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Rima's Wall

conté and pastel on paper
175 cm x 870 cm

Notes on this work

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The Artist at Work on Rima's Wall
Photograph by Anne-Katrin Purkiss, 1992

Discovering themselves to be on the rim of a circular chamber they moved toward the centre. No words were said. Each part of the savage design randomly picked up by the bouncing light of their torches and helmet-lamps gave out a silent roar. Soon they were in the centre of the smooth dry floor, their free arms each about the other's waist. Still without a word they were slowly turning like a paire of icedancers acknowledging the applause around a rink. They blocked no ray nor cast a shadow. All their light shone on the wall illuminating it in slow sequence. The wall, as they turned, ranged past them with its seamless parade of urgent dancing signs where volute met chevron, wheel pursued star and arrow chased arc. Nothing was regular: patterns that threatened to gather suddenly broke into scattered curves and dots, that in turn somehow reformed as striped and jagged waves to drive the rhythm on.

The most ambitious of all these drawings has been Rima's Wall, which in 1991/2 grew, over the space of about a year, from a single autonomous sheet to a continuous set so long that I could only have half of it up on my studio wall at any one time. I recongised the original impulse to be the same as that which led to the Language Drawing of 1963, which, though less than a thirtieth of the size of Rima's Wall, seemed itself at that time challengingly large. Except for the use of colour the mode of working had hardly changed over the intervening years: nor had the sense of exploration.

The cue for extending the drawing on this scale was the chapter in H. W. K. Collam's Unhaunted Comma which describes the discovery by the heroine, Rima, of a cave beneath the villa belonging to her lover, Vellinger. In the story the symbolism is fairly straightforward: as the plot unfolds the somewhat Proustian Vellinger initiates Rima (via a series of rooms in his mansion which each exemplifies a differenct aspect of the cultured life) into his world of exquisite refinement. It is Rima however who, out potholing with Fritz, the violist in Vellinger's private quartet, uncovers the earthier depths of this structure; a primeval arena of sensual dance and sacrifice. The wall of the cirular cave is covered with an unbroken sequence of enigmatic signs. Having entered through a narrow passage they glimpse in the beam of their helmet-lights the fragments of a huge design...

Since their lights hit only the middle section of the savage cyclorama the markings tracked upwards and downwards, swallowed in the gloom like receding voices.

The only purely literary element I borrowed was this last part of the description. I imitate the fading into darkness at the top and bottom of the drawing since it reminded me of that experience of discovery by illumination that I have had in caves and subterranean tombs.

The drawing was not made in strict sequence: it leapfrogged toward it present size. The single sheet which innocently started the whole thing off becamse a pair of unlinked drawings. I put these up on the studio wall with a blank sheet between them. This I worked on to unite the three. This triptych did not wait long before a fourth independent drawing was produced. I put the last sheet of the three and this new drawing on the wall, interposed a blank, and repeated the procedure. Thus I now had a sequence of five. I then made a drawing which I considered to be a suitable end sheet for the extreme right. This in turn I set up with the last sheet of the five and two blanks between them. When these were finally completed in January 1992 I had the series of eight, which with some apprehension (having never seen them together), I got my assistant to put up along a wall of my other studio, half a mile away from where they were made.

Rima's Wall, though a finite object as it stands, could self evidently be continued in any direction either in actuality or in the viewer's imagination. Thus in one sense it is a fragment that hints at a more compleate realisation of Collam's cave, an enclosing environmental version yet to be made.

Work and Texts (1992), pp. 102-103.

See also an interview with Tom Phillips about the influence of El Greco on the making of Rima's Wall.