Art Informel by Mark Young
gradient books (Finland), December 2019
68 pages / lulu
Am I prepared to face the
I know is coming?
Am I weapon’d enough?
Are my sinews
sufficiently strong to use
as a rope ladder to
climb up to Paradise &
find there a Bible, a folded
flag, an autographed photo
of the President & the
obligatory letter that
Will I be able to read it
without weeping? Will
I recognize myself?
Mark Young is an internationally-recognized writer—creator of vispo and text-based poetry. He, also, is editor of the journal, Otoliths, publishing experimental literature and innovative visual art. A New Zealander living in Australia, Young is author of scores of books, and his blog, devoted to the Surrealist painter, René Magritte, is widely read and respected. His new book, Art Informel, is another homage to Surrealism by way of its conceptual framework honoring aesthetics of the 1950s French movement, Informalism or Art Informel, including Tachisme [School of Paris], parallel, in many ways to Abstract Expressionism in the United States during the same period of time. Both of these initiatives advance Surrealism’s “automatism”—techniques promoting free expression of emotions, spontaneous thoughts, actions, and use of materials. The Tachisme style of visual art is displayed on the cover of Art Informel, drawn by Mark Young and designed by Finnish cyber poet and publisher, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen. The artwork depicts typical use of “drips and blobs” of color and spontaneous drawing or “scribbling.” Art Informel effects displaying a “lack or absence of form itself,” not simply a “reduction of formality.”
Spontaneity, if not pure “automatism,” characterizes Young’s vispo, hybrid, and text poetry, including “free” and expressive use of language and form. The poet’s work embodies an eclectic array of forms and content, including grid poems, ‘randomly’-generated compositions, prose poems, fragmentary pieces, sonnets, erasure, list poems, shape poems, and other varieties. Despite this mix, Young does not lose control of his linguistic practice since a unifying feature of the author’s work is “indeterminacy” [“undecidability”]—what the poetry critic, Marjorie Perloff, describes as never coming to know “how it is.” Both Young and Perloff, coincidentally, refer to René Magritte in this context—Perloff highlighting the Surrealist’s painting, The Field Glass, as an “unsolvable mystery;” Young referring to the artist’s painting, The Tomb of the Wrestlers, quoting Magritte thus: “When there is a rose, & one is sensitive to it, one makes it as big as I did so that the rose appears to fill the room.”
Surely, the indeterminate arts reflect avant garde and experimental traditions, such as literary compositions that disrupt traditional and mainstream aesthetics—often fragmentary and disjointed. Most of Young’s poems, for example, employ titles bearing no seeming relevance to the composition that follows, a conceit that, in part, preserves the integrity of each element on a page—permitting neither to dominate while, at the same time, permitting each element to stand on its own, interpretation left to the reader—or, not. In her book, The poetics of indeterminacy, Perloff describes such poetry as embodying “structural and modal inventions that have significantly altered our way of writing and reading poetry.” Art Informel can be placed in this tradition.
Unlike non-representational Art Informel, including Tachisme, Young’s poems may include references to real-world events. For example, in the book under review, topics as varied as gender, science, technology, art, pop culture, and politics are addressed. Indeed, it is important to note that, while Young’s writing embodies elements of “free association”—consistent with Surrealist methods, he is, at the same time, a “political poet” exhibiting Dadaist tendencies. One of the poet’s major influences, Marcel Duchamp, was affiliated with both movements (see Young’s vispo work inspired by Duchamp, les échiquiers effrontés [2018, Luna Bisonte Prods], a collector’s item).
Duchamp’s concept, the “readymade,” is pertinent to Young’s oeuvre which transforms people, places, things, signs, symbols, and contexts into unfamiliar experiences via innovative and rich language usage, exemplified, for instance, in the poem quoted above in which the narrator is “weapon’d” [weaponized?]; sinews are rope ladders [aspiration?]; the self is unrecognizable [shades of the literary “grotesque”?]. Characteristically, and in Postmodern fashion, there is an implied interaction [transaction?] between Text and Reader, as, Text <—–> Reader; though, interpretation is the reader’s prerogative, thus, Text <—— Reader.
Like Young’s Tachisme, his “indeterminacy” is only partial, bearing an unstable relationship to reality or Truth while, often, exhibiting a materialist’s concern for accuracy, even perhaps, the Laws of Physics: “Ever since the failed / coup d’etat it lead / in 2004, Science / no longer has the // ‘dryness’ of The Gates / Of Delerium by Yes, / though occasionally / it still comes close” . This adroit juxtapositioning of the referential with the non-referential is a signature of Young’s poetry, embedding “collage,” symbolic, and conceptual writing within readily-identifiable worldly contexts—often, political ones that are sometimes expressed didactically (a feature that some may find annoying and contrary to purely artistic ends).
Young’s compositions, nonetheless, are intimately associated with what Perloff calls, “the French connection,” particularly, via his abiding dedication to the principles of Dadaism and Surrealism and, further, to what I perceive to be a Francophile disposition similar to, for example, Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery of the New York School. Fundamentally, this “other tradition” [Ashbery] in American letters is characterized by deep concern and respect for the mastery, uses, and potential of language itself, and all readers interested in innovative literature will be introduced to this body of work through Young’s writing. Art Informel would be an excellent starting point for some or, for the initiated, a significant addition to a rich canon.
Clara B. Jones is a Knowledge Worker practicing in Silver Spring, MD, USA. Her books, poems, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming.