Painted words, written images

Author and illustrator Daniel Lehan reviews the intriguing and idiosyncrantic work of a remarkable artist and poet with a distinct creative process


Ntiense Eno Amooquaye – Artist Audio Recorder


Published by INTOART 2014


ISBN 9780948835537


Artist Audio Recorder contains not only the work of this remarkable artist, but also photographs documenting the making of her work created for her 2014 exhibition Hera Master Come Down at The Saison Poetry Library in London’s Royal Festival Hall. This exhibition featured her picture poems, Riso prints, and a series of bookmarks made in response to eight specific poetry books at the library.




So we see each one of the beautiful bookmarks – hand painted words and images in a range of warm greys, blacks and whites – facing the actual poem that inspired the bookmark. We see initial responses to each poem on the pages of her notebook, we see a series of stills from the film Artist Audio Recorder of the artist writing her notes into their final form, and we see the photographs that Ntiense took of shop signage and signs around Clapham, which she later used as source material for the bookmarks. These reveal a rich and privileged insight into her distinct creative process.


When the exhibition ended, copies of each bookmark were inserted inside 40 poetry books and placed on the shelves to be found by users of the library. On the reverse of each bookmark was an email address – an opportunity for the finder to contact the artist with their comments and reaction to finding such a treasure.


Ntiense is a member of Intoart, an artist-led visual arts organization based in London working with adults and young people with learning disabilities. As part of this, Intoart supports each artist member to fully document and archive their artwork in splendid archival boxes. This aspect of Intoart’s work was recently celebrated at Tate Britain with an event during which each artist presented examples of their work, carefully taking each artwork from their box for all to see. And so in her book, we have pages showing us Ntiense’s archival boxes, photographed to reveal their contents.


Poetic influences


People often draw similarities between her work and the work of William Blake, specifically his illuminated books – the most well-known being Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience.


For me her works recall those of Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), a sadly neglected American poet and novelist. I particularly enjoy this comparison with a more contemporary writer (he never considered himself to be a visual artist). He was, as far as I am aware, the first poet to recite his poetry accompanied by jazz musicians. His biographer wrote that he “developed in his fabulous fables, love poems, and picture poems a deep yet modern mythology that conveys a sense of compassionate wonder amidst the world’s violence”. He hugely influenced the poets of the Beat Generation. He also, and significantly, suffered for most of his life from a crippling spinal injury aggravated by a series of unsuccessful and botched operations, which resulted in him being bedridden. From there he continued work, producing an extraordinary number of painted books and painted poems, and it this work that is akin to Ntiense’s.




Words and images


Several months ago I told Ntiense about the work of Kenneth Patchen. When she looked at his work, she said it was ~


Really bold 

Contrast and colours

New and fascinating

Human beings as monsters

Seeing him and me on two sides of each other makes the different types of ideas transparent


Patchen and Ntiense each create an idiosyncratic world where words and images carefully intertwine – are married together – on the same page, with a beguiling level of skill and care. Achieving this is no mean feat. Far easier to fail with either word or image dominating the other – rather than creating a fine balance between the two.


After looking at Nitense’s work I have a feeling that not only has she painted words, but that the images she paints have somehow been written.


Daniel Lehan