Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
Burnt Norton ll. 11-15
The rose garden in Burnt Norton, in the poem “The Four Quartets” is at the same time an illusion, a mirage, and a transcendental vision. Eliot’s Rose garden is multi layered- a construct in which author and reader are participants- even the roses are conscious. In the poem, much is expressed in the negative. There is repetition, and circularity.
An actual rose garden, real, phenomenological, is a temporal thing. The constructed, philosophical “rose garden” is a linguistic entity that conjures up a visual image. It comes with a lot of cultural baggage, such as Shakespeare’s- “a rose by any other name”, and achieves poetic immortality, like a Grecian urn. Is it immortal? Language changes: if another culture constructs a rose as a dungheap, its effect will be lost on that audience, and can only be reconstructed through study of the culture in which it was made. Yet, a rose is a powerful symbol in my culture- from its associations with Christianity (the virgin Mary), the Rose windows in churches, its amorous and sexual associations, its exotic scent Attar of Roses, its Eastern origins in China Tea roses, its analogies in poetry (oh rose, thou art sick… William Blake), its strength and thorny fortifications, its resilience against frost, yet its ultimate transience.
Can we say that a rose IS all these things? Yes, if a glass of water is an oak tree. “Until such time as it isn’t”? The relationship between the object and its associations is not arbitrary, but a complex network of analogical thinking, emotion, sensory perception, and memory. And for some, faith- that which makes the glass of wine the body of Christ.
This project, a “print from memory”, starts with a rose.
It is a rose I planted as a memorial.
The rose started to get sick, and as it has been tended, and as time has passed, it has seemed as if it has become the thing being memorialised: the two have fused, and the dead is in some sense still living. This is a personal experience, but can perhaps become my “objective correlative” for more philosophical thoughts and images that resonate as more than direct representations.
Experience- sketching. Sketching the rose from different angles at different stages revealed how it was constructed on a set of geometric principles but expressed itself in rounded, organic forms. It was both sharp and jutting, and curled and infolded. It suggested a linear construction, with branching structures, and flowing contours. Its bright yellow flowers also suggested pure colour and form.
There was movement, as the summer heat and sun was causing it to blossom and change almost visibly, turning itself out in a spiralling motion that recalled the recurring motif of the dance in Eliot’s poem. The dance in the poem becomes a motif of experience and creation, a microcosm of the turning world, which creates a still point. Spinning triangles. Whirling dervishes that achieve stillness.
The purpose of this piece, this set of prints, is to meditate on life and death, on aging, on meaning of words and symbols. To create a cycle of images that connect and narrate. To match technique/ process with ideas. To communicate a process of thought: a meditation on a rose.
This part references Eliot’s poem “The Four Quartets”, part 1, “Burnt Norton”, which begins with a description of the Rose Garden, where a transcendental moment out of time is experienced.
- Into the Garden
Copper plate etching, with chine colle.
The first image is of lines and indistinct form. The roses are emerging from among the lines: I see this as a metaphor for human experience and meaning-making, in which observation makes patterns emerge. Thorns or roses may dominate. Lines are suggesting, or obliterating, not revealing. Shape, colour, form, reveal themselves to the beholder. There is a relationship between expectation and the perceived image. Is the rose given or interpreted?
The design of this plate came almost directly from the sketches I did of a withered rose bush and its grey thorny stems. Sketching is a visible process of making meaning. Shapes and patterns emerge. The stems intertwined and created a dense and confused mass, hard to articulate, and through which it was difficult to perceive a clear sense of direction. This seemed to fit the opening idea of messy experience and gradual focus and illumination. The yellow of the chine colle paper, a soft organic tissue, contrasts with the grey thorns, soft and hard, blurry and sharp, background emerging into the foreground in a soft glow.
What I mean to say here is that the process of sketching and the use of line and form is akin to thinking and perceiving meaning.
Technically, this one could have been done using drypoint, and I’m not sure that the use of copper plate was justified, as I didn’t quite get the difference in line quality and density I was after- something resembling pencil lines. The inking was done using graphite and black to try to create a sketched effect.
