Go To The Limits of Your Longing
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is widely recognized
as one of the most lyrically intense German language
poets. As a musician, the profound lyricism of
Rilke's writing has always inspired me, particularly
his Letters to a Young Poet. (ex: “Be patient toward
all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love
the questions themselves…”)
The lines I chose for this calligraphy piece are
from The Book of Hours which Rilke wrote between
1899-1903. It consists of three sections that focus
on St. Francis and the Christian search for God. The
words are taken from the first section of The Book
of Hours, which is entitled The Book of Monastic
Life. (The other two? The Book of Pilgrimage and The
Book of Poverty and Death.) The collective title of
this masterful work of Rilke’s comes from the books
of hours with which all we calligraphers are
familiar: the illuminated breviaries of the late
Middle Ages, that combined religious edification
with art containing prayers designed to structure
the day through regular devotion to God. I have made
many pilgrimages to The Morgan Library in NYC to
study tiny, exquisite masterpieces from France and
Belgium and enjoy doing my own versions of
illuminated Books of Hours but New Orleans style!
You can understand how I would be drawn to another
type of book of hours. The study of Rilke and his
works are endlessly fascinating for me and a rich
resource for any calligrapher!
The piece was done on BFK Rives paper, using
watercolor, acrylic and gouache. I first covered the
paper with multiple glazes of transparent
watercolor: burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, indigo
and quinacridone gold. Then acrylic molding paste
was added for dimension and texture.
Acrylic glazes were then added atop the dried
paste using the same colors, in addition to Van Dyke Brown. I also
used some new spray acrylic I have in flame red. LOVE that color! It
was very important though that things didn’t become too dark so the
different layers of color would be able to speak. |
The illumination at the top was inspired by a design of William Morris
(another hero of mine!) and was done in 24K gold leaf with gouache in
indigo and red ochre. I wanted the calligraphy to be loose on the
page, purposely avoiding a symmetrical layout. The hand is one of
Reggie’s spectacular creations and something he had us recreate in
class. I love the elegance of this hand and the beauty of its variety
of shapes. There was not much about this calligraphic piece that was
planned out ahead of time but I did know I wanted to use this script.
I wrote it in my favorite gouache, naples yellow, with a Mitchell nib.
When all was arranged, I then took out my trusty, battered old
toothbrush and sprayed the piece with a fine mist of gouache for added
texture and added a variety of different sized dots of 24K gold leaf.
Last, but certainly not least, I picked up my stove lighter, took a
deep breath and set the bottom of the piece on fire! Amazing to see my
artwork burning up! I had wet rags at hand to douse the flames…!...
and then finally arrived at what you see here.
Why fire you ask? I suppose my response would have to be that some
drama is definitely called for when God is speaking!