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I also Draw (1961) Shuzo Takiguchi

Recently I was asked to write something about the fact that I had started "drawing" and although I have been putting it off for months I now find myself in the position where it can be postponed no longer.

The fact is that for my part, drawing is actually supposed to act a substitute for a certain percentage of my writing so I find it very depressing when I am later asked to write something about it.

I must admit that when I first started drawing, it was my implicit intention to do so at the same level as when I write. This was an important theme for me and when I worked on my sketches, I made a point of noting my mental condition at the time. This was meant to provide me with hints for my "writing" but these notes were apt to remain blank (the words being omitted) and seldom achieved a degree of finish which would allow them to be published or alternatively they were not suitable for publication. Upon reading this, you may consider drawing a rather presumptuous activity, but it is not and that is why I will now try to write something about my sketches in a similar vein to that in which I discuss them with people.

In March of last year I happened to buy a sketchbook and placed it on my desk. I tend to be a slow writer and often find myself confronted with a pad of blank writing paper lying forlornly on my desk. At these times, I find the contrast between the lined writing paper and the blank sketch paper most striking and one day a desire that had long been smoldering within me raised its head.

Using my customary fountain pen, I began to draw lines, lines which were neither writing nor depicted any particular shape. At first these were simply straight lines then I progressed through slightly tremulous lines, confused lines, painfully constricted lines, jerky lines, lines that tried to demarcate like coastlines, dashing lines, coquettish lines, and aimless, nonsensical lines, managing to fill several books with them.

After a while, I abandoned blue ink for black Indian ink, but I did not forsake my fountain pen as this allowed me to draw extremely long lines without running out of ink. I say draw, but in actual fact, the lines I produced existed somewhere on the borderline between writing and drawing and I am unsure as to which verb I should use, this uncertainty doomed to hang over them forever. I know that I should be able to differentiate between writing and drawing according to conventional use of the words but that is a subject for an another day.

I mentioned that I replaced the blue ink with Indian ink, but the truth is that I am loathe to abandon blue-black altogether. Blue-black can be described as being the color of the sky in Hell and I find it has a strangely tranquilizing effect on the mind. Lines, lines, lines... drawing all these lines in this way I discover strange, continuous, almost automatic lines suddenly begin to make an appearance on the paper. Meandering, serpentine lines, like a rope being twisted in the air, they quickly descend the page. The speed of this game fills me with a thrill of excitement. I do not know exactly what sort of game it is, but the resulting constricted lines possess a power of almost sexual seduction. What is more, the lines appear to take on human form with a head and body.

I repeat this line game, until eventually I tire of it. I do not know from where within me this structure of lines comes. It forms a distinct calligraphic style that emerges when I least expect it. I abandon myself to the exploration of these lines that are neither writing nor drawing, although I must admit I have a remarkably strong fascination with written characters, particularly ideograms and frequently catch myself beginning to write a certain type symbol almost without being aware of what I am doing. Writing this has reminded me of an experience I had before I took up this kind of experimentation. Several years ago the painter, Georges Mathieu, visited Japan and the night before he was due to arrive at Haneda airport, I took a sheet of writing paper and filled the page with random marks resembling cursive script, as if I were writing a poem, and then for a title I wrote in French "A Present for Georges Mathieu." When he arrived at his hotel, I presented him with the paper. He thanked me for the gift and asked me to translate it for him later. I replied without thinking, saying that it was impossible to translate and a few days later when I met him again, he smiled, saying simply; "I understand." It was the first time I had met him and I did not intend this merely as a prank, rather I felt it would be an appropriate greeting for a western artist who likes to describe his work as being both symbolic and calligraphic.

I never dreamed that this unconscious method of ink drawing would later reincarnate itself as it has, although I suppose it is quite possible that this early example was quite unconnected to what I do now.

While I was making repeated sketches in Indian ink, I discovered how to use water in a glass to blur the lines and by so doing was able to turn the Indian ink back to blue-black again. I use the sponge that I keep to wipe my pen in place of a brush and I have yet to use a brush in any of my pictures. This sponging is merely a supplementary technique but the gradation that can be achieved this way is indispensable to attain a feeling of depth in the lines. No, I would go as far to say that although the surface of the paper may appear either lively or dead, it is imbued with movement and interest for the first time through the addition of water. Suddenly, something will appear like a phantom in the most unexpected place before abruptly withering away. At other times it is like a lifeless puppet that suddenly comes to life and begins to speak. While I am causing all these rapid changes within the confines of the sheet of paper, I often feel a need to flick through the pages of my sketch book. I do not have the patience to wait for the ink to dry before moving on to the next page so I use blotting paper instead. In its thirst, the blotting paper consumes the spirit of the picture while it is still writhing on the paper, but at the same time it plays the attractive role of fixing the entire image in one fell swoop. For this reason I like to prepare bait for the blotting paper to take.

Anyway, as I keep turning the pages and creating new sketches in this way, the results inevitably end up taking on the form of series. Rather than work on a single tableau, I carry on working in sequence, as if turning the pages of a diary. Two, three, even ten or more series may appear on a single page. They are all independent sketches, but interconnected to form a series. Despite having no time for ideas of composition, I realize, with a bitter laugh that in some respects there is something of the artist within me. It would appear that the confines of writing and drawing have become hopelessly mixed.

I am a member of the Art Critics Federation and so my mind is filled with other people’s paintings. If I were to paint a picture, I wonder what kind of work it would be. This is a question that exists within me but I must stress that when I started my sketches I had absolutely no intention of wanting to paint a picture or to become an artist. If this had been what I wanted, I am sure that I would have become confused and unable to continue anything. I realize that in this essay I have failed to differentiate fully between the words “write” and “draw,” particularly as recently a lot of my pictures can be said to be quite artistic and it is silly for me to make excuses or pretend that I do not draw, but I like to try to adhere to my original motives. In fact it could even be said that if there is any merit at all to be found in my sketches, it exists only in this motivation. When I feel the impulse to sketch, I believe it is important that I capture it directly. What is more, I like to give this impulse as much freedom as possible. In particular, I try not to allow myself to be influenced by the fact that I am considered an art critic. My first thought is to confirm to myself the simple fact that I, like the rest of mankind, possess a hand capable of creating sketches. I must admit, however, that none of these considerations cause me any worry when I am actually sketching, they are merely something that are applied afterwards.

In October of last year, I held a small exhibition entitled, From My Sketchbooks. For the first time I removed several dozen pictures from my sketchbook and passed them to somebody else and as a result of exposing myself through the medium of an exhibition in this way, I discovered another meaning of "drawing." It occurred to me that I myself was contained within those small scraps of paper, that I could be seen crouching there or romping around in a wanton manner. At the same time, my position as a "critic" became a terrible weight that seemed to press down upon me, causing me to try and push it away, it was unbearable!

However, I eventually managed to cast all such thoughts aside as being irrelevant. The tiny pieces of paper were being launched into the world and I decided to watch and see if they would turn blue or red like litmus paper.

Recently Sam Francis saw one of my "works" and declared it to be a "self-portrait!" It was a most succinct review and I like to believe that it means the work is neither better nor worse than I am myself. Faced with a thick wall of paintings, I do not flinch and my hand continues to work. I try to progress. It represents freedom of action, no matter how small and, freedom is always necessary.

*Originally published in "Geijutsu Shincho", Shincho-sha, May 1961
Translated by Gavin FREW
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