Artist: Stephen Vincent

Artist Stephen Vincent stopped by our store to show us his beautiful projects. He will be doing an exhibition May 6 – May 28 at the Jack Hanley Gallery on 136 Watts Street, New York. Here is a note from the Artist.

HAPTIC: Under Brandenberg Gate on our Khadi 210S paper

An “Artist Note” on the early accordion fold “haptics” book projects.

I am a poet and artist with a professional career in directing publishing companies with a focus on poetry and fine art books. In the seventies, Momo’s Press books, which first introduced the work of such poets and writers as Ntozake Shange, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Hilton Obenzinger, Beverly Dahlen, and Jessica Hagedorn, were distinguished for a commitment to strong typographic, design, and production values. In the eighties, Bedford Arts, Publishers, became internationally recognized for conceptually distinct catalogs and artist books, including a series of collaborative accordion-fold works with original art and/or photography that included books by David Park, Roy DeForest, Miriam Schapiro, Mark Klett, and Christo.

During the past couple of years I have been exploring various environments through a drawing technique that I call haptics.

Haptic: Pertaining to the sense of touch, from the Greek word haptein, to grasp (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

The pieces are not “drawings” in any conventional sense. They do not employ perspective, volume, figuration, or other traditional elements. The drawing process is built around listening closely; pieces might equally well be called soundscapes, in that I am drawing through, with, and in response to sounds.  I work with a variety of pens–primarily with black ink.

In the literal haptic process, I become as alert as I possibly can, so that my senses are touched and moved by the particular and multiple sounds emerging from various locations–whispered conversations, feet shuffling across a museum floor, traffic (police and ambulance sirens, horns, construction equipment). Other chance erratic sounds might include chatter, yelling, banter, teenagers playing with and/or harassing each other, bird chirps, helicopter engines, snatches of music from car radios, wind, and other ambient sounds. My hands, fingers, and pen work to register and transmit the rhythm and duration of diverse sounds into marks. In this process the page is not approached as a narrative space, working from top to bottom and side to side. Instead the sounds draw the pen to various parts of the page. The pen is pulled to concentrate on one part and then “hop” to another. The marks may or may not interweave or pile atop, or ricochet against, or keep separate from one another. As the immersion in space grows more dense with marks (or not), a figurative spatial music emerges, which, in turn, may animate and draw out various movements. Formally, and for reasons I cannot explain, each haptic takes place within a loose, vertical rectangle with top and side margins, the boundaries of which respond in shape to the force and flow of the interior marks. The pieces never break through these edges to conjoin, for example, with the edge of the page or into the work of an adjoining panel.

As much as music, the haptic process may be compared to dance, in which the pen forms an elastic partnership with the environment, or, alternatively, the occasional staccato rhythm of the pen tapping marks on the page becomes not much different from a drummer playing with and making a visual response to the sounds in the environment. Each piece is done without pre-meditation; each panel can take from 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

The Haptics, New York City is an accordion-fold volume with work on 21 panels, each separated by a blank panel. With front matter, the book comprises 46 double-backed panels, each measuring 4.75 x 7 inches. Unfolded, including covers, the piece extends to 19 feet.

The drawings were done over a period of six days in a variety of City sites, indoors and outside. An index sheet indicating each location, with day and time, is housed in a pocket inside the front cover. Conceptually, the intent of the piece was to let the drawing process register sounds while taking several days to meander from Uptown to lower Manhattan. Each site was chosen by either calculation or chance. After I got going, for example, I knew I wanted to see what I could hear from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. By chance, however, I went from that particular site to listen and draw at Heald Square, at the very noisy intersection of 6th, 34th, and Broadway.

The project started on a Friday evening “A” train ride from 215th down to 87th. Over six days, the sites would expand, among the several to include a late morning at the top rise of the spiral curve in the Guggenheim Museum, an afternoon in the galleries of the Lorna Simpson show at the Whitney Museum, Central Park covered with snow in early evening, and a mid-morning overlook of the East River at 84th Street. At 5 pm on Monday, for example, I went from a bench in Canal Street Park to the Ear Inn bar at 6 pm, then to an evening reading at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project. On Wednesday at 10:30 am I found myself at the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge from where I made my way to the World Finance Center at 11:30 am, then to the World Trade Center construction site at 12:30 pm to draw the final panel

The Haptics, New York City is one of several accordion books works that vary in location from the San Francisco Bay Area, Bilbao, Spain, the Yucatan and Richmond, California where I have made a work in response to the breathing sounds of my 94 year old mother, napping!, and include both accordion-fold works and, increasingly, large flat art and sculpturally shaped pieces. The flat art works sometimes make a macrocosmic reflection on the accordion-fold pieces.

Occasionally, I also work with musicians to experiment with the haptic process as a means of responding to various indoor and outdoor environments. Recently, for example, I worked with Ann Hamilton, sculptor, and Brenda Hutchinson, sound artist, to make pieces in response to Hamilton’s Tower, located at the Steven and Nancy Oliver sculpture ranch in Geyserville, California. Those works, The Tower Haptics Accordion Folds, and Tower Haptics, were acquired by the Oliver family in the spring of 2008.

Stephen Vincent


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