Excerpts from Interview with Louise Despont by Brett Littman
Part I: On Drawing and The Drawing Center’s Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture
Brett Littman: What materials do you use to draw? Has that been consistent over the years?
Louise Despont: I work with colored pencil, graphite, architectural stencils, French curves, compasses, and rulers on the pages of the ledger books. Occasionally, I use white ink and gold or copper leaf. I love how something that seems very limited can end up opening onto vast possibilities. Stencils and pencils have been the most remarkable restraint, and I still feel like I’m going deeper into what they can do. My use of colored pencil has almost crossed over into painting territory; I rub the pigment into the paper with tissue until it begins to looks like a wash of watercolor, then I play with layering and mixing. One major difference between working in this way and painting is that I do not pre-mix colors on a palette. Instead, the color is mixed on the page. Each successive change that happens, then, in the drawing is a command or thought that is executed later. The mark does not come from a physical or emotional impulse. There is a period of time between each change that takes place on the page, and this allows space for contemplation.
BL: Let’s talk about your site-specific commission for The Drawing Center. Can you talk about the title, Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture?
LD: Before I begin a drawing, the first thing I do is graph the paper. The title of the show is about the magnetic capabilities that this grid has when it is imagined as scaffolding. When I look at the blank graphed pages, I see three scales of graphs: a small scale graph, which is a one-inch hand drawn line; a second graph, which is each ledger page divided by the center crease; and the third and largest, which is the individual pages. These three scales of the graph are a scaffold that attracts energy and allows me to visualize form at multiple scales simultaneously. So, the title comes from the process of making the work but it also refers to the human body, which is also a form of Energy Scaffolding. We receive this scaffold of a body at birth and our life is a process of accretion that results in our very particular architecture. Our bodies and energy fields are full of information organized into this amazingly complex and yet fragile structure. This is our great moment of specificity but also just a brief pattern in time before we return again to formless energy—to pure potential.
BL: How did you come up with the idea of constructing a rectangular wooden room and an oval room made of sheetrock and plywood within The Drawing Center gallery? How do you see these architectural forms affecting the way the viewer takes in the drawings?
LD: I went through several variations before I decided on two very simple and contrasting structures in which I could establish a basic polar relationship. The oval is large, light-filled, and smooth, while the Pure Potential room is small, spiked, and dark. Both rooms trace the different processes by which energy transforms and moves from form into formlessness and vice versa, but the work in each space exists in different realms. Drawings in the Pure Potential room represent a preconscious state, a state that is on the cusp of becoming physical, while the oval room contains drawings of experiences that relate to the human mind-body complex. The structure of the oval room is essentially an “eye of awareness” with a bench for the resting pupil.
BL: Can you describe the works in the rectangular room? Why do you call it the Pure Potential room?
LD: The room is a space for formless energy at the point when it transitions into form. It is a womb whose spiked exterior is a protective surface. The end grain floor tiles are the veins and circulatory system feeding the work. I think this quote from Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass is actually a good description of the Pure Potential drawings:
There are things that cannot ever occur with any precision. They are too big and too magnificent to be contained in mere facts. They are merely trying to occur; they are checking whether the ground of reality can carry them. And they quickly withdraw, fearing to lose their integrity in the frailty of realization.
BL: Can you tell me more about the sequence of images in the oval room? There seems to be a very specific narrative to the drawings—moving from discrete male and female forms to the eventual merging of the male and female polarity principles. How are we supposed to read these images?
LD: [….] [T]here is a narrative progression through the oval room, but there could have been infinitely more stages added between each section, so what we really have is a very brief outline. The oval room is an exploration of the human form, the circulation of energy, and our capacity to exist and connect to more subtle planes. The background of each section is the same checkered, rectangular pattern whose variations reflect various realms.
BL: Your father is an architect. Did you grow up looking at architectural drawings? Did that have any influence on how you construct your own drawings?
LD: Yes, definitely. My father always had an amazing collection of books on art and architecture and these beautiful old watercolor plans in his office and in our apartment. They seemed so mysterious because they contained symbols and information that I was unable to read. I also liked that the space was defined by the contrast between organic and geometric forms. Later, I felt that my attraction to architectural drawings was related to my discovery of Tibetan thangkas and Indian mandalas. The stylized symbols of these maps of both real and imagined spaces are a sort of writing that only the adept can decipher. I like images of spaces that can be entered and moved through visually. Flattened spaces, frontal and overhead views, and the symmetry of a theater stage are also portals into other realms. The power and beauty of geometry is deeply embedded in our consciousness, and I’m amazed at how information and energy can be visually communicated so directly in this way. How nice to bypass language and thought and directly access emotion and experience.
The full interview will be in The Drawing Center’s catalog available online and in our bookstore this March 2016.
Brett Littman is the curator of Louise Despont: Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture, on view at The Drawing Center, January 22-March 20, 2016. Littman is also the Executive Director of The Drawing Center.