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'The title No people. comes from the surrealist Raymond Roussel. In 1932 he published a long poem called New Impressions of Africa. For this he commissioned 59 drawings to illustrate the text. The commission was given to the artist through a detective agency so he never knew who the commissioner was or saw the text he was supposed to illustrate. All he got was instructions for each drawing and he had to make the drawings accordingly. A typical instruction might be

Nocturnal landscape. Very starry sky with a thin crescent of moon. (No people.)

or

A rambler, arm raised and fingers outspread, dropping a pebble (still visible) down a well and seemingly straining to hear the sound of its splash. (No other people.)

When Roussel put the drawings and text together, the ordinary everyday drawings took on a strangeness they might otherwise not have had if the artist had drawn with the text in front of him. It's the juxtaposition of both unknowns - text/drawings - that gives the final work its strange quality.'

© Gerald Barry (2013)


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