Pandora herself couldn’t make such a mess. The Blue Box has to be opened slowly, but even so, 35 years of calligraphic sketches explode onto the floor.
I’m not sure how this started. The Blue Box arrived from Houston halfway through the 1980s filled with chocolate mint Girl scout cookies (used to be my favorites before the Belgians taught me what chocolate actually is), Hook ’em Horns coffee mugs and who knows what else. The Blue Box became an archive for my earliest calligraphic experiments and has accumulated deep archeological layers since then. If you tip it out on the floor, the oldest sheets are my trials for “Prospero’s Books” and an SSI exhibition called “Fine Words, Fine Books.” Layer by layer I am reminded of all the projects I have done over the years, some good and some pretty awful. How could I think THIS was worth printing? Oh, did I really do THAT? Not bad.
Way back then designs for print were pasted together and retouched with Dr. Martin’s Bleed proof White. Remember that? Back then I still thought I might master copperplate – someday. Those early sheets are enough to show that it was not going to happen. Look here, some Trajan caps! OK, let’s check ’em out. Mostly acceptable, but not a decent O among them.
Suddenly a very exciting layer in this inky archeology: Burgert arrives in London to give a workshop. My work changes in a flash. Out go crisp, clean broad nib letters. In comes the weird and wonderful world of Burgertian organic forms.
Another invasion, another layer of dust and ash in the archeological record: The Pillow Book Period has arrived. Piles and piles of experiments show just how difficult it is to make a good composition on the human body. A slight smell of grease paint and Shiseido lotion permeates the layers of paper. I shake my head to think that 25 years have passed since that astonishing commission. Has anything since then been able to compare? Short answer: yes, plenty. Here are the sketches for the letters on a 24-ton bell for Paderborn Cathedral. And here the logo design for “A Brush with Silence.”
Up we go through the years, past film projects, architectural monuments, installations, operas, and exhibitions. If you found the Blue Box in the sands of the Gobi Desert you would be able to reconstruct a whole life, maybe even a whole period of history. From the Blue Box you would think that the culture that left it behind held calligraphy in high regard but was not quite sure why. The Blue Box is full of questions and entirely devoid of answers. Every sheet is a maybe, a what-if, a no-that’s-not-it.
I think I’ll leave it that way. The layers go back into the box, carefully preserving the archeological record for…………..the recycling bin?