Technique: woodcut, watercolour ink, chine colle
This print is made using the mokuhanga technique I learned, using watercolour and glue to make a paste for hand burnishing. The print is made on Japanese handmade paper, pasted onto the page. (And there are a couple of air bubbles which have formed)
This image is primitive, roughly cut in child-like writing, mimicking the cry of a bird with the words “quick, quick”. It is meant to evoke childhood, innocence, trust and acceptance. From a narrative point of view, it represents an invitation into the rose garden.
Woodcut has an association with simplicity and honesty through its links to folk art. I’m just hoping that the shift in style from the first image is acceptable- I’m not sure if this jumpiness works. It works in Eliot’s poetry, which is a kind of collage of references, styles and quotes- creating the effect of a patchwork of experiences which nevertheless illuminate a single idea.
I was aiming to avoid the use of actual text, but through the shapes and style, and the use of language to mimic sound, I think this is a text-object: it represents a literal calling.
Technique: collograph on perspex, inked a la poupee
This image was made with gel, string and fibres, and an actual dragonfly wing. It is meant to evoke movement and life, stirrings- flight, lightness and airiness of plant and insect life. It may be reminiscent of Kandinsky’s abstracts, with their rhythmic lines and movements. Knotted string suggests seeds and growth. As a part of the narrative it is the stage of youth and fertility. But there are suggestions of dried seed husks too, and, as in a vanitas still life, the intimation of mortality. Dragonflies are short-lived, and herald a change in weather.
Stylistically, colour and line have now harmonised better than in the first image, and the colour is a background to the lines, so that in visual terms there is an evolution. There is a sense of here and now, of quickness and life.
4. The roses had the look of flowers that are looked at
Technique: drypoint and collograph on perspex
This is a fairly naturalistic sketch, using drypoint, of the rose bush. The image was then made into a collograph using gel and folded tissue paper, then drypoint etched again, to achieve the effect of a sketch with shading. The line “the roses had the look of flowers that are looked at” comes from The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, and describes the scene in the rose garden, when the actual flowers glimpsed, before they become the “objective correlative” of a transcendent experience. It is a version of my observational drawing, and it describes what I thought I saw.
How has the print changed the image? The use of etched lines preserves the idea of drawing, while the addition of plate tone creates shadows. The use of a drypoint needle in a gestural manner after the contours of the collograph were in place dictated the movements of the lines so that they harmonised with the shapes. As a result, the scratched lines suggest movement, and the shapes start to take on a look of flames, with plate tone smudges suggesting smoke and ash, introducing the motif of fire, foreshadowing the resolution.
In the narrative sense then, this image moves forward from the last one by focusing in on the roses, giving them the look of flowers that are looked at, but also referencing their ending.
5. A Sign
Technique: combination, drypoint on perspex and linocut
This image is a drawing of a rose as a single line, cut into a Perspex plate using a Dremel tool. This is the black line part of the image. Somehow drawing in a continuous line made this a different image, more of an idea than the representation of the previous image, a unified concept, fluid. The words of the text “Oh son of God” references the religious symbolism of the rose, one thing becoming another. Likewise the text, oh son of God, references Magritte, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, using the same handwriting. It points to a lack of connection between image and text, and thus is purely a “sign”.
The lino cut, the red coloured background with cut white line, is a technically simple version of lino cutting. It is used here because it posits a cut line, a negative, as the delineation of the object, and so plays with the idea of the subtractive and the additive in image-making.
Together, the drypoint and the linocut become a combination of positive and negative, yet both are approximations: neither is an exact “fit”. The juxtaposition invites questions as to how they are related. (I was thinking of some of Ian Hamilton Findlay’s works involving image and text, where the text and the image seem to be disconnected, thus inviting the view to make a connection.) In my own mind, I am thinking about the slippages between language and visual representations which I have been discussing at some length in my essay on Xu Bing, the idea that when you understand the meaning you forget the words, that meaning resides somewhere in the interstices of thought.
Eliot’s lines “Words strain/Crack and sometimes break under the burden,/under the tension, slip, slide, perish,/ decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,/ Will not stay still.” (The Four Quartets Burnt Norton V ll. 13-17) are illustrative of his theme of the inadequacy of language to communicate thought.
From the narrative point of view, this print looks at the slippage between language and image, at the abstract nature of “the sign”, something that is invested with meaning in our society and culture in an arbitrary manner.
