OCEAN and the Literary Arts
Composition Process for the broadside 'Ocean'
The initial structure of the page was three concentric circles representing dancers, audience, and orchestra. These melded into the singled curved area at the lower third of the page.
The figures were all taken from Merce Cunningham's notes on 'Ocean' as was the title (MC's handwriting).
They are printed in a loose circle; it is unclear how many dancers there are, a single figure making lots of movement or many dancers moving at once, etc. In the first print color for the figures there are 14 dancers present (representing the 14 dancers in 'Ocean')—these are pretty well covered up by the layers of ink and painted ink. They provide the underlying texture for the darker area.
The color for the figures was inspired by a description of the performance, the dancers 'bathed in violet light' and also as a loose reference to Homer's 'wine dark seas'
Each print was painted with Japanese calligraphy ink ('sumi-e'). The ink was allowed to partially dry then washed off the page, one sheet at a time. As the ink/water washes across the un-inked paper, the paper is stained, creating the varied smoke/sea/sky effects on the top half of the sheet. Each page was washed using similar body movements to give the entire edition a similar movement. The ink washes may be read as waves, stormy skies, or the rock walls—they are meant to be ambiguous. No two prints are the same, an allusion to how every audience member sees 'Ocean' from their seat/perspective, that there is no 'front' or 'back' to the circle/merry-go-round.
I was inspired by the photos of the quarry, the vast rock wall that almost reads as a sky. The notes from the Joyce manuscript, and the discussion of how this unpublished book would have been dealing with time and states of consciousness. I wanted to depict movement in time, and many things happening across a space. Showing water as solid, figures as fluid, and to blur the distinction between states of matter, solid, liquid, gas.
Each sheet passed through the press 19 times, to correlate with the 19 sections of 'Ocean'
Words and numbers were printed early on, these disappeared under the layers of ink. Not an intentional effect.