Passport: 30 Years Drawn on the Road is a collection of books and prints selected from over 200 sketch and manuscript books. This exhibit is being presented in conjunction with a retrospective of my films (also at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center); an exhibit of videos, drawings and manuscripts at the Margarete Roeder Gallery; and performances of the song cycle Gravity Radio at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.
These books span a career of touring and performing and have been indispensable in my process of creating works for the stage and capturing my impressions of cities and locales. From music manuscripts to cartoon diaries to collage and sketch books, these bound impressions have been my constant companion. I always preferred capturing scenes with pencil and paper and never took a photograph until photography became available on a phone.
I started drawing and making music at an early age. I fell in love with bookmaking (both sketch books and music books) while at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Conservatory of Music at UMKC in the 1970’s. Homemade bookbinding made the journals more personal and was a lot cheaper than buying pre-made sketchbooks. I was a fan of Kurt Schwitters and my collage travel books (especially the “Fan Books”) became a way of documenting my travels as well as keeping a visual journal (though with the Fan Books, there are almost indecipherable journal entries on the reverse side of the index cards that make up the books).
As the collage books started to get unwieldy and impractical (especially while carrying musical instruments), I gravitated to the transfer techniques pioneered by Robert Rauschenberg. But as years of turpentine smelling clothes started to take their toll, I began doing muted transfers without the aid of loosening solvents. This created a much more pastel effect and lent itself to watercolor and graphite sketches. This also inspired a “chance operations” approach to working and re-working multiple pages of a book out of sequence: I was documenting and sketching but I was also consciously creating individual works.
It’s been an interesting obsession for 30 to 40 years: to pursue this visual work as consistently as I have music, recording and directing, but not show the work. I suppose one can only do so much and each “scene” has its own set of rules. Society demands specialization, and while I’ve viewed this approach as flawed, I suppose I’ve also been happy to keep some work to myself. Public versus private art? Or maybe one set of critics is enough for any one lifetime.
In many cases, the books have also served as visual storyboards for the films and stage works. Not in a literal or traditional way, but in conjuring and suggesting imagery that might fit a particular musical or dramatic context. It’s for this reason that I’m so pleased to present this work at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, my home away from home in those early days in New York City.
– Mikel Rouse, October, 2010
Special thanks: Jackie Davis, Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, George Boziwick, David Callahan, Jonathan Hiam, Sarah Ziebell, Caitlin Mack, Michael Mushalla, Lisa Boudreau, Stuart Leaf, Claire Silberman, D. Mark Kingsley and Jean Vong