Sunday, March 8, 2009

a wish come true...

To say that Denis Brown needs no introduction in the world of calligraphy is a tremendous understatement– if you have heard, seen, googled, or in any way accidentally stumbled over anything to do with the black art of writing, you will have encountered the wondrous works of Irish master calligrapher Denis Brown. Right now (and we mean literally - RIGHT NOW) his newest series of works is premiering at Gallery 13 in Hollywood (opening night is March 7 – yep, that's RIGHT NOW)... we are honoured that Denis is granting Calligraffia a privileged glimpse into the making of his newest works....

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

Ronnie: Your new '1000 wishes' series of work is extraordinary – where did the idea of a collaborative project come from?

Denis: Gallery 13 in West Hollywood Los Angeles have been showing some of my glass art pieces since last year. The current group exhibition has a theme: "Botanica: nature up close". Some of my earlier pieces had incidentally looked a bit like dandelion seed heads, so I decided to develop that image to fit the botanical theme. Of course dandelions are associated with the culture of blowing the seed heads to make a wish, so I thought to ask everybody to e-mail me their wish, and I'd write them all into my 3-D glass engraved images. It seemed a new and interactive way of sourcing text. Typically calligraphers reach for a quotation book and that can often result in work with facile levels of textual engagement on the part of the artist. Likewise, writing out work of the hallowed greats of poetry has become rather old. In this project I was excited by the idea to let my audience write texts which I promised to transcribe before really knowing what they would send me. I wanted to get people thinking about words and text and expressing their feelings- all simply through e-mail.

R: Tell us about some of the more 'interesting' wishes?.. were there any wishes that made you do a double take?.... just how many wishes have you had turn up in your inbox? (and have you used all of them in the works?).. yes I know that's more than one question!

D: I've titled the series 1000 wishes; so far I have received several hundred- difficult to know precisely how many, since many mails express more than one wish. I'm still seeking more wishes, towards that round 1000. The wishes are of all kinds- some related to personal and family desires, others of a more national or political or global nature. Some are religious and showed me that a wish and a prayer may be the same thing. Many are predictable enough even if sincere and important- world peace, and that kind of thing. Some are in languages I cannot even recognize, never mind understand. Some are very private and I should not reveal them.

In this project, I think the purpose of the text is more in the writing of it by the wisher than in the reading of it by the viewer. In my works almost all wishes are illegible, secret. I don't want to reveal too much. It is not important for others to read a person's wish, but I hope it is helpful for the wisher to release their wish, to express it, not hold it inside. To let it go. For the viewer all that is necessary is to know that many many sincere wishes are implicit in each work.

I will offer one interesting story where I helped make 2 out of three wishes come true for one lady in Finland. She had explained that her first wish was private so she wrote that one in Finnish. Her second had no explanation: she wished to see her friend Yukiko again. And for her third, she wished to take a workshop with me somewhere accessible to her in Europe. I have a course in Germany in March and knew that a Yukiko had booked to come from Japan and that this Yukiko had previously visited Finland for other workshops. I didn't know if it was the same Yukiko, but after I confirmed it, the wisher booked to attend the same workshop! Two out of three wishes will come true easily. Well that is just a coincidence, but I know her first wish, the private one, is the most heartfelt.

I sense that many of the wishes I received could possibly be made come true by the wisher's proaction. Take the wish out of your heart, write it down. Put it in your mind. That part has already been done by those who sent me a wish. Next, if you are serious about it, then what are you going to do about making it real? This applies to those who wished for world peace as well as those who wish to find their soulmate or whatever. Now you've made the wish, what will you do about it? So many wish for world peace but do nothing. If we all can make peace with someone, or between two people, then the world is a little more peaceful.

R: What a gorgeous thought! - I love the idea of the work potentially inspiring a move from wishes and dreams to actions and deeds.... so did you notice a certain common mood or theme emerging amongst the many wishes from around the globe?

D: I suspect most of my wishers are reasonably well off and are not left wanting too much. It has made me think that next, instead of emailing, I may go onto the streets of the cities I visit with pen and paper and ask the beggars and the homeless to write me their wishes. But I still like the idea of e-mail, since it brings that state of the art means of textual communication back to its scribal ancestry and interweaves manual and digital and shows that both may be expressive. But for the sake of a broader range of wishes, I think I need to address very different categories of people, including people without an e-mail address, or any address.

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

R: Rich and poor, digital and manual; those are interesting dynamic opposites – your idea of bringing them together in calligraphic work is certainly intriguing... but am I right in saying that has been an ongoing interest of yours?