Technically, the lino printing is rather flawed, as there are marks of where the paper is pulled from the plate. To be honest I had never used a press for printing with lino before and possibly exerted too much pressure. Perhaps hand-burnishing would have worked better, but I’ve had poor results with solid blocks of colour.
Technique: drypoint on perspex, chine colle
“Words, after speech, reach/Into the silence” Burnt Norton V ll. 3-4
With words failing to capture “truth”, how is a sense of the numinous to be expressed? Eliot’s way of evoking the numinous, the transendent moment is, in the garden when, “..the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,/ The surface glittered out of heart of light,”
I wanted to re-present the rose in a way that made it silent, pure abstraction.
Therefore, this is an image of a church “Rose Window”: it represents the rose as pure geometry. It is exact, a representation of the idea of perfection, an analytical construct, referencing spirituality, and secret knowledge. It has lost all connection to a linguistic code. It is silent.
Here, the idea of “pure abstraction”, the pure language of the visual, as defined by early abstract artists such as Mondrian, is referenced in clean lines and measured shapes. The motif of the triangle is visible again, but now as a geometric statement, rather than the rough approximation of the first image “Into the garden” where the triangular shapes were sketches of observed reality, thorns on branches. Experience has become concept.
Technically, this image had to be clean- the lines drawn as accurately as possible, and the plate polished to a high degree. The Japanese paper was used because it was good for reproducing delicate lines.
In the narrative, then, this is the end of part 1, “Air”. This first section is named “Air” because of its movement from concrete to abstract, from the organic to the geometric, from the signified to the sign, to the symbol. The visual images portray a thought process.
This section relates to the second part of Eliot’s poem, “East Coker”. This part of the poem focuses on the physical reality of life, nature, of the passage of seasons, decay and death. The images too are more literal, representational, concrete.
- Sick Rose
Technique: Photopolymer intaglio, copper plate etching
This image started as a naturalistic sketch of the rose I planted, when it was diseased. I then abstracted the drooping petals into a more sculptural shape, and recreated the image using collaged text, somewhat in the style of a cubist painting, such as early collage works by Picasso or Braque.
Georges Braque Aria de Bach, 1913 Collage (black paper, imitation wood-grain paper) w/ charcoal and white chalk on paper
The text comes from Part 2 of The Four Quartets, and describes the process of aging, the sense of futility and powerlessness of the generation “between two wars”.
Here is the text:
East Coker, V ll. 1-18
V. So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
The extracts I chose refer to inarticulacy, to indiscipline, and to “shabby equipment” which is “deteriorating”. The collaged text was handwritten and typed, printed on transparency and etched on the plate using photopolymer film, followed by etching in ferric chloride. Some of it is open bitten, but that seems to fit. The grey layers were etched in stages, using stop out. An etching needle was used to create drawn lines. This is a quite complex, and quite messy, image. I was trying to achieve different depths, with the written texts at an angle, overlapping as if on a desk. Technically this was not entirely successful. I didn’t achieve the levels of grey that I had hope for, and need a lot more practice on the timing of the ferric chloride immersion, and must pay more attention to the difference in timings between my chemical mixtures in Hong Kong and in France. I had planned this to be a much clearer layering of blacks/ greys.
The shapes and layout evoke a map of the middle east, specifically the Gulf area, and so add significance to the reference to the poet being “entre deux guerres”. In the centre, there is a black spider-like shape, from which all emanates. It is both doom and the possibility of regeneration.
2. Ash on an old man’s sleeve
Technique: Photopolymer intaglio on perspex
This image was made by drawing onto a transparency and exposing it on photopolymer film that had been laminated onto perspex, then cracking and splitting the film to make a distressed image. Plate tone is left to give an impression of age.
I’m not sure which one I prefer so have both here. The title “ash on an old man’s sleeve” is part of a line:
“Ash on an old man’s sleeve/Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.”
which I chose to reflect the subject matter and style, evoking decay, death and dealing with remains. It references the roses of the image in Part 1, so is here for narrative coherence. Stylistically of course, it is similar to the series I did earlier “Greying”, which used the brittleness of perspex and exposed photopolymer film to evoke fragility and decomposition.
