AT YOUR SERVICE
Paris. Fashion.The A-List. Last week I saw a bit of all three.The Belgian fashion genius Dries Van Noten asked me to do some social calligraphy. Not my thing, normally, but for Dries! The brief was to write the names of the guests on their plates. One hundred plates, list ready just a few hours before the dinner.
In the first room of the exhibition “Obedience” by Saskia Boddeke in the Jewish Museum, Berlin, an immense wall is covered with the words “I am Isaac” and “I am Ishmael” in a dozen languages, as if written by children. To achieve the necessary naivety in the writing, I resorted to the old tricks: eyes closed, left hand, back to front, and so on.
The Golden Room in the exhibition “Obedience” by Saskia Boddeke in the Jewish Museum, Berlin. Texts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam describing the Sacrifice of Isaac in red calligraphy on golden walls. In the foreground, glass cases with manuscripts from the three religions, open to the relevant pages.
Just back from Berlin, where I spent an exhilarating and exhausting week covering the walls of the Jewish Museum in calligraphy for an incredible exhibition curated by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway on the subject of Abraham and Isaac. Saskia takes a bold and controversial approach to the most troublesome story of the Old Testament, presenting it from the viewpoint of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
TOWER OF BABEL
Last week I was back under the lights for opera director Saskia Boddeke, wife of Peter Greenaway. She is creating an installation for the Jewish Museum in Berlin on the subject of Abraham and Isaac. The story is central to Judaism, Islam and Christianty, so I was asked to write the relevant passages in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. The team had devised a new writing table, which allowed a length of paper to be pulled past the camera while I wrote in a fixed position.
Staying with the theme of wounded books for a moment, I present this collage called Bellerophon, made a couple of years ago. My good friend Caroline Neve de Mevergnies, who is a book restorer, gave me a box old end papers and blank sheets culled from a number of books dating back several centuries. I marvelled at the subtle colors, ranging from beige-greens to ivory-ochres.
ARTS FESTIVAL DAMME
I have made a couple of installations for the summer arts festival in Damme, near Bruges. They are not typical of my work, but probably still typical of my approach. Here are a couple of shots of one installation, a skeleton house I built with the help of my friend and rowing partner, Koen DeVaere.
A MOMENT OF SIMPLE BEAUTY
Living in a medieval house has its benefits. We have 14th century wall paintings in our dining room.Every now and then people ask to see them.Today it was a group of singers rehearsing in a nearby church for a concert of early music. I showed them into the room and left them in the hands of their capable guide, Marjan Buyle, who restored the paintings in the 1990’s.
MAKING SENSE OF MIMESIS
For several years I have engaged in an email exchange with the young French scholar Karine Bouchy, who just completed her doctorate in Paris on the gesture in contemporary calligraphy and art. I described to her an experience I had in Samarkand. After visiting endless madrassas and mosques, all decorated with exquisitely patterned tiles, I went to a pre-Islamic building and suddenly saw a fresco of a human face.
A DASH TO MELBOURNE AND BACK VIA DOHA
Just back from Australia, where I taught one of the most talented groups of calligraphers I have ever encountered. The trip was squeezed in between projects in Belgium, so I had no time to see the country, but it was worth it nevertheless. Two classes in five days, each with surprising results. The great reward of being a teacher is to survey the work of your students and say, silently, “I wish I had done that!”
DOCUMENTS AND DOCUMENTARIES
Those early lessons in medieval script are still coming in handy. Here is a set dressed with a whole archive of “medieval” documents. And yes, you guessed it, Henry VIII again, and the wicked Cromwell. The timing is poignant for me. I am working on two installations for a summer arts festival in Damme, near Bruges.
CORVEY ABBEY WINS UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE TITLE
Three incredible days in Corvey Abbey near the German town of Höxter in Westphalia. Charlemagne founded the monastery and constructed the great Westwork as his throne room. From here he governed the eastern provinces of his empire. The building still stands, and has just received the title of Unesco World Heritage site.