JOHN VERNON LORD
THE ABSURD EVENT
APPROACHES TO ABSURDITY IN ILLUSTRATION
(A brief talk at the 10th Illustration Forum at Falmouth Friday 9 March 2012)
(most images can be enlarged - then use your back button)
Albert Einstein once said that – "If at first the idea is not absurd there is no hope for it." At such an absurd event as this we must consider, now and then, before and afterwards, why there is something or nothing somewhere somehow that we may be unaware of in the way that matter matters. It is all dependant upon the degree to which we can find out a true meaning that underlies a whole range of issues to do with tissues - and the shallow depths of significance and context. Opinion on these matters is rather like peeling the layers of an onion; the one causes the weeping and so does the other.
My thesis today concerns the balance between a consideration of whether it is right to estimate, or wrong to conjecture, the differences between - reality and fantasy and nothing and something, anything and everything. For I believe the sense of one thing can be the nonsense of another. It could, of course, be a rude addition to erudition.
Now, in this paper, we could examine 'a dirty bus', something we are all concerned about. I could investigate whether a dirty bus is in fact only really filthy to those who know what cleanliness is. But I am not going to. Why not?
As our examination proceeds we shall find our attention focussed more and more on less and less. And, you will see that our best departure will be to go to nowhere at all. The longer I talk, the shorter it will be to get to the end. However, before we do this we must ponder upon a number of issues that relate to tissues and sneezing. 'A tissue' is often required when you go 'a-tish-oo', that wondrous onomatopoeic sound for a sneeze.
Two drawings by JVL ('It might as well be round') 1991 and 'Medici spaghetti') 1983 Fire without smoke or flames is uncommon and it makes you wonder if there is any anger without peace? Some people don't care a fig where a war is. Peace packs a far greater punch than war. Spaghetti needs someone to eat it. After all there would be no truth without lies - and for weakness to exist there needs to be a degree of power and strength, as death is dependent upon life. A purr needs a cat in the same way as a bark needs either a dog or a tree - barking up the wrong tree for instance (the right tree at that) or indeed the left tree, or even up a gum tree. Where is the smell without the nostril? What can a kiss do without any lips?
If nobody is around to observe, or hear the sound of a nose drip from the snout of an aardvark splashing upon a leafy forest track of rhubarb– how do we know it happened?
Tracey Emin & Leonardo da Vinci
We have been told by Freddie Mercury that 'Nothing really matters'. And furthermore, we have heard in another Pop lyric that 'Nothin' ain't worth nothin', but it's free'. Do we really believe that remark in a Beatles lyric that 'Nothing is real'? Yes we must agree that nothing is indeed real since Porgy said some people have 'plenty o'nuttin' and plenty is a lot. Nothing has 'no night' in it, as an anagram.
Tracey Emin - Drawings for merchandise
If I say that 'nothing is better than a nice cup of tea' – why drink it then? For I have already said that nothing is 'better than tea' so it would be better to drink no tea.
Let us consider emptiness as a representation of nothing, such as spaces, gaps and holes – those apparent nothingnesses that are vital somethings.
The holes in our bodies serve distinctive functions. Think of the mouth, the ear-holes, the nostrils, and other orifices (which won't be referred to here). We must remember that 'constipation is the thief of time and diarrhoea waits for no one'. We must consider marvellous moments of duodenums and pancreases and the alimentary tract and respect their ever-so-helpful hollow functions. So, we must not avoid a void.
Here we see a series of black images. The top three are examples by illustrators, which were produced well before 'fine' artists ever thought of producing such images. Merian's etching (top left) of a black square is 300 years earlier than Malevich's painting (the image below it). The artists - Reinhardt, Rothko (next to Malevich's on the bottom row), as well as Albers, Rauschenberg, Motherwell, Newman, Kelly, and a host of other artists - all followed the black-painting syndrome like black sheep.
Laurence Sterne The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1st ed. 1759-1767) and Gustav Doré:The History of Holy Russia, 1854. Double page spread from a 1783 edition of Laurence Sterne's . Doré - 'L'Origine de l'histoire de Russie se perd dans les ténèbres de l'antiquité.'1854.
Here we have two spreads (on the left) from the 18th century novel Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. The top blank page one represents an illustrative pause in the action of the novel. Below it we can see a marbled page placed in the middle of the book for confusion, since marbled pages were usually placed as end papers at each end of the book.On the right we see a group of blank illustrations by Doré from his Histoire de la Sainte Russie, published in Paris in 1854. Doré found a passage of Russian history so tedious that he didn't want to weary the reader 'with a plethora of dull sketches'. We must try to give substance to emptiness, and become delighted when a plot may thin as well as thicken. Most unlike his usual illustrations. The red splodge illustrates the dreadful reign of Ivan the Terrible.
