Research point 1.1 – Examples of artwork that make direct use of words to convey meaning

This research point is as the title suggests – trying to find examples of artwork, especially textile artworks that “make direct use of words to convey meaning” as my course material states.  I love calligraphy and hence I am now starting to study an area which I have a very long term interest – 32 years to be precise as I studied calligraphy for my art O level aged 17 and it was only reason I passed with a good grade (I have never forgotten just how bad my sketch of a camera was!!).

Jean-Bernard Metais. Alliance sculpture. 2009. Pinterest

The first piece of work that came to mind was suggested by my fiance – the Alliance sculpture by Jean-Bernard Metais from Paris and was erected in Cardiff city centre in 2009.  The sculpture projects Welsh and English words onto the pavement at night – the words are written by Peter Finch, a Cardiff based author and are based on a play of the city name.  The hoop and arrow combined with the words refer to Cardiff’s past and present and was paid for by St David’s shopping centre.  What I do like about this sculpture is the fact it is buried partly beneath the pavement but rises and falls in time with the nearby tide and in addition to the words it is also filled with a liquid so that it glows at night.


Grayson Perry. Driven Man. 2000. Size 39 x 31 x 31. Saatchi Gallery

Edmund de Waal makes reference to Grayson Perry in his interview and a little research brings up his vases and objects that often makes use of words to directly convey a variety of meanings. Grayson Perry is influenced by a wide variety of subjects including the consumerist society of today, the art world and art history  and in this vase he makes reference to Mid-Life with its connotation of a mid-life crisis or what he means to someone, perhaps himself included.


Grayson Perry. Language of Cars. 1999. 39 x 28 x 28 cm. Saatchi Gallery.

Another work portrays the ‘language of cars’ but using words as well as images of different vehicles to convey his message – cars mean different things to different people and at different times.

Both vases use words and images to illustrate what the artist wants the viewer to understand or to think about in a very direct manner – the viewer may instantly understand the message or they may question the words.

Raw-War 1971 Bruce Nauman born 1941 Purchased 1992

Bruce Nauman. Raw-War 1971. 567 x 717 mm. Tate.

Bruce Nauman started to explore the use of words as palindromes in the late 1960’s – this is where the words read the same if they are back to front.  Bruce Nauman’s inspiration for this exploratory work is based in printmaking which results in the reversal of the image or words naturally (unless of course the artist reverses the image before working on whatever print making method they are using).

This print is the artist’s first word-image print and is a lithograph on paper – the words do not necessarily convey a message due to the artist’s exploration of palindromes but I cannot help wonder if there is a hidden message within as this print was done during the duration of the Vietnam War.


Sara Impey. No Exit. (no date). Pinterest

As I specifically research textile artists I have discovered the work of Sara Impey and found this particular quilt fascinating.  This quilt has been free motion stitched with the end left uncut with words stating ‘keep on going round in circles’ and ‘loosing the thread’ ‘written’ in circles – the words are directly relating to the action of the machine as it goes around in circles and by leaving the threads uncut you do not loose the thread.

Sara Impey states on her website that she is interested in the stitched word and “the point at which the visual, verbal and textural come together” (Impey, 2016) – this approach means that she has the freedom to explore design ideas whilst being influenced by either social or personal issues and she herself states enables her to explore words using colour, texture and pattern.  I feel her work could be compared with that of a calligrapher who incorporates similar design techniques and explorations – a calligrapher works with paper but Sara chooses to use her sewing machine as her ‘pen’ or ‘quill’.  The words Sara uses are her own choice and as such she is able to decide the message she wishes to get across or convey and as someone with a background in calligraphy many years ago and also more recently quilting it is interesting to see the combination of effectively two disciplines.


Jette Clover. White wall 11. (no date). 119 x 129 cm. Pinterest

Jette Clover is a Danish textile artist who is heavily influenced by her background in journalism.  Jette’s work is very much mixed media as it incorporates a variety of techniques including print making, painting, photo transfer, rusting, screening and many others but these pieces also be referred to as art quilts – however she states herself that she makes art not quilts so is very much a textile artist as opposed to a quilter.  Without understanding Dutch it is difficult to work out whether she is aiming to convey specific meanings but she sets out to explore writing in all its forms whether it is an intimate letter or just the large letter forms of the graffiti artist.  The meaning of the words she uses is about the writing itself it seems as opposed to the meaning of the words used if she does not understand the specific language on a piece of paper or a wall she has discovered and wants to use in a piece of art work.


