Posted by Dr David Annwn Jones on November 09, 2015 in News tagged with , , , , ,



On the eve of two major exhibitions of his work, one of the America’s most celebrated calligraphers has produced Mary Shelley’s Elisions,  a stunning tribute to next year’s Bicentennial Celebration of Mary Shelley’s creativity and her famous sojourn at the Villa Diodati. Michael Gullick has written that Thomas Ingmire is ‘a visionary artist. His work provokes inquiry into fundamental questions about reading and seeing. As Ingmire’s work has become more abstract and taken greater risks, it has become more precise in the clarity and literacy of its expression.’ Thomas is renowned as a master-craftsman in his field and he is the first American to be elected to England’s Society of Scribes and Illuminators with a craft membership status.
This artist is no stranger to Gothic literary and artistic associations. His work Boundless (1988) employs language from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘Dream-Land’:

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;

Mountains toppling evermore

As Gullick writes, Thomas’s approach fragments is to work with fragments of the original poem, throwing any seeing or reading of the words out of a sequential order and casting letters into vertiginous, whirling space. Hail Horrors Hail (1982), his visual response to Satan’s speech from Paradise Lost(1667), is a tour-de-force of metaphysical collision: sharp rays emanating from tilting words, flashes of light and swerving flights of darkness.

This time round, Thomas chose a poem of my own from the sequence Diodati Dance Card (2015) to celebrate the art of Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein (1816). (Dance cards were a medium which combined the arts of handwriting, dancing and the making of lists of names of potential dance partners.

Byron, the Shelleys and Polidori spent many hours attending and watching dances.) Thomas’s calligraphy and my poetry also draw upon music, in this case the work of Mozart.

Thomas has written that his colour images ‘have been inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni,’ particularly theFinal Commendatore Scene’ and adds with a certain shade of humour that, ‘I can image that listening to this often would drive one to write a horror novel.’ He sees the music for this scenes  I see ‘as kind of a background to everything’.

The poetic sequence comprises: ‘Mary Shelley’s Elisions’, ‘Diodati Waltz’, ‘my man compleatted’, ‘Future Preface’,and ‘Mary Shelley’s Spin.  The first poem opens:

Villa Diodati 1816

dark dash as the eye opens over stop

is almost matted eyelid

cuts into the lower loop: the ‘I’

of ‘It’

and ‘handsome’ ‘handsome’ three times scratched

deeply, the interior ‘so’ blotted (?)

and blazoned black –

struck out

for the qualm of ‘beautiful’

flutters over it


his hair becomes lustrous black and ‘dun’ skin ‘yellow’

‘Great God’ – a leap apostrophised, slanting


In writing it, I was interested in the gestural and spatial significance of elisions and excisions in Mary Shelley’s handwriting in the Frankenstein manuscript.

I wrote to Thomas: Does the creation of a striking, revolutionary novel resemble the re-combination of old memories, (the re-vivification of dead hopes and fears?) Does Mary bring old dreams to life here – some menacing and unwelcome? Is the ‘male’ she creates an attempt to recover the waning love of Percy Shelley or a quest for her own outraged sensibility, the wrench of gender, the pain of loss and rebellion? She hesitates between ‘handsome’ and ‘beautiful.’ Certainly, with this handwriting, the alterations and in these prose rhythms, the writer seems literally and metaphorically to be bringing a force to life and to be unnerved/exhilarated  by the experience.

There are also hints in Mary’s lexical hesitations and changes of orthographical history. Does Mary waver between the usage of ‘scarce’ from her youth and the more up-to-date ‘scarce ly’, as she writes it? This really does, I think, take us towards her – we all use language stratified by our historical experiences.’

Thomas takes up various of these issues but develops a myriad of others too. He jokes elsewhere about his having missed a career in forgery, but the skill and sensitivity of his facsimiles of personal handwriting are unnerving, with the sense of an historical and absent author’s vitality and changes in direction still quite palpably felt. The range and skill visual signifiers on view is remarkable.

Thomas’s work here sometimes juxtaposes a skewed finished and, latterly in some lines, incomplete black-letter Gothic script with his beautiful lettering of my words, interspersing these with his own breathtaking facsimile of Mary Shelley’s writing and ‘corrections’. Circles add focus to some words and phrases;  ink blots down the page the sense of  a text in the throes of its own production.


In the image below, two strokes of the pen, like rips across the page, are used to introduce a rich layering of gilt. In this evocation of the ‘monster’s’ awakening, the chilled objectivity of the genderless ‘thing’ is caught up in contradictions: attraction and repulsion, the preciousness of life’s gold, set against ‘lifenessness’, an oblivious

limpness against ‘breath’. The operatic coloured pages with their suggestions of  wrenched stage curtains, trembling black stress lines and smoking fissures are a revelation. On one of these pages, words drop away altogether and the apassionata of stricken woman artist, hounded creator and betrayed ‘monster’ rise up again with a truly raw and remarkable power and in a medium which Thomas Ingmire makes forever new.

This groundbreaking book will be featured in two exhibitions: from January 2016 at the Book Club of California 312 Sutter Street, Suite 500 San Francisco, California and, from March 2016 onwards at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, California.
(All images from Mary Shelley’s Elisions, Calligraphy by Thomas Ingmire and Poetry by David Annwn and copyright the authors, 2015.)



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