Sign of the Logos

Artist's Books
Related Materials

A Retrospective Exhibition
of Sol Invictus Press

November 19, 1998 - April 16, 1999

St. Mark's Library Special Collections
The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, New York



The Image- Words of
Sol Invictus Press

Beyond Borders

Exhibition Checklist

Painting, Image,






Sol Invictus Press


Self-portrait of the artist
with his wife, Myriam
S. P. de Arteni

Beyond Borders


SOL INVICTUS PRESS books celebrate the importance of multicultural art forms and interaction. They consider connections and influences among the contemporary visual arts, modern East Asian interpretive calligraphy, and the essential schemata of Western and Southeastern European traditional art forms. The books and related materials are produced in a variety of media and formats: prints, monotypes, drawings, and paintings. The Press’s artist, Stefan Arteni, collaborates closely with Myriam S. P. de Arteni, the books’ designer, binder, and printer.


S. Arteni, during his years as a student of Tanaka Setsuzan, President of the Japan Calligraphy Art Association and one of the foremost contemporary masters of Japanese calligraphy, explored the possibilities of a multi-layered field for interpretive calligraphy. The encounter with East Asian calligraphy triggered a process of “interiorization,” a journey back to the source of all forms, to universes that can be regarded as culturally homologous. All this implied some sort of descent into Hell and, as a consequence, the discovery of phases that preceded recent cultural strata. He caused a stir in artistic circles at his 1997 Kobe Art Hall show (Kobe, Japan) and at the 1998 Avant-garde Calligraphy exhibition (Seoul, Korea). The paintings were thematically based on the Byzantine icon-making manual Ermeneia, composed during the first centuries after Christ, and on the Baroque Iconologia (first edition, Rome, 1593; first illustrated edition, Rome 1603) of the Italian knight Cesare Ripa, a compilation of symbols and allegories used extensively by painters and architects in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, Arteni, by transcending and transforming the model images, created paintings which could be perceived as Nihonga (the Japanese style of ink painting); for the symbol was not in what was painted, but in the method that produced the paintings -- in how they were painted.

The mutation of Arteni’s own heritage through the strategic appropriation of the East Asian cultural matrix developed into process-oriented, spontaneous methods. His efforts were rewarded in 1996 by the Japan Foreign Affairs Minister’s Grand Prize for Calligraphy. He continues his journey, working on clay and sumi monoprinting, pursuing the union of painting and calligraphy, while retaining the dynamics of both.

S. Arteni’s collaborator, M. S. P. de Arteni, nurtures the development of hand-crafted, single-copy and limited edition artist’s books as the Press’s book designer, binder, and printer. She intends to revive the tradition of the scriptorium: word and image will again be treasured, read, reread, looked at, and meditated upon.


A traditional art has an ascertained means of operation, it has been transmitted in pupillary succession or through how-to manuals, and it retains its values even when it has gone out of fashion. The meaning of the work of art is its intrinsic form. Form, in a traditional art, does not mean tangible shape, mimesis. Narrations, commentary, are not art. A traditional art works by signs and symbols. Convention, however, is not inflexible, it is not restrictive. Byzantine Art is intended to encourage meditation and therefore reminds the mind of Buddhism and especially Zen. It takes shape within the controlling contexts of an established vocabulary of forms although it appropriates images from pagan mythology. Image is reduce to a minimum of details, only details which are necessary and sufficient for the purpose, and a maximum of expressiveness, cleansing the work of everything personal. In this sense, the Chinese character is the ultimate icon.

Nobody knows what will be the place of the book and of the printed word and of the image in an electronic screen civilization. Writing lives in a continuum of open-ended graphic expression. It is also tied to the act, or procedure, or tools, of writing (lead, brush, quill), and hence is a naturally expressive activity.

For Arteni, the realm of writing, which is always an image, is space. Writing has to be emancipated and released from the quest to equate it with language and can no longer be confined only to the function of communicating or recording.

Threshold of the Millennium

There is no creation without withdrawal into one’s self. Modern man begins by being disoriented with respect to himself. The globalization of culture is a principal feature of contemporary art. As a result of globalization, language models, methodologies, forms and images - fragments of culture - become part of the context in which works of art are created, while specific cultural matrices are suppressed. At the same time, didactic tones, messages, social commentary and attempts to question contemporary issues come to the forefront of any critics’ review. Cross-fertilization of cultures is not the same as globalization. Art has the power to overcome the didactic verbalization and categorization. Painting is far from language. To paint is to decide for silence. Kaneda Sekijo, the twentieth-century Japanese calligrapher, said: form governs content.

Millenarianism, in the broad sense of hope, and apocalyptic views of the nature and meaning of history are bound to the role of the book as a symbol, even a talisman, of authority and power. For two thousand years these ideas had an impact on art, on literature, on historical thinking, and on the indefinable complex we call culture. The Greek word for “revelation” itself implies a veiling rather than a disclosure: a symbol is a mystery and characteristic of a symbol is its multivalence.

The varied texts, poetry, and poets illumined by Sol Invictus books may seem wildly different in philosophy and style. Upon further examination, however, the ways in which they intersect with each other become visible. Like John, who begins in exile on Patmos, like Francis, who has to learn to do without in order to learn how to turn a Crusade into a pilgrimage, the artist has to learn want because circumstance will dictate that the artist become a wanderer and cope with the powerlessness of being an outsider. Only thus can the artist learn how to transform personal circumstance into vision.

SOL INVICTUS PRESS books emphasize spiritual over autobiographical qualities. “Meaning” is located within the context of juxtaposed forms and images, interpenetrating and interdependent. Their heart and soul emerge out of strenuous study in art and history, Southeastern European tradition, and intense Zen discipline.

The 17th-century Japanese poet Basho wrote: Learn the rules well, and then forget them. In Zen, aloneness is utter individuation achieved through meditation. The viewer must project him/herself into the flow of brushstrokes in order to experience art firsthand.

In creating and in viewing this art, the anguish and the intense searching are finally dissolved: revelation, enlightenment, satori, seeing things as they are. Past is remembered in the present moment and future is expected in the present moment. “Now” is eternal.

— Sol Invictus Press

© 2001 Stefan Arteni
& Myriam Arteni
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