This winter I began a series of drawings that were made by following a very specific procedure. I wrote down steps to be followed on a card. To start, tear a page out of a book and set it down on the worktable to make the first quadrant of a rectangle. Next, tear another page from a book and position it to form a second quadrant of the rectangle and glue it in place, and likewise for quadrants 3 and 4.
The unwritten rule was that I must decide immediately where each page should be placed in relation to another, and to the greatest extent, to avoid prolonged deliberation. I wanted to make drawings that worked with basic elements of drawing in as direct a way as possible and, for all of the complications, to remove the handmade mark from the process. It seemed collage would be a good approach.
The paper came from books and other printed items I had purchased from street vendors and thrift shops. As I worked, each sheet was selected for the typeface and density of tone, color, and drawing of the text on the page that would fit into the mix.
Often I would begin early in the morning and soon fall into a rhythm, making one drawing after another, attentive less to the distinction between starting and stopping work on each piece than aware of the process of continuing work.
This process felt somewhat like yogic breathing exercises I had been practicing, the objective to concentrate all attention on the act of inhaling, then exhaling, in a repetitive cycle, and let all other intention and desire fall away.
At times I would begin to see myself working, almost as an observer, detached, watching myself make decisions without there being a need to intervene or “decide.” When applying glue a sheet might shift out of place, and if I tried to move it back would find that the initial location had been perfect, and could not be exactly recaptured. And the solution to this disruption–the correction–was not to try to fix the error, but instead to remove the sheet and start again, perhaps a different piece of paper, and make a fresh placement. This knowledge became part of the way I approached life painting, better to accept that something of character lost is unique, and start over.
Eventually I added steps that deviated from the inital procedure so that the process became less and less predetermined, but I still was able to hold onto that initial impulse to work directly, and stay out of my own way.