The Recluse & The Rapture
An Illuminated Alphabet
by Cathy Ledeker
I hold a deep and abiding love for the book as art form, and remain fascinated with relationships between ideas, writing, illumination, letterform and presentation. Alphabetic development embodies the evolution of civilization in style and philosophy. This connection between writing and history fed my desire to create an illuminated alphabet. Completing this ambitious project only deepened my regard for the mystical power of letters in manifesting human identity. My vision is to publish “The Recluse & The Rapture” in book form.
In the monastic spirit of the medieval scribe, I conceived and executed this series during a three-year period of reclusion between 1993 and 1996. A series of traumatic life events had brought me to the brink of sanity. I had become prisoner to fear and grief. Stepping outside my home produced heart-pounding panic. At night, my sleep writhed with a menagerie of demons. My mind was captive to a painful past.
The purpose of this collection of poems and paintings is to share my adventures through the valley of the shadow. I offer this work as testament to survival, the healing power of the creative process and validation of the incredibly rich rewards found along the precarious edge of self-acceptance.
The reading and writing of poetry has offered me solace and emotional release throughout my life. The concept of writing twenty-six alliterative poems evolved over a two-year period of personal transformation, from depression and withdrawal into a broad, optimistic acceptance of life.
The poetry manifests my struggles to understand human dichotomy, coupled with long-held interests in the medieval world and the practice of surrealism as an expression of the visual nature of thought. The figurative language within the poems arose during my search for compelling visual imagery which would provide the foundation for the paintings which were to follow.
In 1995 I joined a local poetry group. These poets provided a warm, accepting community and gave me encouragement for and feedback on my writing. This first phase, the poetry, served as the backbone of “The Recluse and The Rapture”.
Creating the paintings in this body of work was an exciting, wild and ultimately liberating adventure. The series is a convergence of my interest in the fantastic art found within illuminated medieval manuscripts and my professional development as an artist. These paintings are a tribute to the nameless solitary scribes who, for hundreds of years, patiently and often vividly recorded, sustained and sculpted human history. My respect for these early masters has nurtured within me a sense of reverence for their qualities of discipline, spontaneity, humility and humor. Immersion in my work was conducted in the spirit of these centuries old traditions. Ironically, by dwelling in the medieval world, my mind was released from the trap of time. It is this amazing experience I call “The Rapture”.
Technically, these illuminated paintings define my years of artistic trial and error combining the media of transparent watercolor, gouache, enamel, pastel pencil, ink and graphite pencil. The process builds layers upon a lightly penciled base drawing, through several stages of painting to inking and finally, highlighting and shading. The paper for both poetry and paintings is handmade, feather deckle Twin Rocker hot press watercolor paper. Each painting incorporates a human element, usually penciled, to symbolize the passage between the graying of death and the colorful experience of life. I have retained the integrity of the medieval letterform throughout the series. Again, in homage to the early masters, I maintained a free-hand, energetic, asymmetrical execution combined with attention to detail.
I selected an alphabet for reference in hand-lettering the poems called the Half-uncial. For me, this 8th and 9th centuries Celtic alphabet embodies the mysterious beauty of medieval Europe. It was created before the invention of lower-case letters and pulls the viewer, perhaps sub-consciously, into a world of runes, spells and misty, isolated monasteries, villages and castles.
The poems and paintings are bridged by bits of illumination accompanying each text. These small vignettes offer additional keys to interpretation. The poems are dispayed below the paintings to suggest the foundational nature of the poetry in the series’ development. The large decorative letters, called versals, are studded with Celtic knots, intense color and dense imagery, providing stages to illustrate the ageless drama of human dichotomy and deliberation.
The Symbols and the Vision
The concept of duality permeates this body of work. I developed a list of symbols which I kept taped to my drawing table as I worked. Some of the list includes heaven represented as stars on a blue background, hell as fire, fear as pins, God as a clam shell and constancy as pearls.
Commitment to works that resonated with personal truth demanded an alignment with an intuitive process of decision making which ultimately emerged in broad overall patterns of color, imagery and meaning. Trusting these instincts was my source of healing and has fostered an ongoing belief in my voice as an artist and defined my understanding of individual worth.
Each of us is a speck on the pendulum, with the innate potential for shifting the balance and direction of human evolution. Everyone has an intuitive inner voice that, when heard and respected, serves as a guide beyond the mind’s rational limits.
My desire in creating this body of work is to represent the strength I found in weakness, the control I found in surrender and the vision I found in blind faith. I offer you an invitation to walk now along the very human path provided by “The Recluse & The Rapture”.
A Key to the Symbols
Ant – Humility and Perserverance
Apple – Good and Evil
Blades of Grass – Freedom
Bones – Death
Brown Recluse Spider – Loneliness
Bubble – Trust
Butterfly – Delight
Cicada – Transformation
Clam Shell – God
Cross – Sacrifice
Egg – Strength and Weakness
Feather – Truth
Fire – Hell
Flower – Joy
Gem Stones – The Soul
Key – Hops
Nail – Pain
Pearls – Constancy
Pins – Fear
Rainbow – Forgiveness
Ribbon – Life
Rocks – Faith