The Daily Heller: Drawings, Words, More Drawings and More Words

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One way to get the word (and picture) out to the public is to self-publish a book—which Jonathan Twingley has done with Words & Pictures (Volume One). Twingley is a visual essayist who keeps sketchbooks filled with numerous delights. His style is representational caricature. His method is to put the life that he sees before him into a frame filled with details galore. It is the role of the viewer-reader to discover the Easter eggs hidden among the weeds of cross-hatched, splattered lines and dots. In addition to his visual essays, Twingley includes a section called “Isolation” (done in 2020—and you know what that means). Twingley says: “The drawings are soft of self-portraits, but not really.”

Whatever they are, this anthology of sketchbooks is a pleasure to spend time admiring, in isolation or with others.

What inspired Words & Pictures (Volume One)?
As the first hardcover offering from WORDS & PICTURES PRESS, I wanted to put something together that was a bit broader in scope than the previous catalog collections I’d been offering, and I wanted to tell a personal story. Ironically, 2020/21 was the only year since 2007 that I wasn’t in at least one art school classroom. That, and the more or less universal isolation that 2020 inspired, seemed like a good place to start telling a personal story.

The themes you’ve chosen seem loosely connected. Do you have particular focuses? A point of view?
Earlier this year I began curating a series of social media posts from 2020—chronologically—which evolved into Words & Pictures (Volume One). I certainly don’t map out my social media life ahead of time, but I do pay attention to what I shared yesterday and consider what I might share tomorrow, as a way of telling some sort of evolving story. The narrative that grew from this curation was very much timely, documenting my personal vantage point from the Heights neighborhood of Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan, as our collective COVID-19 global pandemic isolation unfolded. But also interspersed are ruminations on paths my art and life have taken over recent years—commissioned magazine and newspaper assignments, evolutions and philosophies on style and process and working habits and interactions with university students. The chronological social media posts that make up the book are like a series of micro-essays or journal entries, telling the story of my pandemic year but also waxing nostalgic, too, with all of that time spent by ourselves.

These seem to be ongoing and infinite. What is your creative goal?
“Ongoing and infinite” would be one way to describe social media. “Insatiable and bottomless and shallow as a wading pool all at the same time” would be another way to describe it. One thing that the pandemic and ensuing closure of colleges and universities made very clear to me: Human beings thrive on physical human interaction. It’s right up there with food and shelter as a basic necessity for life. Zoom and Canvas and Google Classroom were all great stopgaps during a tough time, but it wasn’t the kind of oxygen that sustains us for the long haul. People have been suggesting for at least 30 years that print is dying or has already died but I’ve never bought that, and in a strange way the thrill I saw in students’ eyes (that’s about all I could see of their faces) as we returned to campus in the fall of 2021 is the same kind of thrill we get when leafing through the pages of a hardcover book, right there in our lap—the real thing.

As a demonstration of the vitality of print and our very basic need for tangible human interaction, a quick story from Words & Pictures (Volume One): “In June 2020 I had four postcards printed featuring spreads from the ISOLATION catalog collection. On June 18 I posted a video to my social media accounts offering to send one of the postcards to anybody who shared their physical mailing address with me. For free. No strings attached. I sent ISOLATION postcards to nearly all of the 50 U.S. states as well as Canada, England, Israel, Australia, Germany, Scotland, France, Brazil, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, New Zealand, Estonia, Latvia, Vietnam, Thailand and Wheeling, WV (!). It was a simple exercise in human interaction during a time when most of the world was feeling particularly all alone.”

What do you want to see as an end result?
I’ve often joked that when I left graduate school in the late ’90s, not only did I not have a Plan B, I didn’t really have a Plan A, either. But I was determined to make drawings and paintings and tell stories. That was non-negotiable. All the rest of it—the “end results”—are still very much to be determined …