A selection of rare typestracts, sculptural works, thermographs, original reversal poems, prints and books by Dom Sylvester Houedard (dsh). Dsh was a benedictine monk, concrete poet and avant-garde figure associated with the Lisson gallery and Writer’s Forum in the late 1960s and is seen as Britain’s master of typerwriter art.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), c’etait sur le mont oeta, 1971, 330 x 203 mm. Typed signature and dated 230171. Published as a frontispiece in Dom Sylvester Houedard, Ceolfrith 15, beside a note of thanks to the organisers of his Laing Art Gallery exhibition in Newcastle in 1971. This typestract was a gift to one of those organisers. The small felt-tip pen mark was originally on the sheet before Houedard typed the work but was erased when the work was published in Ceolfrith 15. Houedard used the felt-tip pens at exactly this time for his reversal poems.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), cloud, 1965. 180 x 205 mm. Typed signature and dated 291065. A variant of the typed work ‘cloud’ as seen in the Concrete Poetry: An International Anthology, London Magazine Editions 1967, edited by Stephen Bann (p. 158).
Dom Sylvester Houedard, Untitled (orthogonal composition in red and black), 1963. 165 x 125 mm. Typestract in black and red. Typed signature and dated 300663.
Dom Sylvester Houedard, 4 stages of contemplative t/writing, 1963. 200 x 124 mm. Typestract in black and red. Typed signature and dated 150663.
For Dom Sylvester Houedard scholar Nicola Simpson, this typestract is key to understanding the philosophical and spiritual dimension to all of dsh’s prose and poetry. Simpson describes this typestract as ‘an excellent example of Houédard playing with the possibilities of form on his typewriter to articulate his vision and intention for developing an ‘the wider ecumenism’, an understanding of the non-verbal contemplative experiences at the heart of all the major spiritual traditions’.In this poem Houedard visualises ‘the four stages of contemplation’ and meditates on what he elsewhere described as ‘the je/moi flicker effect’. The typestract’s dotted black boxes containing je/moi sit next to an empty box that reflects a counterspace between ideas of the mind and ‘the emptiness of the self’.
As Simpson describes: ‘there can be no mistake that there exists a profound and succinct exegesis on the nature of the mind and the inner contemplative life of this Benedictine monk in this deceptively simple work’.A variation of this poem was later published in the Writers Forum pamphlet Op and kinkon poem: and some non-kinkon and titled ‘4 stages of spiritual t/writing’.
Nicola Simpson’s essay ‘DSH and the four stages of contemplative t/writing’ can be read in full can be read here.
Dom Sylvester Houedard, 3-dimentional poem, 1963. 200 x 124 mm. Typestract in black and red. Typed signature and dated 300663.
This typestract is the first example of dsh’s 3-dimensional forms created on his typewriter. Simpson describes this poem as a ‘meditation on emptiness’, a theme that would take on ‘complex philosophical, phenomenological and theological meanings’ in his later work ‘but perhaps nowhere else does it exist so simply and so central on the page’. For Simpson, the 3-dimensional poem:
‘re-visited conceptual theme of the ‘empty box’, here represented with three 3-dimensional cubes. The small red cube is ‘full’ of action, overflowing in fact with an outpouring of black dashes…The edges that demarcate the sides of these cubes are a combination of both solid line and broken line. These edges therefore introduce the idea of transient form and also the Eastern phenomenological understanding impermanence and emptiness’.
Dsh, homage a leopold sedar senghor, 1963. 128 x 204 mm. Original typestract (carbon copy). Typed signature and dated dsh/100763. We have seen three different poems with the same title all involving a rhythmic repetition of the word ‘tam-tam’. The tam-tam drum was frequent motif in the poetry and writings of Leopold Sedar Senghor the poet, theorist and later president of Senegal. In Houedard’s first publication of concrete poetry, op and kinkon poems, Writers Forum, 1965, there is a poem of the same title but with a completely different visual format dated 201163, four months later than this typestract.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), la recreation de l’homme a l’image de dieu, 1969. approx. 152 x 115 mm. Typestract red and black on white paper stock. Typed signature and dated 050369. This work was published in Kontexts 2 (edited by Michael Gibbs).
