieces.
The surfaces suggest the surface of rocky landscapes or planets,
but because of the shapes and blocks also reminded me of a crowded,
Kwang Young's work refers to the 'damaging of truth' by
governments all over the world as well as the destruction of
historical facts. The artist has taken the paper and text from
books which have lost their value and given them new life by
adhering them to the canvas. Some blocks which are both black and
have no words on them represent death and nonexistence.
To me it seems that the traditional Korean mulberry paper and
its printed content is being preserved within the artwork. It is
bound up and locked away within a beautifully crafted sculpture
that comments on the time in which it was made - a kind of time
capsule. A message to the future.
Recently, I was commissioned to make an artwork that would
celebrate the one hundredth year of Northampton
School for Girls. I used printed names to collage a painting
that shows two images - one from 1915 and the other from 2015, in a
lenticular format.. The girls in the painting look similar, but the
names are very different as the students today are from many
different countries and cultures.
Words or names are used here to mark the change in our culture
as well as preserve it within an artwork.
To read more about the Northampton School for Girls centenary
painting Click here.
As a student at art college, I first remember coming
across books that had little notes, highlighted paragraphs and even
small drawings in them. Other people had made their mark by
recording the connections to their own thoughts and ideas in the
margins, and between the lines of the authors printed
It was shocking to me that a book could be treated in this
way, but it made me realise that these pages were adding extra
layers of meaning, connected to the original book. These individual
books had there own stories to tell beyond the original intention
of the author.
Reading Between the Lines
Tucked into the white space between and beside lines of text,
Marginalia embellishes the pages of books with annotations,
corrections, connections, additions, interactions, decorations,
illustrations and often questions.
“In getting my books,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in
1844, “I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this
is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however
agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling in
suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or
brief critical comments in general.”
Medieval scribes added them to illuminated manuscripts with
intricate and symbolic pictures and patterns. Often, the scribes
had fun by adding humorous and rude illustrations which were
surprising given the subject of the books.
The Parchment is hairy, the ink is thin, thank God it will
soon be dark!
Notes in Manuscripts and colophons made by medieval scribes
At different points throughout the history of paper, the
medium has been so costly that publication was a great
accomplishment and therefore other authors would sometimes write
whole stories in the margins of a colleague's book just to be
published in some way. The physical book tells us another story
about its existence and the people that read, or used it - it has a
life of its own.
Tom Phillips - Marginalia as an Artwork.
Artist, Tom Phillips set himself a challenge to alter
every page of a second hand book which he bought for threepence in
1966. This developed into his life's work, and he has created
fascinating artworks from each page that he has made using collage,
painting and cut-up techniques. The book has a second life and a
new story to tell.
A Human Document by W.H. Mallock, was originally
published in 1892 and was transformed into what Phillips
calls, TheHumument. As with marginalia,
the work embellishes both the original printed words and often the
margins of each page. The old book remains ever present whilst the
artists story and ideas are woven in, over and around Mallock's
Illustrating Music - People Too.
The Russian artist duo known as 'People Too' are well
known for their paper craft online. In one of their projects they
use old sheet music to draw illustrations on, creating a different
kind of marginalia. These delightful illustrations show a
variety of everyday activities including dinner and dancing, work
and play which are full of life and energy.
Make your Mark, Have your Say. Be Heard.
Marginalia has been a very physical activity in that marks are
made directly on an object - a book. But on the internet,
people nearly always have the opportunity to make remarks, post
images or share ideas within a post, article or blog. We can all
contribute to the life of anything which is published on
The only difference is that we don't write or draw directly
over a page, between lines or, in the margins. Also, this kind of
'marginalia' is not as aesthetic or visually expressive. But, it is
about making those connections between author and reader, asking
questions and solving problems.
Drawings help people to work out intricate relationships
Drawing and using a pen or pencil to make a mark seems to have
a very direct connection to the way we can express ourselves as
humans. Handling a brush with wet ink, applying pressure when
shading with a pencil, crossing things out energetically, or the
sound of a pen on paper. These have a profound connection to our
body, senses and feelings. That is why notebooks, journals
and a good pen are still really desirable tools to use today.
Whilst researching this blog post I came across Bible
Journals. In these books you are given the opportunity to draw,
write and make art in the margins and on the words of a specially
So, we go from medieval monks making humorous drawings in
illuminated manuscripts to being encouraged today to using the act
of making art to connect and reflect on the word of God.
Sounds like fun!
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