Technique: Collograph and etching on perspex
This image was made using torn cloth and string, as well as gel materials, on a perspex plate. It was done experimentally- I have not had too much practice at collographs, so this whole set was really an experiment with the technique, as I wanted to explore different kinds of mark-making using both raised and etched surfaces. It was meant to be abstract marks, but came out with quite a clear, to me, image of destruction, of a war-ravaged landscape, of survivors fleeing. When I look at it again though, I can also see something like a hunting scene. The animal/ human shapes may be interpreted as either in profile, alive, or as flat, dead. Either way, it evokes despair and hunger I think, and I added the word “North”for a couple of reasons- to suggest fleeing to less hospitable places, likely cold, and also as a piece of wordplay on “thorn”. As such it relates back to the images in air of roses, and thorns, and of summer- it is a contrasting image to “Summer” as the participants in this one seem to be ragged, bedraggled victims, fleeing- the colours, movements giving out contrasting messages to the earlier image.
I can’t really claim much in the way of planning in this one- it was intuitive. I really like the effects of the different lines though, and see a lot of potential for this type of collograph. Perspex works well for making marks , and the gel is very versatile. The only problem is that it has a limited life, and the gel peels off with too much washing and rubbing, so changing colours isn’t that easy.
4. I was with blood bedewed
Technique: Collograph with carborundum and etching on perspex
Thorn symbol on distressed background- runes- reference to passion of Christ- I was with blood bedewed.
I tried this one several times on copper, but decided to go with the collograph technique again. The torn up scsrim that I felt had been effective on the last one I reused, and this time I had an image in mind. The symbol in the middle, made with carborundum, is the runic symbol “Thorn”, and the runic writing etched at the bottom is translated as “I was with blood bedewed”. (This is a subject I have worked with before in my first Printmaking module.)
This is again, wordplay- the thorn obviously relates to the rose images in part 1, and to the rose theme in general, while relating this to a runic rendering of a poem about the “rood tree” and the crucifixion, makes intertextual links to the religious layers of meaning alluded to already, and to those in Eliot’s poem.
The notion of the “sign” is again referenced, with the fact that the symbol “thorn” looks like an actual thorn, and may be derived from that, much as Chinese characters in their earliest incarnations, were drawn form naturalistic forms.
The thorn in this image is also naturalistic as it seems to be snagging the materials around it- again these evoke insects or decaying vegetation.
The image in the middle might also be read as a primitive rendering of a human, a standing figure.
(I’m wondering if this should go in part 3 now, with its reference to the passion of Christ…)
5. What are the roots that clutch
Technique: Collograph and chine colle
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/ You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ a heap of broken images”
Eliot, The Wasteland I The Burial of the Dead, ll 19-22
This image uses collograph, string, paper, gel, salt grains and earth, with torn newspaper, to represent a sense of a decaying civilisation, as suggested in the lines above from Eliot’s The Wasteland.
In the narrative, it follows from the previous image in that it transitions from the rood tree to the earth with its dead roots.
As a print, I like the linear quality and the texture created by the materials, while the chine colle newspaper is really embedded into the paper, as if trampled down. It is a quite literal represenation of “stony rubbish” except that the newspaper is a metaphor, implying a decadent civilisation as represented by its media.
6. My ruins
Technique: Photographic print, cyanotypes on stone/ tiles.
This was an experiment in making cyanotypes on broken shards of tiles and flat stones. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t, but as a result I had a pile of legible, semi-legible and illegible shards, that nevertheless were unified in their colours and have the appearance of the same origin.
The marks on the tiles are drawings of roses, words and lines of the poem, The Four Quartets, including the words “Rose” and “Thorn”.
The link to the text and the narrative is clear: I was interested primarily in experimenting with making prints on different materials, and this seemed a good way to explore the idea of a ruined civilsation, while also echoing Eliot’s “words strain/Crack and sometimes break under the burden”.
This was another use of the collograph plate, involving cutting it into shapes after it had been textured. This was planned and I had a clear idea of the composition I wanted, but I had overestimated the control I could have over how the plate would cut. In the event, it was quite brittle and snapped, so I couldn’t get the rounded shapes I was hoping for.