Book of Kells. Title page of the Gospel of St John. Pinterest

Book of Kells – if I am looking for artwork using words to convey direct meaning then I must include the Book of Kells and also the Lindisfarne gospels whose manuscripts use incredibly elaborate and highly decorative script to illustrate and convey the meaning of the biblical stories within.

The Book of Kells dates back to 800 A.D. and believed to have been written/illustrated by monks on the Scottish island of Iona.  The paper itself is vellum – calf skin and the title pages of the 4 gospels of Jerome use illustrations to form the Latin text.


Lindisfarne Gospels. First page of the Gospel of Matthew. Pinterest

The Lindisfarne Gospels date from around 700 A.D. by monks in the famous monastery off the coast of Northumberland.  These illuminated texts are amongst the most famous in the world, along with the aforementioned Book of Kells and use the combination of illustration and text to convey their message – as a personal note to see either of these books is definitely on my own ‘bucket list’.

The text or words are almost indistinguishable from the art itself in both books – there is a distinct crossover of disciplines between art in the pictorial sense and the art of the calligrapher as they combine and intertwine to produce the elaborately decorative scenes and illustrations that convey the message of their respective gospels.  Perhaps these two medieval books are the finest examples that reflect the title of this research.

Keith Arnatt. Untitled (Study for Trouser-Word Piece, I'm a Real Artist). 1969-72

Keith Arnatt. Untitled (Study for Trouser-Word Piece, I’m a Real Artist). 1969-72. Pinterest

I jump forward to a very modern artist – the photographer Keith Arnatt who reflected that the art establishment did not accept that photography was an art form in the 1960’s and “tested assumptions about the nature of art production” (Tate, unknown date).

In this image Keith Arnatt using words to directly challenge the art world or the view to accept that a photographer is a real art form – this is straightforward and blunt in the message and aimed to make a direct statement.  If I compare the work of this photographer and the work of the monks of the medieval period they both use words to convey their message in similar terms despite 12-1300 years between them … the former using the modern methods of photography and the other using ancient quills and inks but both conveying their messages with absolute directness.

TLP. Le Complementaire, La Liaison 1-detail

Noelle Cuppens. Le Complementaire, La Liaison 1 – detail. 2016. Pinterest

Noelle Cuppens is a Dutch textile artist who considers “The articulation of the line is the essence of my work” (Cuppens, 2016) and uses a variety of media such as pencils of different types and her sewing machine.  In some of her work such as this piece she uses thread or yarn to emphasize specific words in the text of Marguerite Duras in her book C’est Tout.

I discovered the use of text in art is used in a variety of ways to explore the conveying of messages or narratives – from the medieval illuminated texts that tell of the gospels to the use of simple words in photography or simply as a means of playing with text and exploring the possibilities of design.  An artist may wish to convey a specific message directly or indirectly depending on the time period and social context in which he/she lives or works or the artist may simply like to work with the form of letters and there is no hidden meaning – the forms are sculptural on a flat plane but can be conveyed in two or three-dimensions and become artist pieces in their own right.

As I reflect I look at the research point title and understand that I have learnt that text in art can convey meaning in many different forms but also that it can create design and creative possibilities without the requirement of having a specific meaning.


Bolter, A. 3 December 2009.  New £1.5m French designed sculpture sees the light of day in Cardiff city centre [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

Impey, S. 2016.  No Exit [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].   Available from:

Kearney, M. 26 April 2016.  The Book of Kells:  Medieval [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from: (date unknown).  The Lindisfarne Gospels [online] [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

O’Hagan, S. 27 August 2015.  Keith Arnatt is proof that the art world doesn’t consider photography ‘real’ art [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

Tate. (date unknown).  Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

Tate. (date unknown).  Bruce Nauman Raw War 1971 [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017]   Available from: 2016.  Jette Clover:  Words and walls [online].  [Date accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from: 2016.  Noelle Cuppens:  The language of line [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

Saatchi Gallery. (date unknown).  Grayson Perry [online].  [Date Accessed:  11 February 2017].  Available from:

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