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A History of Visual Text Art is a gargantuan overview of visual poetry and text art from visual poet karl kempton, who draws on a vast/curious knowledge of the marks made by humans on stone, parchment, paper, canvas, in neon, onscreen ... through millennia.

karl kempton’s A History of Visual Text is one of the very few overarching views of a fascinating terrain: art as language, poems for the eye. His account begins with newly-available prehistoric evidence, finds paths through complex clusters of religious and political influence across the globe and then moves into a long review of the 20th and 21st centuries, from the Russian Avant Garde to the Stieglitz Circle, Concrete Poets to Conceptual Art, Word Painting and Iconographic Painting, and beyond.

The book is unusual for its insistence on thoroughly re-looking, to find nuances and practitioners who had been ignored. So we have Barzun’s story, more than Apollinaire, we have Theosophy and Platonism in the lineage, alongside Mallarmé, we have the seers aligned with art stars and scholars.

Crucially, kempton tilts his perspective throughout to include non-Western narratives, and details the  effect of spiritual practices — particularly Buddhist Ch’an and Zen, Sufism and from American First People — on the gestation of language arts. He follows complex bloodlines from rock art to religious texts to temple murals to individual enlightenment. He embraces the work of ancient and contemporary Arabic word painters and First Peoples’ Iconographics, their relation to other spiritual traditions and to artmaking.

In doing this, kempton allows us to re-see ourselves; familiar shapes become new again. For example, his own deep involvement in Vendanta, bhakti yoga and other disciplines, in the USA, means his account of the Beats and the visual poetry and art that emerged as a result of Patchen, Ginsberg, Snyder, et al is given fresh detail and depth.

A sequence of visual language works from contemporary practitioners illuminates the book — works from Liz Collini, Philip Davenport, Steve Giasson, Ali Haider, Dona Mayoora, Bin Qulander and Dawn Nelson Wardrope. A sequence of letters from the poet and iconographic artist Márton Kóppany interrogates the book and its ideas. The book contains over 1000 hot links to a wide spectrum of online examples.

The book is also illustrated by a parallel blog, Synapse International, which gathers works from visual poets and text artists across the globe.

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