Jonathan Borofsky born 1942
T03908 Untitled at 2,660,260
Pen and ink on white envelope 106 x 241 (4 1/2 x 9 1/2)
Inscribed ‘2,660,260 Borofsky 1980' b.r., ‘JB482/D' on back bottom centre, ‘P' on back t.l. and various other inscriptions (see below)
Purchased from Paula Cooper Inc., New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: New Works on Paper 2, Museum of Modern Art, New York, July-Sept. 1982 (not in cat.); Jonathan Borofsky Zeichnungen 1960-1983, Kunstmuseum, Basel, June-July 1983, Städtishes Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Sept.-Oct. 1983, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Jan.-Feb. 1984, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, April-May 1984, Kunstverein, Mannheim, May-July 1984, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sept.-Oct. 1984 (not in cat.); State of the Art: Ideas and Images in the 1980's, ICA, Jan.-March 1987 (no number)
Lit: Jonathan Borofsky and Kathy Halbreich, Jonathan Borofsky: An Installation, exh. cat., Haydn Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1980, [p.5]; Mark Rosenthal, ‘Jonathan Borofsky's Modes of Working' in Jonathan Borofsky, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1980, p.14; Jonathan Borofsky, ‘Catalogue', in ibid., p.75; Richard Marshall, ‘Jonathan Borofsky's Installations: All is One' in ibid., p.97; Sandy Nairne, State of the Art, Ideas and Images in the 1980's, 1987, p.52
Entries T03908-03917 have been approved by the artist. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of the entries on Borofsky T03908-03917 are based on a transcript of a taped, unpublished interview between the artist and Sandy Nairne recorded at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (8 September 1984). This coincided with an exhibition of artist's work at the Moderna Museet (September-October 1984).
Small scale drawings are central to Borofsky's work, providing the first record of the iconography that he then re-works in the form of larger drawings and eventually as the wall drawings, paintings, sculptures and other works that make up his mixed-media installations.
At the end of 1966 (see Borofsky and Halbreich 1980) Borofsky ceased to make sculptures and paintings for a few years, concentrating instead on more conceptual works and eventually on a series of written and diagrammatic pieces, recorded in notebooks. In 1969 he started to record numbers chronologically by hand, starting from one and reaching two million by 1973. These were written on a series of sheets of paper, each measuring 216 x 279 (8 1/2 x 11). After two or three years, Borofsky began to draw again (sometimes on the pages he was covering with numbers) and also to record his dreams in words and images (see Marshall 1980, p.90). Each image was numbered according to the progress of the central ‘counting' work, each new image or re-drawing of an earlier image being given a new number. This numbering (see T03908 - 03917) has been described as ‘a kind of coded signature, his own personal dating system, ... [an] inventory number to trace the results of his seemingly endless stream of consciousness' (Joan Simon, ‘Borofsky Dreams' in Jonathan Borofsky, Dreams 1973-81, exh. cat., ICA and Kunsthalle, Basel 1981, [p.5 of preface]. However, images recur, often years after their inception, and it is also difficult to date works from the chronological sequence of the numbering (see Marshall 1980, p.95). In 1984 Borofsky discussed the sources of his imagery with Sandy Nairne:
It's a continuous inner/outer interchange of information. I don't know which comes first. It's probably simultaneously changing all the time, from the moment of birth if not before, in the womb. You're receiving signals and input, and sending out at the same time. The images are coming from within me, my observations both of my own psychology, how I react to certain situations or life, and how I react to the outer political situation, what is going on on the planet. That certain people are fighting here and certain people are peaceful here and why this is the case, and then making connections to what is going on inside me. Why some days I am fighting inside myself and other days I am very peaceful, and trying to see if there is a parallel between this; what makes one anxious, what makes one at ease. So it seems to be a continuous going back and forth between the inner and outer world, making connections.
... (in the early 70s) there was a rush of new images, almost every day, because I had stopped making images for several years. So it was almost like holding back, and then a flood of them, to the point now that there isn't such a flood, they're hard to come by. What I end up doing is repeating older images in newer ways. And I assume that that is going to wear on me in a while and I am going to need a new input ... the scrap of paper, with the pencil or pen, has always been my way of noting quick insights, whether I am just waking up in the morning and remembering a few words to describe a picture or a dream that I had in my mind the night before, or whether I am walking down the street and quickly have some thought about a sign I see and how that connects up with some thought I had; or being on the telephone and finding myself always drawing figures with ears [see T03908] while I'm on the phone - is that because I'm listening or why? - those notations seem rather important, because they seem to happen without me thinking too seriously about making art. So I try to catch those ... which are happening more intuitively. Then I go ahead and put a number on them, to put them into the ‘computer' to give them some structure, to make them more real. So these scraps of paper (very much in the tradition of art, the artist makes drawings before he or she makes the big work) are nothing new - what maybe is a slightly different slantis my emphasis on the drawing not having to, in itself, have the traditional look of a work of art, but really being just a scribble on an envelope. But really emphasising these scraps - a seemingly unimportant set of notations, as being the possible true beginnings of, for example, a grand ‘Hammering Man Sculpture' twenty four feet high [see T03910].