Dsh (Dom Sylvester Houedard) Gripfreak, Typestract, 1972. Illustrated in Nicola Simpson (ed) Notes form the Cosmic Typewriter: The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houedard, Occasional Papers, London, 2012 p. 72 and Barrie Tullett Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology Lawrence King, London 2014 frontispiece.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), Birdvow, 1972. Tyepstract. 253 x 223 mm. SOLD
Dom Sylvester Houédard (dsh), MIND / TRIP clapperboard poem, 565 mm x 150 mm. Five painted wooden boards (each 111 x 150 x 5 mm) connected by a series of nylon bands. When the top board is turned the series of boards flip to reveal verso side. “Mind” interchanges with the word “Trip”. M-I-N-D stencilled on one side in black; T-R-I-P stencilled on other side in ochre. Unsigned and undated (1968).
mind trip (trap) by Dom Sylvester Houedard (dsh) is the most significant sculpture known to have survived from the 1960s by the Benedictine monk. The discovery of this sculpture in the Ken Cox Estate in 2012 has provided a more complete understanding of the depth of work that dsh engaged in. It was constructed for dsh by his friend and fellow member of gloup (‘Glo’ster Gro’up of Concrete and Kinetic Poets’), the machine poet Kenelm Cox, in his studio at Kingscote. The work consists of a series of painted wooden panels, each with a single stencilled letter, which are connected by a nylon tape pulley system. When the top board is rotated 180 degrees all of the other boards flip to their reverse side so the words ‘mind’ and ‘trip’ become interchangeable, creating a type of ‘jacob’s ladder’. The top board has bolts and a metal insert that would have originally connected to a rotating mechanical device.
As such, it is the only one of dsh’s early mechanical poem projects to have been made. Sketches and ideas for other poemsculptures can be found in a detailed letter to Cox, dated 1966, but any preliminary thoughts or sketches for mind trip as yet remain unfound.
That Cox was “ very keen” to collaborate with dsh on a number of pieces is made clear in dsh’s essay the singing of feeling, and, had Cox not died so tragically in 1968, it seems very likely that some of the other poemsculptures would have been made. It is in this same essay that dsh hints at the thoughts behind the construction of mind trip:
[…] the model of the Jacob-ziggurat constructed on the principle of a well known toy & using the text mindtrip/mind trap – here of course the form was largely given by the construction & the materials were limited by its functioning […]
In a tantalising anecdote, dsh then suggests that the artists may have had further ambitions for this piece, perhaps on the scale of Cox’s own work The Three Graces, where the words ‘Beauty’ ‘Passion’ and ‘Love’ floated 30 foot high out at sea, a little way from Brighton Beach:
[…] on one of the most memorable drives I had back from London with ken we discussed the possibility of building the trip-trap on a huge scale – 100 feet high on a glostershire hill- perhaps phosphorescent – but ideally seen making its great serene clapping noises against the storm flash & gale of wild mud & night [..]
mind trip is the only surviving work from what dsh calls the “tantric-staircases series” and while it is not on the same scale as The Three Graces, it still stands as the largest existing sculptural work by dsh.The rest of the series were lost “en route to the stedlijk museum” in 1968. As a “tantric staircase,” the work animates the spiritual ladders that characterise so many of the typestracts. As dsh states elsewhere in his ecumenical writing: “[the] ladder is our life of contemplation”, as we descend to our nothing heart centre we ascend to God, “the down which we climb to the top”. Or as dsh puts it in an earlier beat style lyric: “the streets go both crazy ways at once.”
It is characteristic of dsh to create neologisms for this movement of mind (central to him), for the act of contemplation is found both in the making and seeing of his kinkon and poemobjects: ‘right mind-minding’, ‘mind-turning’, ‘mind-stilling’, ‘mind-holding’. But it is perhaps in mind trip where, in Cox’s words, an “indivisible unity between the words & the movement” is most successfully realised, and not least because of this collaboration.
As a postscript, it is worth remembering that mind trip was made in the 1960s and the paranomasia between dsh’s contemplative inner journey and the groovy psychedelic, countercultural parlance for dropping an LSD tab is very much intended.
By Nicola Simpson, 2015
Dom Sylvester Houedard, Ken Cox Devotional Spoons, approx. 150 x 35 mm. Carved oak with branding mark typographical design. Unnumbered edition of 6 copies. Six spoons were presented by dsh to the family of Ken Cox in 1969.