My plan here was to suggest a burial site- a shape that suggested a buried corpse- the bones suggested by the texture of the plate. It was curled up in a foetal position. I had to adjust this and instead combined three shapes which I felt still evoked fossils and buried remains, but arranged them in a way that might also suggest something crawling crab-like out of the earth. The sun shape suggests a setting, decline, as well as perhaps copper, brass, objects that might be placed in a burial.
That is the end of the section “Earth”. This should have been an evocation of the physical, the material- and their decay and corruption.
Part 3 FIRE
This part relates to Part 4 of “The Four Quartets” Little Gidding, which forms the resolution. It ends in pentecostal “fire”.
- In my end is my beginning
Technique: Combination collograph/ intaglio
The words “in my beginning is my end” repeat throughout the text, emphasising its circularity. These words evoke birth, death and inevitability, as well as summarising the journey the poet is on, which brings back to the beginning only to “know the place for the first time”.
This image is made by superimposing over the collograph from part one (The roses had the look of flowers that are looked at) an intaglio print made in the shape of a goblet, or grail, drawn with the repeated words from the poem “Ash on a old man’s sleeve is all the dust the burnt roses leave”.
The shape of the goblet mirrors the opening out composition of the flowers, marking them as equivalent- as they grow, they also decay: they accept their destiny. They seem to be sacrificing, making an offering. The image also evokes fire, as if the roses are burning from the single black drawn stem.
Technique: Photopolymer etching
Words again, the words, which are signs, ROSE and THORN, reappear. The texture of the print makes them seem to be formed of smoke or dust. Again, there is a reference to the funeral pyre or sacrifice. There is also the reference,again, through the connotations of roses and thorns, to the passion of Christ.
The image is indefinite, transient, formed of smoke. It is evocative of the “death of words”.
I will confess the effect here is due to the fact that my photopolymer film was damaged. I decided to use it anyway.
Technique: Intaglio etching, chine colle
This is an image showing the life cycle of a rose. It is done in the detailed style of a botanical text, dissecting the stages. It is a scientific image and would entail destroying the rose. At the same time, although the image is of a dissection and portrays the view of rational analysis, it is also rather sexual. It points to sacrifice as a part of regeneration.
This was done on perspex with an etching needle, traced from a botanical illustration. It was meant to evoke an earlier style of understanding nature- scientific curiosity in the service of understanding nature.
It was printed on fine Japanese paper to capture the detail.
4. What is is what is not
Technique: Copperplate etching, aquatint
This is a copper plate immersed in ferric chloride in stages to create an aquatint of different blacks/ greys, then finally immersed to the point that the copper was eaten away to create negative shapes. The image was of growth, a rose bush, with blossoms, but had to be fairly simple to undergo this kind of process, where any detail would likely be lost. Therefore my sketch simple portrayed intertwining stems, using levels of dark/light to suggest overlap, and simple blossom shapes. The copper I was using was relatively thick at 1mm, and what resulted was layers of erosion, which means that there are some grey shadows on the white parts, where there is still a layer of copper.
The white of the paper suggests frost or snow, making this an opposition to the summer roses of the first part.
The negative shapes are embossed, thus creating another level of positive/ negative imagery. The roses then are the negative shapes: they emerge, but at the same time are nothing.
I chose the title to express this inversion of positive and negative, and it also echoes much of the tone of Eliot’s poem, in which he frequently uses negative statements, in search for what words cannot express, the idea of finding the meaning after the words are gone. Again, this is a thought process that echoes in Xu Bing’s work, and resonates with Zen Buddhist thinking as discussed in my parallel project.
This can speak of death and regeneration, but points to a place that is neither, as suggested in the final part of the poem:
“This is the spring time/ But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow/ Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom/ Of snow, a bloom more sudden/ Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,/ Not in the scheme of generation./ Where is the summer, the unimaginable/ Zero summer?” Little Gidding ll 14-19
5. In my end is my beginning
Technique: Combination collograph, intaglio
This is the same print as the first one but with the intaglio plate inverted to look like a funeral pyre, implying that the roses are transformed and “reborn” as flames from the pyre. This is quite close to the ending of the poem.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
Little Gidding V ll. 1-3
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Little Gidding V ll. 42-46