Sign of the Logos

Artist's Books
and
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

 

 

Introduction:
The Image- Words of
Sol Invictus Press

Beyond Borders

Exhibition Checklist

Painting, Image,
Likeness

 

Biography

Calligraphy

Painting

Seals

Sol Invictus Press

Writings



The Image-Words of Sol Invictus Press

Since its establishment in 1991 by Stefan Arteni and Myriam S. P. de Arteni, Sol Invictus Press has cultivated a unique approach to the genre of the livre d'rtiste, or artist's book. There are several reasons for this, all of which are rooted in the Artenis' unique set of talents and skills, and in their confluent expression in books and scrolls of flawless execution and dramatic design. Very few, if any, artists other than Stefan Arteni can bring, with such assuredness, so varied a cultural and aesthetic background to their work.

 

He is steeped in the aesthetic and meditative traditions of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, in the rich Orthodox iconography of his native Romania, and in the styles of Western abstract art. His work reveals the unifying principles of these apparently disparate ways of seeing and saying with brush and pen.

Myriam Sanchez Posada de Arteni, his wife, an award-winning painter in her own right, brings to the books' design, printing, and binding a discerning eye and practiced hand. She is as skilled in the execution of accordion or Coptic bindings as she is in the Western codex format, an accomplishment which allows her to display S. Arteni's tradition-bending Chinese and Japanese calligraphic works in a traditional format. The handmade papers from China, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, and her native Colombia, which she selects for S. Arteni's drawn and printed images, unfailingly enhance them. She is also a bold experimenter, as can be seen in her incorporation of wire mesh into the paper used for the leaves of Cantique de Saint Jean (nos. 32, 33). Her playfully dramatic sense of design is evident in the five-paneled folding front for the wrapper of Laudes Creaturarum (no. 36). The ink-and-brush symbol of the Chrismon (a circle containing the Greek initials of Jesus Christ, I X) on the wrapper front, which closes in two facing panels, opens upon an Ichthys (a fish within a circle). The folding panels themselves become a metaphor for revelation.

S. Arteni, though trained thoroughly and rigorously in the East Asian calligraphic arts, often employs them in a non-traditional fashion uniquely his own. This is most obvious in the subjects of his compositions. Many of them describe or are inspired by scenes and figures from the New Testament, and many feature or include symbols from the Greek Orthodox tradition. Other symbols have a Mediterranean or Native American source. Arteni's interpretations of these symbols often use the Zen circle as their basic structure. Tellingly, the lines themselves, regardless of subject matter or Arteni's use of them in New Testament scenes with figures grouped according to Western conventions, seem to form calligraphic characters. This results in a reinterpretation of Orthodox iconography and of Western traditions of New Testament representation. Image becomes character; that is to say, Word, or Logos.

The two-dimensionality of these drawings, typical of Orthodox icon painting, as well as of much Western abstract representation, is animated by the spontaneity of brushwork found in Japanese and Chinese hand-drawn characters. As in such characters, the lines work together to form an organic whole, each of them equally important, regardless of its size or position. Paradoxically, this does not lead to a sense of confusion, if the viewer is willing to look with quiet attention. When these images are seen without the interference of our conditioned expectations of how artistic representation should function, the viewer comes to apprehend the importance of each detail to the unity of the entire scene.

The uniqueness of Arteni's calligraphic art is also apparent in his technical innovations for monotype printing. A monotype is a single-copy print. Unlike lithographic prints, which can be reproduced from a stone surface a dozen or so times without appreciable change in line or tone, a monotype image can be produced only once. The ink is transferred from the plate to the paper almost in its entirety. In order to produce the "same" image, it would have to be redrawn on the plate after the first image had been printed. (Arteni uses a calligraphy brush or bamboo stick to draw the image on a glass or plexiglass plate.) But, of necessity, the second image would not be identical to the first. The movement of arm and wrist, the pressure of the fingers, would be slightly different each time. Even the proportions of the figure would change, not only for physical reasons, but because in Zen calligraphy the movement of the brush is not merely the result of learned technique, but emerges from the artist's response to the moment. Each monotype, like each image or character drawn directly on paper, is unique. Though Arteni has produced entire books in which the images and characters are drawn directly upon paper, he especially enjoys the textures and accidents resulting from the transfer of brushstrokes from a plate.

An unorthodox form of monotype printing, which Arteni happened upon in 1996, is the use of damp clay as a printing surface. A friend of his had recently discovered the technique and introduced him to it. Dyes or acrylic paints are mixed in water with a fine clay powder and applied to a damp clay slab. Arteni, however, radically transformed the technique, releasing the full potential of the clay monotype by cutting into and shaping the topography of the slab, thereby achieving a complex interaction of planographic, relief , and intaglio effects. Occasionally, the furrows in the clay produce rich effects akin to dry point etching. After transferring the image to the paper, Arteni sprays it with a fixative to ensure that the clay pigments will not crumble away after they have dried.

The monotype books are usually single-copy editions. When more than one copy has been produced in this fashion, each is unique because of the nature of the monotype process. Other books, like The Large Emerging from the Small, are brush-and-ink manuscripts to which letterpress leaves have sometimes been added. These, too, are produced as single-copy editions. Intimately related to the Sol Invictus books, and represented in the exhibition, are the drawings which often serve as studies for images in the books, as well as the scrolls upon which Arteni employs his brush directly. Some of the scrolls are purely calligraphic, employing Japanese characters; others contain images. A distinct genre of Sol Invictus Press is the books of stone-seal carvings of Chinese and Japanese characters. These offer Arteni an opportunity to present an ancient form of art which is today rarely executed with such mastery anywhere in the world; among Western artists Arteni is probably its sole expert practitioner. Here, too, Arteni has combined innovation with tradition. In Casual Writings by a Window, a book of stone-seal prints and calligraphy, Arteni has adopted for his seals the seal-script style of ancient Chinese writing, invented at least as early as 600 B.C., and whose various forms had become standardized by 200 B.C. Now, it is used only for seals. Arteni plays with the traditional seal-script forms in Casual Writings, sometimes intentionally distorting them to the point of illegibility, thereby transforming them into designs of pure form. For the text, he has used a semi-cursive style of Chinese character. However, instead of employing a brush, the traditional means of forming these characters, he has used a bamboo stick.

Arteni's combination of tradition and innovation has made Sol Invictus Press the vehicle not only for his and M. de Arteni's rare gifts, but for a sacred art rooted in both Eastern and Western traditions. As the leaves of a Sol Invictus book are turned and the characters/symbols/images succeed each other in space and time, each seemingly the work of an inspired moment which has flowed spontaneously from the artist's hand, the awareness grows that an important message is being spoken to the eye and inscribed in the mind.

Isaac Gewirtz
Director of Special Collections
St. Mark's Library

 
 
© 2001 Stefan Arteni
& Myriam S.P.de Arteni
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