Allan Graham In Conversation with John Yau
7 x 9 ft
Oil and graphite on canvas.
John Yau (Rail): Allan, where exactly do you and Gloria live?
Graham: [laughs] In the mountains east of Santa Fe. We have lived here about ten years. We are seven miles from the highway, and you have to drive down a dirt road to get to our house.
Rail: Yes, a long way from both coasts. When did you first start using words in your work?
Graham: In the ‘80s, using torn-up book pages on the surface of canvas. I did a number of different series, but at one point I tore up Creeley’s For Love—I asked Bob if I could, it was an extra copy – and I did these pieces that leaned against the wall. I always saw them leaning against the wall, and I did a number of them. I did things with Bible pages, Old Testament, New Testament; I did a phone book, yellow pages, dictionaries; and then slowly, out of these three-dimensional constructions, the words began jumping out at me, so I started making titles for the pieces that came from the words. When I did the piece, “Judas Hangs Himself,” it says “Judas Hangs Himself” right up at the top. The way the thing hung on the wall was absolutely perfect. I became more and more aware of that kind of correlation between providing a key and still remaining separate and abstract. I started reading a lot of Zen poetry. I was particularly fascinated with wordplay. You can’t translate Chinese or Japanese literally. With an ideogram you can branch out—it’s not linear, it has multiple meanings, so you don’t read in a linear manner. It’s almost a diagram of a sentence, except there are multiple choices. I was interested, reading about translations of these poems, where the translators would say “Well, we couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that, so we had to take this.” Cid Corman had what he called versions, which I really liked. They were charged, and he took liberties. So then, when I read some of the literal translations, and found nothing there, I started writing my own versions from things I was reading that I thought were really dull. I realized that puns and wordplay were the type of thing that a lot of us would paste onto what we read. So I started writing notes to myself and I’ve been doing that for about twenty years.
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