FOLLOW THE LINE!
On Mythical Spaces and the Practice of Drawing
by Tirtzah Bassel
For me, mythical spaces address the gap between the world I see and the world I feel. As a visual artist, I use the practice of drawing to navigate these breaks, or openings, in my experience.
On my studio wall I have a small reproduction of “Two Blind Men Crossing a Log Bridge.” This ink drawing, by the 18th-century Japanese Zen Buddhist Hakuin Ekaku, serves as an icon or map highlighting the bridges between myth and reality.
The image is composed of three visual elements: one thick brush stroke cutting across the page, and two blind men crossing a bridge. When I look at the singular brushstroke, the bridge, I imagine the artist dipping his brush in a pot of ink, planting it firmly on the right side of the page and bringing it across the sheet of paper. His stroke is asking the fundamental question: how do I get from here to there? It is a question that emerges at the meeting point between the known – the ink, the brush, the paper – and the unknown: What will happen when the ink meets the paper? How far will this stroke take me? What image will this gesture reveal?
I see a deep connection between the qualities of this stroke and the blind men’s bodies. Both gestures are searching and curious, and yet they carry a strong sense of urgency. They hold a fear of danger as well as an anticipation of discovery. In both, the space is revealed through the act of touch.
The two blind men embody two approaches. The figure on the right is testing the surface with his stick; he holds his body back, careful and hesitant. The second figure is going for it. Down on all fours, his entire body engaged in pursuit, he extends his hand into space like a sensitive antenna, the tip of his finger touching the center of the page.
In addition to the many metaphorical layers that this image evokes, to me it is an image that marks the essence of drawing: a line or mark that is an open-ended question guided by curiosity and longing, a path of engagement with mystery and myth, driven by the urgency to discover the unknown and to bring it into the world through a mark.