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50 Drawings



50 Drawings.  Guy Davenport.  New York: Dim Gray Bar Press and Barry Magid, 1996. Unpaged with a 3-page "Introduction" followed by 50 black and white plates, a 2-page "Index" and the Colophon.

"50 Drawings was printed at the Center For Book Arts in New York City by Barry Magid in an edition of 100 copies, each signed by the author. The type was set in Adobe Lithos by Jonathan Greene, and both the text and the drawings printed letterpress from polymer plates on Johannot Paper. The binding is by Campbell-Logan Bindery in Minneapolis.

This is Copy [ 60 ] -- [signed]  Guy Davenport"  (Colophon)

From the Introduction:

"All of my drawings for the scholarly magazines Arion and Paideuma were thrown away after being reproduced.  One of them took a hundred hours to draw, and I was paid for none of them. Others have been mutilated by the whim of designers. Hundreds of others, mainly caricatures and cartoons, were sent with letters, and probably no longer exist. When Barry Magid suggested that he gather up my complete drawings he meant the complete drawings I've done for my own books, two of Hugh Kenner's, and the magazine covers and decorations. . . .

It was my intention, when I began writing fiction several yeas ago, to construct texts that were both written and drawn. In my first work of fiction, Tatlin! (1972) [sic, in recté 1974] I drew careful replicas of works by Vladimir Tatlin that exist only as poor reproductions. These were meant to be as much a part of the story as my narrative and required more time to do than the writing. No critic has commented on them, as seeing and reading are now alienated. In Da Vinci's Bicycle (1975) [sic, in recté 1979] the story 'Au Tombeau de Charles Fourier' has a drawing for its first and last sentences, and there is a parallel text of drawings inside the story.

I continued this method right through Apples and Pears [1984], in which I constructed images that a Dutch philosopher had pasted in his 'Philosophical Sketchbook.' The designer understood these collages to be gratuitous illustrations having nothing to do with anything, reduced them all to burnt toast, framed them with nonsensical lines, and sabotaged my whole enterprise. I took this as a final defeat, and have not tried to combine drawing and writing in any later work of fiction. There are printers and designers who see what I'm up to, and Leslie Miller's beautiful edition of The Bowmen of Shu [1980] is perfect and beautiful example of realizing a text that is both writing and drawing, as is Cary Wilkins's edition of my August (1986).

Writing and drawing , distinct as they are, must converge in their root-system in the brain. By the time they are being done they retain their origin. They are both making the creation of something out of nothing. Writing is done with words (bringing all the senses, together with memory, into play), dictionaries, notebooks, pencils, a typewriter. The ground is silence, or what silence there is in this world.

Drawing, or painting, requires hours of continuous work. A square inch an hour if I'm cross-hatching or stippling. But it is strangely free work. I can have a conversation while painting, can listen to music or the radio while drawing. I am incapable of sitting still and listening . . .

Writing must be done in small amounts. I draft passages in notebooks, revise them, and make the final drafts on the typewriter. My speed is about a paragraph a day.

Drawing, or painting, however, is a continuous activity. It goes on for hours and hours. I am reluctant to complete any picture. Writing I am anxious to finish, impatient; it is not my medium, and I doubt it at every turn. Drawing, however, is comfortable; i know what I'm doing. I am also more protective of it, and sensitive to its neglect. I am almost enured to my graphic work's eliciting no response whatsoever. I tell myself that seeing has become what the psychologists call flat affect in our time. In several courses I have tried to teach an appreciation of art (a course in Monet, another in Vorticism, others) to discover that students have not been trained to understand style in any medium, and therefore sit in hopeless ignorance before a Van Gogh, a Hokusai, a Grant Wood.

For style is everything. It is not, as Buffon said, the man; it is the work. It is also the work's genetic heritage. The artist is a technician whose teachers go back to Lascaux. Around age 12 I longed to get effects with Woolworth construction paper and India ink that Whistler got with burin and and acid on copper. If our real debts had to be paid (they don't, all things acquired by the spirit being free), mine would be to Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien. I have actually been in only two drawing classes: those of Mrs. Milda Bouleware, in Anderson, SC, when I was a child, and learned there to copy old masters in oils. This was called 'taking art' (girls took piano, boys art). the other was in the studio at Bryn Mawr of the wonderful Fritz Janschka. I was teaching at Haverford and asked Fritz if I could come to his life classes. The first session was hilarious. Fritz had never seen any of my work, and probably thought I only wanted to ogle the model, a comely Bryn Mawr girl in a bathing suit. I did a charcoal drawing as well as I could. All the other students were doing 'interpretations,' triangles and smudges and lopsided ovals. 'Himmel!'  Fritz said of my drawing, which approached in it's way the style of Norman Rockwell.

Fritz's students were appalled ('grossed out' in their Latin), and were even more unbalanced when I began bringing along a model who posed for us in the nude. Fritz is now retired from teaching but not from painting and drawing. He lives in Greensboro, NC; and after a lapse of some years we have begun corresponding with letters full of sketches and with photos of our paintings. He is, as far as I know, the only real artist who thinks I 'have a line' and might amount to something if I work hard enough. The only praise is faith.

I believe in absolute values, and am not deluded about my drawing. Meister Baldung would have admitted me to his studio but would not have signed a certificate for my membership in the Guild. As the splendid poet Guy Clark sings in 'Picasso's Mandolin,'

In coloring books and drinking wine,
It's hard to stay inside the line

Well, I can stay inside the line. Hokusai and Tao Chi would consider me a barbarian. But as someone said, it's not the text but the texture of experience that counts. I cannot see my work any more than I can read my writing; what I see in either is the sweet time spent making them, the transforming, line by line, of blank paper into an image."  (Introduction)


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