At the Bookforum website, artist Richard Kraft recommends several artists notebooks that have been published in book form, writing that “looking through the notebook of an artist or writer is a revelatory experience: To enter their laboratory, where they are free of the weight of expectation, is to witness the unpredictable process in which ideas, materials, forms are first conceived and tested, discarded or developed.” Kraft describes notebooks by Daniil Kharms, Louise Bourgeois, and Robert Seydel, among others. Here’s his gloss on Lee Lazano’s Notebooks 1967-70:
This compilation of Lee Lozano’s notebooks charts, among other things, her transition from making paintings to more conceptual “Language Pieces,” such as Real Money Piece, Grass Piece, No Grass Piece, and Dialogue Piece. It’s a big shift in approach that one can clearly see coming in the written notes (all in capital letters) that accompany her sketches and sometimes stand alone. In November 1968, for instance, Lozano wrote “IDEA THAT CANNOT BE DRAWN,” in which she describes an impossible painting. It’s fascinating to see the intensity of Lozano’s conversation with herself, manifested in her critical annotations of things she had already written or drawn in the notebook. On a page containing four sketches, she has written “NO” next to each one. And on the following page, a trio of concentric arcs is labeled “MAYBE.” Later, another drawing is marked “TRITE!” and in August 1968, a page with two drawings of concentric circles has the following notes:
AUG 6, 68. THE THING THAT’S WRONG WITH THIS IDEA IS JASPER JOHNS AND KEN NOLAND. TRY IT AGAIN WITH A SKINNIER OUTER SKIN TO THE SPHERE.
AUG 14, 68. WHY DO TWO CIRCLES WHEN ONE WORKS BETTER? THE THING THAT IS WRONG WITH THIS IDEA IS THAT IT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH . . .TRY A TORUS . . .NON-ESSENTIAL COMPLEXITY EQUALS WEAK (BAD) ART/IDEAS.
Since removing herself from the art world in 1982 (Dropout Piece has been called her final work), Lozano has acquired near mythic status. Of the many books of her work that have been published (I have four in my library) her notebooks are perhaps the most compelling, because they pull back the curtain, allowing us to see a restless, relentless artist, always probing and trying to move her work forward, who ultimately had the courage to tackle her questions about the art/life continuum head on.
Image of Lee Lozano via blantonmuseum.org.