(A brief talk at the 10th Illustration Forum at Falmouth Friday 9 March 2012)


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JVL – 'A tissue is not to be sneezed at', 1987

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.


Butterflies at Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam & statue of George Washington by J-A Houdon in London 2011

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.
What is right for one person is left to another. The rights of one may be unequal to the other and what they may write may be wrong.
You may, of course, only be capable of perceiving this if you are able to detect a gleeful-looking Lepidoptera-kleptomaniac on a London tube train on the Jubilee line on early Sunday evenings in late July. Or by observing George Washington balancing a pumpkin on his head.



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?
Because I am more interested in examining the nostrils of mature tadpoles in the ponds of the upper reaches of contemporary Mogadishu, and how these compare with much earlier ones which were avidly collected in Mesopotamian marmalade jars by the children of Tristan de Cunha in the late 18th century.


JVL photos – A tissue, a 'Found' Duchamp 'Bottle Dryer' & Fontaine and Ad Reinhardt black painting, 2011

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.
It is incumbent upon us to realise that a solution needs a problem - and an answer needs to have a question. Can indeed a sandwich lack bread and is it possible for rain to have no drops, one wonders? Why only one wonders? Why not two?


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?


JVL notebook drawing 2011 (Leonardo da Vinci – 'Vindaloo and Rice')

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?
This neatly brings me to the subject of 'nothing'. After all, none other than Leonardo da Vinci said that – 'Among the great things which are found among us - the existence of Nothing is the greatest' 'Vindaloo and Rice' is a glorious anagram of 'Leonardo de Vinci'.


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.
It is the same thing as saying – 'nothing is more exciting than watching a football match'. You might as well not watch the football match, for you have already admitted that 'nothing is more exciting'.
Be glad all ye folks - for if 'nothing will solve a problem' then it is already solved because our friend 'Nothing' has found a solution.
If there can be more than something is it possible that there is such a thing as less than nothing. After all 'Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little' declared Epicurus.


Polomint, doughnut and a sculpture by Henry Moore

Let us consider emptiness as a representation of nothing, such as spaces, gaps and holes – those apparent nothingnesses that are vital somethings.
Berthold Brecht wondered what happened to the holes in the cheese when the cheese had been eaten. Similarly, where does the hole in a Polomint go once it has been sucked? It has been said that J.D. Salinger's favourite food was the hole in the doughnut – the confectioner's equivalent of the sound of one-hand clapping.
What would happen to a Henry Moore sculpture if the holes were filled in? All forms need space to move about in and so that we can see them. The spaces and pauses in between the notes in music are just as important as the notes themselves.


JVL 'Duodenum & Pancreas' and 'Inside a Head'

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.

Six Black Images – Merian, Sterne, Doré, Malevich, Reinhardt & Rothko. Matthäus Merian - 'Et sic in infinitum' from Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minores metaphysica, physica atque technica historia. Oppenheim, Hieronymus Galler for Johann Theodor de Bry, 1617 (Pt.1,1 p.26).

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.


Robert Rauschenberg – 'Erased de Kooning drawing', 1953

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'.
Using his own work for rubbing out wasn't really satisfactory so he hit upon the idea of approaching the artist de Kooning, who obliged him by giving him a drawing which he particularly liked and would positively miss if he parted with it. So Rauschenberg took de Kooning's drawing home. It was 'done with a hard line, and it was greasy too'. He spent a month rubbing out the drawing, using up to 15 different types of erasers. Rauschenberg liked the result and he hung it up in his studio. Some of the faint lines are still discernible on the paper and the inscription beneath the work reads - 'Erased de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg 1953'. Does absence truly make the heart grow fonder? Can we reconcile that statement with 'Out of sight out of mind'? Is the mystery of what we cannot see an exciting one?


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.
Duchamp's piss-pot and Manzoni's poo-tin (not the Russian) each sold for around a million pounds at Sotheby's in recent years. Is there an absurdity here? Art about 'art'. Are these the oranges of a suspicious species?


JVL 'A sheep in Derbyshire', 1970

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.
Sooner than never, or later than earlier, the dark light might undertake to overtake us. We may well fall up and rise down, and land with a thump into the sky, smiling with a frown. Should we not reverse forward and let the bag out of the cat rather than sinking down to the heights?
Followers of innovators usually engender a kind of dull convention. Trendiness is merely the beat of a humdrum - and is entirely unoriginal. Keeping up with fashion is the dreariness of woolly sheep following sheep. We must honour the sheep that stands alone.


JVL – Fingers – Five drawings

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.


JVL 'A Vole Brian and Sing Knot'

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.
As for chopping up cows, sharks and sheep in sections; 'no matter how thinly you slice the meat, it's still baloney'. Why is it that there are - rock and pop artists, make-up artists, Brit artists, trapeze artists, graffiti artists, comic artists, tattoo artists, modern artists, ever so fine artists, amateur artists, striptease artists, con artists, and even piss artists - but the only people who are not artists are the 'mere' illustrators?



JVL – 'Pudding' and 'Lamb's leg' for Looking Glass.

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.


JVL – 'Fish in bed' for Looking Glass.

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.


JVL – 'Ondt & Gracehoper' for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (drawn 2011).

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.
Therefore the gladdening of the hearts of woodlice will prevail over anything that didn't happen before the cartwheeling, and tightrope antics, of an acrobatic snail.


JVL – 'The Daddy Long-legs and the Fly', 1984 and 'An Eyepod' 2008.

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.
I have nothing to add, or to take away. Nevertheless it will never do if less is more than a few, or more than many. Everthemore, I say, that nothing is indeed something, and quite often something is nothing. For this is why 'Mine ghost' is an anagram of 'something'.

Václav Havel once said:

"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