NO series, ink on paper, 70 x 100 cm, March 2022 - ongoing.
December 1, 2022
I started working on this series in the spring of this year. I have been working with the word and theme 'NO' for a few years now. The word "no" is very important to me. Looking back, I can safely say that the times I said “no” in my life have become major milestones. This ongoing series is a continuation and deepening of this motif, but above all a reaction to the war in Ukraine. Since that moment triggered the beginning of the series.
The positive-negative opposition is always a very important theme in my work. But not only in my work, also in my thinking. In the broadest sense of the words. Not just only focussed on good and bad, but also, for example, on a negative and positive form or a dia-positive image, etc. That is why focusing on the 'negative' (the word 'NO' and it’s negative connotation) contains everything to create attention for the positive: 'YES'. It's a lightning rod that reels you in on the thoughts that are tickled by anything you can think of that you'd like to say "no" to. And then you gradually find out that that also determines what you do support. Therefore: do you read the black text on a white background, written in an easy movement of only two different shapes (the vertical and the arc), or do you look at the white space that is created simultaneously during the writing movement.
In that sense you could compare the work with the well-known drawing of the old lady and the young woman. What do you see? Of course it is much more elegant to make an art-historical comparison with Salvador Dali. In the years 1938 and 1940 he made the works “The Image Disappearing” & “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”. In both works you as a viewer are put on the wrong track. What do you actually see? After you get past the confusion you are left with the knowledge that you can only ever see one object or subject at the same time. Which then raises the question (and in my opinion also directly answered): “Should you question what you see or should you question how you look.” As far as I am concerned, the first one is what always changes and in my opinion the answer is therefore the latter.
So that means it's a matter of focus. As beautiful as the confusion and wonder is, the "grey" area (or, the transition area) between the two objects is only an intermediate moment. The concentration can only be on one of the two. Do you look at the distance or do you pay attention to what is close by?
I have been using this theme for years in the images (made with letters) that I make. Am I looking at images or at letters? Do I read or do I watch? Do I focus on the black or the white? Etcetera. But in terms of content I try to achieve the same in order to add depth to the issue. By using words that are so clearly always assisted by their counterpart (yes/no, then/now, on/off, etc.) I can use one to achieve the other. But also: Due to the presence of the opposite meaning, I can easily address the prevailing stigmas attached to one of the two sides of the contradiction.
But that is not the only ambiguity incorporated in the work. I finally managed to find a suitable solution to work with something that is in between originals and editions. Writing and practicing it (as a calligrapher) is inextricably linked to practice and repetition. In fact, that's what it is. The product of that is what you could call a ‘snapshot’. Editions and/or repetition of the same original work (certainly in our Western world) are often seen as less or lower. Hasn't the original already been made? I want to focus on the action, the exercise and the repetition of the movement. To say something directly about what is actually important. Having (viewing and owning) a result? Or practicing and developing a skill and state of mind.
Fortunately, the Latin word "numero" is abbreviated No. and I can work to my heart's content on this ongoing series. All works will be called 'No. 1', 'No. 2', etc. numbered and so the circle is complete again.
Guido de Boer
November 8, 2023
Last year, I started the 'NO series'. A theme I had been working with before, and with the war in Ukraine just starting, the series was suddenly about that too. I donated most of the money I made selling the works to victims of the war there.
I want to do the same again now. But for the victims in the war in Gaza and around it. I still have a few NO’s lying around, so contact me if you want to purchase one. The idea of the series is that the works are neither editions nor originals. It's somewhere in between in that sense. I make unique new copies of the same work, numbered but not under edition. Just as the word "no." also means numero.
Initially, that was about repetition and practice in my work as a calligrapher. Unfortunately, in the context of war, that is also about the number of people and children slaughtered, kidnapped, murdered and bombed. It adds up, an accumulation of pitch-black misery.
Oppression, denial and banishment of identity is almost always the cause of such explosions of hatred. I had the opportunity to learn that in conversation with theologian and philosopher Harry Brandsma at my studio last week. I invited him to talk about a new project and we were soon talking about this. In his life, he went to the conflicts in Ireland and South Africa to offer his help and wrote a book about it, "Along the River". In that book, he offers expression and creativity as a solution to that identity denial and oppression. I like to stick to that.
That is why I see this as what I can do: make work and open minds with it.
Guido de Boer