A Life in Calligraphy

Rosamond Casey spoke at our March meeting about her early fascination with calligraphy, and its influence on her later work. Reprinted below is part of her presentation, and a link to her website.                                            

Casey calligraphy“All of my art investigations began with a love of line. As a child I would play with tiny toys and have them march in linear patterns. I liked formal systems that regularized movement. I would make a network of roads on the rug so I could trace tiny cars along their curves. I liked learning how the body is supposed to move in space to achieve a result, how to swing a tennis racquet or let go of a bowling ball at the right moment. I didn’t care about winning and losing so I was never a competitive athlete. I loved writing fake script before I knew how to read and once I did I loved the act of shaping letters, making shapes in space.

“By third grade I had a complicated relationship to reading. My two sisters were avid readers. I hated when they curled up on a beautiful day in a chair and wouldn’t get up and play. I think it is baked into my relationship with reading that it is somehow a barrier to play. I was beginning to associate lines of text with utilitarian markers like getting good grades in school.

“Before entering art school in 1971, I stumbled into a calligraphy course. All of a sudden I was immersed in the story of the origins of these letters. This was a chance to relearn something I feel I was taught all wrong.

“When I was eleven I decided to cage myself in a corncrib in the middle of a field of horses to retrain myself not to be afraid of them. My father had a heavy hand around horses and the air was always fraught with tension. By the end of my day inside my protective enclosure I had emerged and was cantering around bareback on my own.

“I have always believed that making art is a way to re-parent oneself, a choice to relearn how to perceive the world. Calligraphy took me under its wing and showed me that letters were energetic, balletic and constantly evolving forms that when set loose with the right amount of skill could turn a page into a stage. Finally the alphabet was getting up to play.

“I wrote a three-part curriculum as part of my final art school thesis hoping to bring children to a love of writing, reading and art by introducing them to the evolution of written forms beginning with cave painting all the way through the 16th century late renaissance. When children understand that our alphabet is rooted in early pictographs they can begin to grasp the conceptual and aesthetic origins of making letters and with a pen in their hand they can approach the written word as a work of art, as a living thing.

“In art school I found myself still interested in the animated rhythmic tensions of letterforms. So much so that I was determined to free calligraphy from the restraints of actual words and letters. I began making large acrylic paintings of oversized calligraphic strokes that cast shadows and took on the volume of three-dimensional forms. Some of these were abstract and some were representations of ropes and cables.

“Calligraphy, which I continued practicing because it is a skill with an endlessly long learning curve, began to have a more commercial appeal in my life since there seemed to be a demand for invitation designs, logos, resolutions, and calligraphic art.

“But I continued pursuing a quality of line that captured the dynamism of a pure one-off calligraphic stroke in three dimensions. In the same way I had wanted text to get up and dance, I now wanted to see calligraphic strokes freed from the two dimensional plane. I wanted to capture movement coming to rest.  Over the next 30 years I would be taken by surprise over and over by what calligraphy had to show me beyond its literal applications.  It became and still is the underpinning of my life in art.

“What follows are a number of images that describe that evolution as it took me from calligraphy to painting lines with new tools, then backwards to several antiquated disciplines related to calligraphy: handmade papermaking, book binding, paper marbling and paste grain painting. By going backward I leapt forward into a new way of thinking about narrative in art and ultimately a new way of teaching art. This way of thinking about art helped me launch several new projects all of which relate to the fundamental things calligraphy has taught me:

  • How forms evolved over millennia to give us a written language, and that that movement through time would become a template for my own evolving art.
  • It taught me how to appreciate movement and gesture, satisfying my childhood urges to create forms in space.
  • It taught me about flow, which brought me to nature.
  • It brought me to the narrative arts through a back door. I became interested in the staging and sequencing of visual information.
  • And finally it brought me to the recognition that what I’m really drawn to and always have been are the psychological impulses that flow through people.”

Rosamond Casey



A six-minute slide show including the music composed by Jo Adkins for the play Mapping the Dark; a Museum of Ambient Disorders and various images from the play and installation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw05ozkoD5g Catch the Baby. A 4-minute film to demonstrate how the game works. Produced by Diane Bloom.

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