BY: JOHN DILLON
“Letter writing is probably the most beautiful manifestation in human relations, in fact, it is its finest residue” writes artist John Graham in a letter to his wife.
Long before our hours were consumed with texting, tweeting, and emailing cat GIFs there was something magnificent about the smell of manilla paper as you peeled open an envelope to find within it, a personalized work of fine art. You had a sense of the time and effort it took to write, and warmly understood that it was only created with only you in mind.
The etching of your lover, friend, or colleague’s handwriting seemed to have a distinctive style that captured the spontaneous nature of the moment. With a pen and paper, their eye and hands, they felt free enough to express their inner most thoughts by adding drawings or the scent of their favourite cologne to communicate their message more clearly. “One should never forget that the power of words is limited.” writes Walter Kuhn.
Illustrated letters have the ability to recreate the spirit and vivid imagination of an author, for with their very finger tips they are able to paint the sights, smells, sounds, memories, and emotions they need to convey. For this reason images should not be thought of as subsidiary to words, whether metaphorical or descriptive, often images can communicate what words cannot. For visual thinkers they are a means of connection in an effort to magnify humanity.
New media has been the bullet in the pulsing heart of the personal letter, and with this we are losing something much more valuable. “What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do.” writes Vincent Van Gogh, with it we find a balance between presence and contemplation. It seems the hand can access what the computer screen never will.
There are over 170 of these artist-made letters in a book entitled More Than Words, by Liz Kirwin, which is available for purchase from Princeton Architectural Press and Amazon. Browsing each of these love letters, thank you notes, and travelogues below the words come alive, through illustration we can sense their immediacy and are provided an intimate peek into the secret garden of each artist.