Samuels’ drawing The Odyssey of a patch of street exactingly renders a 21 x 310-feet stretch of scarred asphalt onto a 92 x 33-inch sheet of paper. With the help of a magnifying glass, you discover that the drawing is made from handwriting that word for word transcribes the entire text of Homer’s Odyssey, the epic poem of war and homecoming. The cracked asphalt is the street in front of Samuels’ home. The text winds its way down one side of the sheet of paper returning up the other side, back to her home, and ends with the text’s call to bring a halt to the great leveler, War.
Before beginning to write, Samuels affixed a photo-mask of the street’s crevices and potholes over the paper. After the text was written, she peeled away the mask removing some of the text. Where the text was destroyed, the drawing was created. Accompanying the drawing is an archive of the lost and destroyed memories made from the text-covered photo-masks.
Leaves of Grass is a drawing made from a hand-written transcription of America’s epic poems of democracy, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Each page is hand-written in a single line across the drawing like an individual blade of grass. Together, the book’s 438 pages form a 92 x 33-inch field of grass. Although the drawing is a literal embodiment of the poems’ central metaphor and theme—One’s self I sing, a simple separate person, / Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse—the making of this drawing was an act of engagement that challenges the distance of a viewer when contrasted to the intimacy of a reader.
These finely rendered drawings take months of continuous work and almost monastic discipline to make. Though the surface imagery is benign, of street and grass, the drawings deal with some very contentious issues: What happens to one’s sense of self and home when public life is driven by immigration and war?
Diane Samuels lives on a small alley in Pittsburgh that was originally populated by immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries and is now the home to several exiled writers in the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh project, of which she was a co-founder. Samuels will be participating in the exhibitions “Neighbo[u]rhood” curated by Georgina Jackson, independent curator from Ireland, at the Mattress Factory opening in May and “Gertrude’s/LOT” curated by Eric Shiner, Acting Director & The Milton Fine Curator of Art, at The Warhol Museum opening in September.
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