My Typewriter by Peter Sacks

In our Toolbox series, we ask artists to describe a tool they couldn’t do without. Here, Peter Sacks explains how his typewriter adds literal weight and time to the fabrics in his works.

Peter Sacks is a South African artist and poet best known for his fabric-infused collages. A teacher of English Literature at Harvard University with five volumes of poetry already behind him, he took up painting and collage in his forties. Sacks is represented by Marlborough and has exhibited internationally. Here, he explains how his typewriter is integral to his work.

There are many globally and historically diverse fabrics embedded into my recent paintings—from lace to fishing nets to old Norman work shirts, brocades, embroideries, Indian cottons, African textiles and others—many of which I have also rolled through an old manual typewriter, which I use to transcribe or compose all kinds of text. It’s an insanely laborious, almost ritualistic, reverie-inducing task. An odd meeting place of body and machine. Not just pre-electronic but pre-electric. Taking quite a lot of force (more than for typing on paper), the iron keys physically hammer the ink into the material one character at a time, producing marks that are at once textual and textural, legible yet also graphic (especially when typed in bent, interrupted, wandering lines which look more like drawings than writings).

Whether historical, political or literary—from Red Cross Reports of Iraq and Syria, to the prison writings of Mandela, the Geneva Conventions, Kafka, Virginia Woolf and my own thoughts—the scripts bear the pressure of my added literal weight and time. They become not just rewritten but reinvested. There’s something scribal and ancient about it. So while making paintings, which of course depend on their visual compositions, I feel I am including letters to the viewer, and for the viewer. On even the largest paintings, the words draw you intimately close. The type is small, so these are not large scrawls or slogans. Often I’ll partly bury the writing in paint or layers of cloth, so that there’s an archaeological trace of it: something not only to see but to decipher, a way of looking into as well as looking at what you see.

And I love the noise. Sometimes I hear the typewriter echoing away inside the painting.

Peter Sacks: Migrations

18 April until 19 May 2018 at Marlborough Fine Art, London