T03908 was executed on the back of an envelope and the front of the envelope (ie the back of the drawing) bears the following further inscriptions: ‘California Institute of Art | Valencia | California 91355' (typed, top left), ‘Office of the Provost' (typed bottom left) and the artist's name and address in Venice, California typed in the centre. The envelope also carries the following red postal stamps: ‘Valencia | June-3'80 | CALIF' and ‘Cal Arts | the 10th Year'.
When interviewed in 1984 about the Tate's drawings, Borofsky made the following comments about T03908:
Because it's ... on an envelope, apparently ... It's no doubt a phone drawing, though I can't place when it was. Being on the telephone quite often I seem to make, low and behold, figures with ears. I'm listening to someone on the other end of the line but also as usual I think of them as receivers of sound and information as well as senders; listening, hearing.
Questioned on the way the image on the right had side of the drawing is fragmented, like the fragmented energy of the person depicted, Borofsky compared it to ‘energy of the universe, energy of the person in the universe, blending together this head almost being like a planet here, floating around in its own constellation of parts.'
He remarked on the way the ‘numbers and some geometry [the linear shapes, left hand side] ... set it off by contrast, as well as some grid system here ... none of these seem that profound, they're just little clues rather than having some profound meaning about my life.'
The postmark suggests that T03908 was made after June 3 1980. The envelope is addressed to Borofsky at the apartment in Venice, California, where he has lived from 1977, when he moved to California to teach at the California Institute of the Arts at Valencia.
According to Richard Marshall (Marshall 1980, p.97) the ‘long eared, spiral-eyed self portrait' that appeared as a wall drawing in Borofsky's installation at the 1980 Venice Biennale (June-September 1980) was a new image for Borofsky (repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1980, fig.54 and pl.144). Borofsky has made a number of comparable images; see for example ‘Horned Man at 2,550,117' 1978-79 (Boymans Museum, Rotterdam, repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1980, fig.36); ‘Man in Space #2 at 2,783,196 & 2,783,197', (Whitney Museum, New York, repr. ibid., fig.49); ‘Man in Space 1982' (video still repr. ibid., fig.50); ‘Oldi Stenfeld at 2,738,441' 1982 (collection of the artist, repr. ibid., fig.54); installation at Westkunst, Cologne 1981 (repr. ibid., p.158 no.172); installation at the Los Angeles County Museum 1981 (repr. ibid., p.162 no.180,); installation at the Museum of Modern Art, New York 1982 (repr. ibid., p.174 no.199); installation at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York 1983, (repr. ibid., p.182 no.213). Also closely related are two drawings, ‘12,668,379' and ‘2,670,098', c.1977-78 (Kunstsmuseum, Basel, repr. Jonathan Borofsky, exh.cat., Moderna Museet, Stockholm 1984, p.89)
In the Philadelphia catalogue (p.75) Borofsky related the long eared figure to ‘several sources, one of which is my relationship to animals. I have always had ... animals around me ... I watch their ears and the role they play in turning into their surroundings. I also focus quite often on just hearing sounds, as a form of meditation, so that I'm stretching my own ears too, emphasising them'. Borofsky suggested that these figures are part self-portraits, part animals. ‘At other times, these ears can pick up energy or reach into space'. In an earlier interview with Kathy Halbreich (Borofsky and Halbreich 1980) Borofsky said that the ears reminded him of ‘my dog, or animals, or hearing, or, if nothing else, two points heading up towards the heavens to receive energy. Antennae receiving and sending energy'. More recently, he was quoted as saying that the ‘character with ears is the animal part of me alert to the slightest sound' (Nairne 1987, p.52).
The geometric crystalline shapes on the right hand side of the drawing may relate to a frequently used ruby motif (see Rosenthal 1980, p.16). The inscription ‘JB 482/D' on the back of the drawing is a gallery inventory number (see also T03909- T03917).
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.99-101