I fell in love with Jerry Shawback’s art a while ago, so I was very excited to discover a new joint project he was embarking on with poet Renée Sigel. The Shawback Redemptions is a stunning pairing of art and words, lines created by pen that spell out images – some in the form of letters, some representational, the edge between them not always apparent.
Placing words and images together is always difficult. We are used (especially post Damien Hirst) to seeing words explain images, or images illustrate words. What we are much less used to is seeing them blend and blur, flow at tangents from one another, be separate yet part of the same whole. This is what this project has achieved, reminding me of the pages of Michelangelo, the magical interdisciplinary works of Erik Satie.
skilled to the flinch of red
inked arbitrary to heights
of demeanour and cadence.
Stoic, the musculature promise
of manly dreaming: solstice
and an armoury chivalrous
to the dance of words….
the honing ground of boys, men
and fatherhood engraved
of that eye: vista’s seen
and unread for the sodden mill
of honour gathered to the press
of like minds to the thin
fold of loyal linen ….. rouged.
It was a pleasure to speak to Renee and Jerry and ask them about the purpose of the project, the process of it, the obvious delights and possible dangers of working in this way.
1. You make a big point in your principles of keeping your works separate, tangents from each other rather than collaboration. Can you explain why that’s so important?
RS It is big point, not out of principle, neither an emphasis on keeping the works within separate tangents, but, because the point is that the separateness is the natural confluence of the collaborative process, as contradictory as it may seem at first. I had seen Jerry’s work through Twitter and initially resisted the compulsion to respond to them poetically: I was hesitant to infringe on his visual landscape. When I discovered his self-portrait series projecting his image over the coming decades, I found his relationship to line and colour so richly interwoven with a sensitivity to the human psyche, that I wrote him and asked permission to write a improvised piece based on that series. Seeing the immense power of these images, I simply had to explore the way his work had begun to ‘speak’ to me. That first piece is the poem POSSESSION, which has remained as the Prologue to The Shawback Redemptions. Jerry asked me to write more pieces to his drawings and so I sent a small selection to see what he made of them. As I began to respond to one drawing after another, the conversation with his draughtsmanship deepened with my own, as if entirely of its own accord: as if there was no ‘need’ to be consciously setting about creating the same work in the same space at the same time, as most collaborations begin and unfold. There is this innate discourse happening outside of the context of physical separateness and exploring its own organic structural and emotive dimensionality beyond the literal presence of either of us.
JS: From the moment i read the first line of POSSESSION ( the smut of line to colour, smudges a cross the eyeline of ownership ) i felt like i was entering into a new conversation One that could go on effortlessly for some time. As more pieces came it was apparent that the layered depth of Renee’s writing gave a new voice and broadened the vocabulary my work.
A ) why is being separate important –
JS:i think this keeps the work more than just illustration i think it remains in the realm of an emotional responses rather than on the level of intellect.
RS: Jerry’s point highlights a crucial element of causal effect. while the aim is not to maintain distance of artistic separateness, I think it is a crucial context to the understanding of this intense dynamism at work within the powerful unity the works express as a singular entity, precisely because the physicality of producing the art and the poetry happens on opposite sides of the globe, at moments of which the other is totally unaware…. the importance lies in how it highlights the strength of the technical and emotive unity of how we both see through one another’s artistic eyes…neither of us are interested in being illustrative, of the other; that would be utterly self defeating. That we come close to achieving such qualitative consistency is the magic of the entire collaborative experience. We’re constantly upping the ante one each other with each completed piece…
2. Do you think there is a likelihood as the project progresses that you will become hyper-aware of the fact that you are working together, and do you think this will start to affect the work you create? Would that matter?
JS: there is definitely an awareness on my part that we are working together on this project but i do not think it is affecting the way i produce my work.
I have a huge body of work to choose from and am very prolific so i don’t think it matters.
RS: I think we were both very aware of the collaborative connective tissue from the moment POSSESSION spoke for us both and is precisely why it works so well. It does not hamper or restrict our process; if anything I think it nurtures it. if there is any impact it is only in the best possible sense. So, no I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that it makes me that much better a technician.
3. I guess that leads to a general point about awareness and awareness of awareness in art and whether it’s a good thing or not
JS awareness and observation always changes any phenomenon even in art – i think what we are creating will be something all together new better than the work is separately.
RS: That notion makes me smile. reminds me of really real reality..what is that really? It can be a typical pitfall of vanitas and often easily leads to a certain flawed arrogance in art,creating something technically proficient, even technically very skilled, but cold and utterly soulless. The distinction to me is being aware of process while cognisant of an excellence of execution as something one strives towards as part and parcel of why one is driven to start over with an empty page or blank canvas and go through the agony from scratch, over and over and over again. Awareness of awareness in art i think can be a poison or a gift.. it comes down to which, one takes more seriously, the apprenticeship or oneself.. I’d like to believe that with this project, the awareness of awareness prevalent to both Jerry and I, lies in our primary respect for the project rooted in our mutual respect for the other and that we seek to explore in a freely improvisatory way, the intuitive, intellectual and evocative facets of being human, through our mutual medium of ink.
JS I work very spontaneously with an emphasis on communicating emotion intuitively while still making an effortless depiction. I believe this pares well with Renee’s exploration through improvisatory way of writing thus creating something with an exquisite well formed refinement.
4. And a more specific one about separateness and blurring, and how this happens and changes over time…
JS I hope that the blurring over time of the separateness which may be inevitable will allow for a different direct creative expression that will add to but not detract from our project.
RS: a reader commented the following: …. I almost feels like the poem draws the image writes the poem… and the verses reach where the drawing can’t go, and vice versa. A powerful connection, and a beautiful piece…. This, for me, best sums up the intimacy sparked between our different artistries., it is that which speaks so vividly to readers and connects one to the other. What I find so pleasing is to see that my instinct about the natural intricacies of two different ways of depiction, speak with the same sense and eye of skin. And it is this very human element that is the reason I chose to to call this idea the Shawback Redemptions. Each time an artist creates, we write love letters to God in invisible ink and in so many ways, for Jerry and I, our artistic collaboration becomes a love letter to life in very visible, very human ink. And like any close relationship, the blur and separateness become the lifeblood of change and nurtures how we grow.
JS in the collaborative process, a significant part of its appeal, is the unfolding of shared work over time.
Makeshift the homeless
to whisper its lament
in the belly of an eye.
A gazewards knowing
lilts the soil of slow
decline into silence
… or solitude.. or
a parcel of unidentified
Lonely that keeps company
between booze and experience
as the radio blares
an unread bibliography
backwards to the sky…