Renee Gladman is a writer and artist living on the East Coast of the US. She is the author of nine published works, including Calamities, a collection of essay-fictions just released from Wave Books. 


I make drawings using my handwriting and boxes that sometimes resemble buildings and sometimes just boxes, boxes you might stack to reach something or go down into something. I do this because I’m a prose writer excited by how language passes through places: the mind, out the body, across the page, through thought or description. Writing is a kind of architecture and a making of landscape. As I work on my second book of drawings (the first, Prose Architectures, will be published by Wave Books next year), these are some of the artists and writers keeping me company:


1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Inventions

I like to look at equations and plans written out by hand. I never try to understand what’s being calculated or proposed. In fact, I prefer to pretend that it’s all fiction. Some of the most beautiful drawings in the world are da Vinci’s whatchamacallits. Each represents thought in process, an exposed, elegant unraveling. And while I’m sure he had actual problems in mind that he wanted to fix with his inventions (e.g. the flying machine), I regard his notebook pages more as transcriptions of dreams.


2. Youmna Chlala

Recently, I have been playing around with the idea that there is a spectrum along which sentences become drawings. In my research I’m often looking for line artists whose work appears as a kind of building, or conversely, an unraveling of language. A couple of weeks ago I came upon the visual work of Youmna Chlala and was excited to find that she’s also a poet. About drawing, she writes: ‘Drawing functions as translation, an in-betweenness that allows for things to occur or connections to be made that never seemed possible. Drawing is a way for me to explore the unexpected, peripheral, ecstatic aspects of improbability as it remains activated through the body, much like walking activates a city.’ Litmus Press will publish her first poetry book The Paper Camera in 2017.


3. Marianne Fritz

Fritz (1948-2007) is another writer who uses the page to get at something beyond writing, to bring that something back into writing and change writing immeasurably. Dorothy, a publishing project, recently released The Weight of Things (originally published in 1978, for which Fritz won the Robert Walser Prize), which is described in the jacket copy as ‘possibly [her] only translatable book’. I’m still waiting for someone to publish her 3,500-page novel containing many schematic drawings, which is archived here.


4. Ariel González Losada

A composer and visual artist working in Buenos Aires, González Losada’s drawings seem to open the space between sound and visibility, with the line acting as a kind of current, unearthing the energy of a page.


5. Khalil Joseph’s Wildcat

I first encountered this short film at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, playing in a darkened gallery on three transparent screens suspended from the ceiling. I wrote into an essay: ‘I hadn’t seen what I was seeing before and I didn’t want to know whether it was real; I didn’t want to know the story behind these figures: black men in cowboy hats, riding horses and bucking on bulls, black people in the stands watching these events of the men, black women in dresses that seemed centuries old, moving their bodies like birds, two black youths riding a tractor or dune buggy, one of the youths in a fancy white dress; the girl in the dress later walking through the rodeo, everything dusty, dusk everywhere.’ I go here to slow everything down, to study shadow in a space of dreaming.


Artwork courtesy of the author

Madeleine Thien In Conversation