Word as image

From a distance, Alice Attie’s drawings (which I came across for the first time this weekend at the London Art Fair) resemble tornados, storm clouds, funnels – swirling gray patterns committed to paper in a spidery hand. You have to get up close, practically put your face against them, to see that her patterns are shaped through minute letters, meticulously hand-drawn. I think of medieval monks patiently transcribing texts into tiny missals. The image I’ve shown here is comprised from the whole of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses, forming a continuous circle of longing, a full moon, a breast.

Do we call these extraordinarily delicate works ‘art’ or ‘literature’? Can we ‘read’ them, or are we meant to see them from the perspective of distance, so that words blur into image, become something more than recognisable letters? Can we ascertain meaning simply from the patterning of words? In answer to the latter question, yes, to some degree poetic form can make an impression before we even begin to read the poem. The reader knows a sonnet by its shape, a box to contain an elegy or a declaration of love or a meditation on devotion. The broken, indented lines of a Jorie Graham poem suggest a mind at work, the process of thought detailed on the page, with all its hesitations and diversions.

The importance of shape, of using the whole page, even the white space and its implied silence and stillness, is something both poets and artists have in common. It is this convergence that Attlie’s work explores so lyrically.

A piece which explores the links between poetry and sculpture is now on the South African web journal of poetry and photography Incwadi:

More images of Alice Attie’s work can be seen on the Foley Gallery website: