NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 46/47

Reference - I

The Visual Lyrism Of Apollinaire

Vanina Pinter

Apollinaire is an “ignited” heart at the core of European modernity. A heart, since his romantic relationships structure his work and are infused into many of his poems. An echo of his first loves, he writes the poem La Chanson du mal-aimé (The Song of the Poorly Loved, 1909)1 — which has become a French classic. The end of his passionate relationship with artist Marie Laurencin2 is conveyed in Pont de Mirabeau (The Mirabeau Bridge, 1913). His animated relationship with Lou at the beginning of the war inspired exhilarating letters between these two lovers from December 1914 to March 1915. After Madeleine, Jacqueline would be the muse of his last poems. His writings woven with eroticism earned the admiration of a young André Breton, who saw the Apollinaire play, Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresia, 1917), subtitled “surrealist drama“.

Apollinaire is wholeheartedly a fluttering protagonist3 in emerging modernity, and a victim of the tragedy of World War 1. In 1914, he enlisted in the artillery, and was injured in March 1916 from a shell exploding and wounding his right temple. He would twice undergo burr holes drilled into his skull. Although he recovered, he died in November 1918 of Spanish Flu.
Apollinaire attentively examines his contemporary’s creations — a curious scrutiny searching for novelty and analysis. These reflections on art, which he distils in different writings, are highly pertinent. Despite his shortened life, his work is rambling and varied. It includes poems, stories — He becomes known through his stories L’Hérésiaque et Cie4 (The Hérésiaque and Company) —, plays, and art criticism. In addition to writing text for catalogues, he also penned art columns for different newspapers.
Apollinaire knew how to take cubism’s specificity and value its contribution. Close to Picasso, he wrote 'The Cubist Painters' in 1912. Influenced by them, he used everyday items and pieces of reality. Some of his poems used the technique of collage, and confronted fragments of headlines cut from newspapers with words taken from conversations overheard in Monday rue Christine5. He acquired this modern approach thanks to tempestuous exchanges with three key players: Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Gabriële Buffet-Picabia. He went on a road trip with them to the Jura Mountains and had a holiday that was practically an initiation, which he relates in his poem 'Zone', and even though he wrote it last, it would be the first poem in his poetry collection 'Alcohol', He writes: 
    You read flyers catalogues and posters which sing out loud, 
    Here is the morning poetry and for prose there are newspapers

Poetry was in the street; the poster artists were the poets. He listened to the visual force of this society that, while abundantly printing, gave continuous declamations and transformations of the walls of city life. Apollinaire appreciated the graphic work of Steinlein and Alphonse Willette. He went to cabarets including 'Le Chat Noir.' He managed to capture the poetic power of posters, as does Blaise Cendrars (who wrote about the posters of Cassandre in 1935, 'The Show is in the Street'. Some experts emphasize that the free verse conception of these poets is close to the typographic sequencing of the posters. The graphic arts participate in writing a new visual arts language. Duchamp’s rectified ready-made, Apolinère Enameled (1916-1917), where the artist appropriates an advertisement for Sapolin paint on a zinc panel, and alters the brand to Apollinaire bears witness to this.
Apollinaire forms his first Calligrams in 1913, the year that Marinetti published the manifesto 'The Imagination with no strings and words set free' summoning a typographic revolution. 1913 is also the year that Blaise Cendrars with the Sonia Delaunay a painter from Russia, published The Prose Of The Trans-Siberian. In this flowing poem, Cendrars no longer answers to the rules of punctuation, the painter invents an interpretation that is simultaneous and 'Ophic'6. The words -hand written or typed, are punctuated by pure color. With this collaboration they invented a new way of investing in the art of the book. The poets searched for new forms. With his calligrams Apollinaire joined in the tradition of graphic poetry. (Rabelais in the 16th century or the poem 'Verre' by Charles François Panard). But towards 1900 in the context of the explosion of the use of typography (reference may be made to Un coup de dés n’abolira pas le hazard ('A Roll of the Dice' doesn’t abolish chance) by Mallarmé dated 1897 and that Lewis Caroll made a typographic path for his mouse into a mouse hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) allowing the poets to explore the page and typographic characters as integral elements in their poetic construction. The writing of words is accompanied by their visualization.
Apollinaire organizes the layout of the page through sentence, word and typographic character. The blank white is considered to be a raw material in the poetic orchestration, this visual material of the page, will, subsequently, be constantly reenabled. His poem, 'Il pleut' (It rains) was reused by Jean Widmer in an advertisement for Galleries Lafayette department store. Each calligram plays with different ways of reading: There is a desire to continue reading but also to find other ways of read it.  From his ideographic poems, Apollinaire follows on to talk of the lyrical ideogram, then in 1917, he coins the word 'calligramme'7 or 'calligram' in English. These poems construct a suggested form, sometimes in line with the contents of the poem 'La Colombe poignardée et le jet d’eau' (The Stabbed Dove And The Water Jet), sometimes more distant, Lettre Océan, Voyage (Ocean letter, Journey). Apollinaire is a builder, in that he moves away from explosions of belligerent typography and cultivates the expressive alogism of Martinetti (Zang tumb tumb dated 1914). To a total rejection of tradition, Apollinaire prefers the 'raison ardente' (ardent rationale). In 1917, in a conference entitled 'The New Spirit', the poet explained the importance of critical thinking, the imagination and spoke of 'typographical audacity'. Artificial typography can go even further and incorporate a synthesis of the arts, music, painting, and literature.  These Calligrams or graphic poems should be thought of in this modernist spirit of a synthesis of the arts. Moreover, the lay out of Calligrams unites fragments of printed or hand written text, collages and different papers sometimes colored or torn. Manual intervention is always present.
With his unique path, Apollinaire shares a careless freedom to disrupt all that becomes systemized, to play with the elements of surprise. The first Zurich Dadaists included one of his poems in the Caberet Voltaire magazine and read his poetry during their rambunctious parties. Apollinaire showed an early interest for alphabets (which he even invented) and for ideograms. In his notebooks, we discover drawings and pictograms, hieroglyphics and cabalistic signs. Apollinaire frequently mixed his words with images until painting them: in March 1917, 'L’horloge de demain' (Tomorrow’s Clock) is a painted poem published, thanks to Francis Picabia, in colour in the magazine 391 (number 4).
At the heart of the artistic conflicts of the avant-garde and the first world war, Apollinaire records the suffering, the canons, the massacre, but if these poems have become more and more to the forefront of French heritage, even ahead of songs, it’s for this passionate lover, this singer of charnel delights, there was a joy in it, a lightness of those who anchor us all in the experience of living, here and now. There was this “energy”- that he senses at Duchamp’s work in 1912 — to reconcile art with the people.

Translation by Susie Murphy Hensworth

 1. From Apollinaire’s poems.
 2. Represented in the painting “La Muse Inspirant Le Poète” [The Muse Inspires the Poet] by Henri Rouseau.
 3. According to Duchamp.
 4. Of which Jacques Darche created a very beautiful maquette for a book design for the French Book Club in 1954.
 5. Apollinaire called them poem-conversations where “the poet at the centre of life records a sort of ambient lyricism”
 6. A term invented by Apollinaire to characterise Sonia et Robert Delaunay’s painting.
 7. Constructed from calligraphy and ideogram.

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review


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