Dear Henry Tate,
The image below [see printed magazine] is a deleted set of notes by the late St Ives-based poet Sydney Graham about his poem The Thermal Stair. We don’t know why he erased it, but the marks he left behind created something equally poetic. As Brian Dillon writes: ‘Erasure is never a matter of making things disappear.’ Throughout this issue, you can get a sense of what he means, such as in the defaced photographs of Communist Party Members who were shot under orders from Stalin. The photographs were originally published in Alexander Rodchenko’s Ten Years of Uzbekistan, but the artist was compelled to deface his own book during the Great Purges.
A more benign deletion is explored in Vincent Katz’s appraisal of Robert Rauschenberg’s iconic work Erased de Kooning Drawing. The artist gave him an ink and crayon drawing, knowing how difficult it would be to reduce it to a blank page. Rauschenberg’s genteel form of iconoclasm became as much a homage to de Kooning as it was an inspiration for the ‘white works’ of Richard Hamilton and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. However, not all artists get consent from their heroes. Jake and Dinos Chapman, who have been longstanding admirers of Goya, took his series of etchings The Disasters of War and made their own additions to the originals. Was this action more a fond handshake with the past than a violation?
Despite how some might define it, erasure is rarely about obliteration. Memory can serve to ensure that even though out of sight, somebody or something is not forgotten. In his first visit to the Tate archive, John Burnside communes, as he puts it, with Paul Nash’s old paintbox and while ‘holding his brushes, opening a box of watercolours’, he realises that the artist had, in fact, ‘been there all along’.
Bice Curiger and Simon Grant