D: Digital and manual, certainly. Rich and poor, this is not something I've thought about before I answered your last question! So that may be a new beginning. The word digital derives from 'digits' which originally meant fingers, and then later became associated with numbers through the signing of numerals with so many fingers (which is the origin of Roman numerals). Now of course digital is associated with the number crunching power of computers. Most calligraphers are unfortunately scared of technology, but manual and digital are etymologically as connected as fingers to a hand! (Latin: Manualis, manum= hand,; Digitalis, digitum= finger or toe). I have been inspired to take digital texts like e-mail, barcodes and SMS text messaging and relate them back to their scribal origins. On the broadest level, the integration of opposites seems a key to harmony. Artists have known this aesthetically, engaging with dynamics of dark against light, form against emptiness, big against small, motion against rest etc. And most of life's problems are due to inability or failure to integrate opposites. Some wishes I received aspire to such integration in varied contexts.

R: Like many people, I won't be able to get to see these wonders in the flesh; the computer screen will be my only viewing opportunity and I'm sure it doesn't capture the full impact of the work - Your pieces appear to have a certain dimensionality and physical depth that the screen can't adequately portray - could you tell us a bit more about the materials and creative processes in the series...

D: The works so far are all the same size of 12" by 12", and almost 2" deep. That depth comes from spacing 4 sheets of glass slightly apart over a background image on paper. I engrave the writing on the 8 glass surfaces (since each sheet has two sides) so as to approach a hemispherical appearance. I'd need much greater depth to actually achieve a full hemisphere, but there is a real three dimensional aspect towards a ball shape.

(Denis and the creative process - not your typical calligraphy pen!)

The lettering is simple enough and not like traditional glass engraving by calligraphers, which laboriously copies a drawn design onto glass. Mine is a direct process of writing with no pre-drawing, no roughwork. The letters are simple mono-line skeleton capitals written with quick strokes of a diamond tip spinning at 60,0000rpm. The tool holding the diamond burr is similar to a dentists drill, and is powered by a large air compressor kept in the adjoining room to my work room. Very careful inspection of the originals can facilitate reading of the wish engraved on the frontmost sheet of glass. But all others will remain concealed. One can catch a word here, read a word there; but these books will remain closed even though they are transparent.

R: I find it somewhat piquant that your series, which contains so many personal yet anonymous wishes and dreams, is premiering in Hollywood – where so many flock to fulfill their dreams of fame and fortune and to live their lives firmly in the spotlight....

D: Touché! Gallery 13 is in the heart of the film industry in Melrose, West Hollywood. My association with the gallery came in an interesting way. I e-mailed the gallery to introduce my work after an Irish friend then living in L.A. told me she'd been impressed by this gallery specializing in Irish art and suggested I should show there. By bizarre coincidence (or not), simultaneously gallery owner Linda Brunker e-mailed me, before reading my mail, but having had my work recommended to her by L.A. media promoter Barbara Ratner, who had also arranged workshops for me for the Society for Calligraphy. Linda later visited my home here in Dublin and we took it from there. The gallery are interested to have me do a one man exhibition plus associated live demonstrations, presentations, workshop etc. This may depend on funding and they are applying for grant aid.

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

R: Ahh behold the power of 'wishies'.... Do you have any plans to continue the series beyond this exhibition?

D: Absolutely. I've already mentioned above that it's still a long way to the 1000 wishes of my title and of how I may try to enlist a broader range of responses, eg by asking homeless and poor people to tell me their wish. Maybe also schools, old folks homes, hospitals. Even though wishes I've received to date are from 6 continents, I get the impression the social demographic of most of my wishers is middle to older aged people of middle or upper middle class. I'd like to broaden that, though I'm still asking for more wishes by e-mail also. Since my original request for wishes, your country (Australia) has faced a huge natural disaster with the fires in Victoria. I'd be interested to have some wishes after that, from anyone affected. But all kinds of wishes are still welcome and may be e-mailed to me.

R: Thanks Denis for your time and energy - it's always illuminating to gain a greater insight into that magical and mysterious creature: the creative process. I'm looking forward to witnessing the evolution of your series....

D: Thank you Ronnie, and I hope your blog attracts many new readers and stimulates a lot of discussion!

(Denis Brown - 9 works from the '1000 wishes' series)

'Botanica: nature up close' is now showing at
Gallery 13,
8302A Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood
CA 90069

more gorgeous images from the '1000 wishes' series can be seen at quillskill

and don't forget you can still send Denis your wishes for inclusion in his ongoing series

all works reproduced with permission - please see our copyright policy

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