Haiku poems connect an inner realisation to something noticed in the external world in just seventeen syllables. The reductive editing of forms, and a sense of the interior landscape intersecting with the external landscape are central to my own visual language. And I've often associated abstract painting with the eloquent brevity of Japanese haiku.
The Visual Haiku was the name of the first open call exhibition I entered work for, via [a-n] Artists' Newsletter in 2001. I was thrilled when they took three paintings. Two Bowls, shown here, was one of them.
There's something about working with a set form that enables improvisation. Tweets, knock-knock jokes, waltzes, fugues, limericks and sonnets all impose structure within which to work. By restricting some choices, we search deeper and wider within the boundaries of a set form.
Contemporary haiku have loosened things up a bit, but there is no literal analogy in my paintings for the measurable rigour of traditional haiku. There's no seventeen-point structure in three phrases, and no signalling the cut or transition in meaning. I've been using haiku as a metaphor for abstract painting, with abstracted and reductive brush marks standing in for the minimalism of the form. But could I design a more haiku-like painting process?
Would limiting the means sharpen up the mark-making, when every mark has to count? Could I make work with just seventeen marks, unedited? Would counting marks while painting be really annoying? And what counts as a mark, anyway?
And what about changes of mind? In my process-becomes-form type of painting, earlier workings show as traces of what went before, as the workings used to show in a good maths exam. Haiku poets must do as much crossing out as any other kind of writer. But the crossed-out words don't count in the final tally. I erase as much as I add, so would barely-visible ghost marks count?
Project Visual Haiku: can abstract painting be visual haiku? Or just haiku-ish? Come back soon to see.