Dsh (Dom Sylvester Houedard), Portrait of Fiona, Undated (c. 1967). 330 x 190mm. Thermograph composition with coloured plastics and newsprint. The work also includes what appears to be a hair and there is an inscription scratched on the side by dsh, written to Fiona Logsdail (wife of Nicholas Logsdail, director of the Lisson Gallery). The scratched text reads: ‘not just a portrait but part (i hope) too or is this a one hair wig?some yoruba gnomes in brasil have hair instead of hands luv silvester’.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), nicholas/ fiona, Undated, c. 1967. 240 x 122 mm. Original thermograph work using text and cut-out shape, collage elements in red, blue, purple and green. An homage to Nicholas Logsdail, founder of London’s Lisson Gallery and his wife Fiona.
Original Reversal Poems
Rare homoerotic reversal poems. The only other examples are seen in the Li Yuan Chia archive, ref: begin again: a book of reflections and reversals by dsh, LYC Publications no. 1, LYC Museum & Gallery, Cumbria, 1975.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), blond danes long to/ of proud gayes love, undated. 297 x 209 mm. Purple and orange felt pen on paper.
Dom Sylvester Houdard (dsh), pansyish nymph / enhanced ideas, undated. 297 x 207 mm. Purple felt pen and blue ball point pen on paper.
dsh, Ken Cox Memorial, South Street Publications, Sherborne, 1968, double-sided screenprint/ lithograph, 57×50.3cm. An historic print of the concrete poetry movement in which Dom Sylvester mourns the loss of the most prominent sculptor, the artist Ken Cox, who died in November 1968 after a tragic accident. This double-sided print was printed at the Compton Press, Salisbury. Circa 300 prints were produced on white, pink and yellow stock, this copy being on pink stock. The letters K- E- N- C- O- X are missing from the composition – reflecting the loss of the artist.
Dom Sylvester Houedard, Ken Cox, Ex Libri labels, 81 x 94mm, blue printed on white paper, c. 1969. (corresponding drawing by dsh in Sackner Archive)
dsh, Womb Word, Christmas 1966, 852 x 76 mm, red screenprint on thin cream paper (parchment?). Signed and numbered 11/100 to verso. Printed by Simon Verity (Daneway Press). 1965 poem printed and distributed as a scroll in the post during Christmas 1966. Dsh’s earliest known print. A fragile and ephemeral print – we have only ever seen 3 copies, we doubt whether more than 20 have survived. Two closed tears to left edge and top edge, repaired and restored with tape.
Dom Sylvester Houedard, three Ken Cox Typographical Totem prints, undated. 61 x 100 cm. Each white silkscreen on shiny paper. Printed by Simon Verity. No edition size given. No other similar copies have been discovered.
Verified as the work of Dom Sylvester Houedard (dsh).
Dsh designed these xylographic memorials following the tragic death of the concrete poet and kinetic sculptor Ken Cox in 1968. Designed with the letters of the artist’s name printed on one side, the hanging mobile totems convey his absence. Nicola Simpson writes that:
‘the presence of KEN COX spins around in the impermanent and transitory wind moving from presence to absence then presence again. The letters are both static and momentary. The shining foil, out of which the mobiles are constructed, catches the light rendering the text almost invisible and again… These totems come closet to what Cox meant, when he stated ‘one of my chief concerns has been to unite movement with words – to try to bring some kind of indivisible unity between the words & movement’’.
Nicola Simpson’s essay ‘a mobile totem memorial for ken cox’ can be read here.
Dom Sylvester Houedard, Splendid Weeping, Openings Press, 1970. 520 x 775 mm. Printed red and blue print on cream stock, signed and dated in pencil by the artist: ‘dsh 70 proof’. Artists proof. The typestract poem is 1967 but the print is dated and published in 1970. One of dsh’s most successful Openings Press prints. Condition: near fine, the dsh signature is slightly fuzzy from paper restoration, otherwise fine.
A collection of rare original silver gelatin photographic prints of dsh’s work exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition, dom sylvester houedard: visual poetries, 1971. Nicola Simpson, who recently viewed these photographs for the first time, sees many of the works depicted as new discoveries. No other copies of these photographs are presently known. Photographer unknown. Together with the V&A photographs is a portrait photograph of dsh by Chris Steele-Perkins with the photographer’s stamp on verso.
A full breakdown of this collection is available on request.
Books and Cards
Please see our Abebooks page for a selection of our rare dsh books, cards and other printed works.