In the early 50s Robert Rauschenberg had been working for some time at erasing his own images - 'not just by deleting certain lines … but by erasing the whole thing'.
The original version of Duchamp's 'Fontaine' 1917.Andy Warhol 'Tomato Soup' 1968.Carl André – 'Equivalent VIII', 1966 and Piero Manzini 'Artist's Shit' 1961
A urinal, two layers of bricks, the replication of a soup-tin design, and a tin of human excrement, we have been led to believe, are among the finest artefacts that have sparkled the world of art, having scintillated and deeply moved the minds and hearts of art connoisseurs and other enthusiasts.
When 'Art' and its artefacts are printed in a book, a catalogue, or a magazine, or electronically, or digitally - suddenly they become illustrations. It is important to emphasise this.
It all depends upon whose fingers are in the pie or whether there are peculiar pomegranate pips inside it, or if fingers can swim in a square swimming pool. Things might slip through one's fingers or get wrapped round a little finger. You can put your finger on it - and some won't even lift a little finger to help. In this case someone should pull one's finger out to rescue them.
Here, on the table, we have a small vole's brain neatly perched upon a golf tee in an aquarium full of formaldehyde and next to it is a knot attempting to sing a particularly difficult aria from a mid-period Zemlinsky opera.
Lewis Carroll once wrote: 'We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality'. End of quote. It is normal that absurdity takes place in dreams. The events that take place in dreams appear to be sense rather than nonsense. The dreamer accepts, without question, the kind of madness that so often occurs in them. If everything is mad in a dream the dreamer thinks that nothing is mad. The noise in a dream doesn't exist outside the dreamer's head.
Four beds. Rauschenberg, (1955). Gianni Pisani (1955). Van Gogh (1888). Tracey Emin (1998).
From dreams to beds, where we spend a third of our lives (say around 20 or more years), where we dream, sleep, make love, and also lie in, when we are ill or lazy. Should we not praise the importance of bricks, urinals and beds? Of course we must, for bricks build houses, urinals provide relief, and beds assist rest - and other things. It's like sort of kind of, well you know, what I mean like.
We must respect insects buzzing about, and enjoy the moments of seeing fish sleeping snug in a bed in a room where the wallpaper looks like a dot-painting. We must be aware of what we cannot see, as well as what we cannot hear, nor smell, nor taste, nor feel to the touch. We must enjoy the noise of silence and praise tantalising ambiguity, and delight in anything that eludes our understanding. We must be guilty of our innocence so that we can swallow the frankincense of nonsense. We must focus on the blurred and - allow sweet mysteries to remain mysterious. We must look rather than see and listen rather than hear.
Like Carroll's Alice stories Joyce's Finnegans Wake is a dream. Here is some of it: 'The Gracehoper was always jigging ajog, hoppy on akkant of his joyicity, (he had a partner pair of findlestilts to supplant him), or, if not, he was always making ungraceful overtures to Floh and Luse and Bienie and Vespatilla to play pupa-pupa and pulicy-pulicy and langtennas and pushpygyddyum'…
JVL - Two illustrations for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (drawn 2011). '… the pixillated doodler, is on his last with illegible clergimanths boasting always of his ruddy complexious! She, the mammy far, was put up to it by him, the iniquity that ought to be depraved of his libertins to be silenced, sackclothed and suspended, and placed in irons into some drapyery institution'.
'An Acrobatic Snail' - photograph taken in Bishop's Stortford from 'Wild About Britain' website, July 2006
So -it is incumbent upon me now to summarise and come to a collision, (despite it not being summer). We might seek an abundance of abandoned cummerbunds. However, since the sun has risen, I must raise the issue of armadillos somersaulting down corridors, with pillows, to inspect the ceilings and the flaws in the floors - to alleviate the curious carbuncles in their toes. For it will be then, and only then, that we will be able to hear the blast of trumpets echoing in the toadstool glades and bless balloons and boomerangs that don't return. Then it will behove us to believe in the banality of bent bananas, thus causing our elbows and kneecaps to wonder why. Then will the scent of mildewed leaves induce the setting of the sun - and insist upon the rising of the moon.
Oh lavender and porcupines. As you know (and the Daddy Long-legs and the Fly know too) - today is today, as well as the day after yesterday - and the day before tomorrow. And today is also yesterday's tomorrow, or tomorrow's yesterday. It is most impressive the way that yesterday consistently comes a day before today and just two days before tomorrow.
"The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning, in other words, of absurdity - the more energetically meaning is sought".
Thank you for listening.
© John Vernon Lord