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The Cloak Of Mercury

pastel on paper
150 x 124 cm

Notes on this work

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Speaking in Tongues
Charcoal, conté & pastel
155 x 215 cm

The multiple mythologies of writing and language play a part in this work. Chief amongst them is the story of Mercury and the Craneskin bag. Mercury is doubly the Messenger God in that it is he who delivers the gift of writing to man. He carries the letters in a bag made from the skin of a crane, that bird which in its linear skeins of migrating flight seems to spell in the sky. Thus in two respects the word comes from above, where the Bible tells us it has been from the Beginning. If present day science and sacred mythology are both aspects of the truth the Big Bang was The Word.

Also from above came the mysterious gift of Pentecost, the Speaking in Tongues, as well as the parallel curse put upon the builders of Tower of Babel still held as a one-word metaphor in the term 'babble'. The Cloak of Mercury is an interlacing maze of marks from which all the configurations of alphabet can be derived and to which in the end they will return; when the last word on earth has been written.

There are letter forms and modes of writing that have never been taken up, as in the pseudoscripts and metacalligraphies that occur in A Humument, and in the series of drawings called Pages where I tried out the visual tropes of languages I do not understand.

The alphabet that we have now is no less magical. Its Greek ancestor, developed by Aegean traders from a Phoenician syllabary, was brought, as some scholars maintain, to sudden flower near Chios three quarters of a millenium before Christ, so that Homer might sing forever. Writing, scraping, drawing, incising and painting these letters is always for me a ritual, almost devotional, activity.

Works and Texts (1992), p. 98.