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A review of Stroke by Stroke from The Complete Review


Stroke by Stroke consists of two volumes of Henri Michaux’s drawing-dominated books. There is some text—explanation, poetic variations on the themes—but it is the striking black-ink drawings that dominate.

In the first volume he describes coming to his bestiary:

Insects, especially insects, were happening to me. Intrigued, I became more and more of a bug. Even though I thought they had completely slipped my mind.

Many of the pictures are of animals and insects, mostly roughly drawn, rarely just a single creature on a page, as Michaux prefers to show transitions and groups.

There’s a sense of scrawl to the drawings, the black ink too thick for precise detail, and yet their very roughness makes them more evocative. Influenced by Chinese ideograms, there’s a sense of double-meaning—as well as that of the personal hand-writing behind the images, a distinctive style connecting creator and content.

Michaux has little interest in precise realism:

What is a resemblance without dissemblance ?
A drawing with no fight in it is a bore.
It is incomplete.

Among his ambitions is specifically: “To disobey form.” Tension is almost always present in the pictures—the sense of motion he tries to capture, for example.

The first volume is called Grasp —an attempt, among other things: “To grasp the underlying.” From there he moves to Stroke by Stroke, more focussed on action (“Gestures rather than signs”), looking to transform, release, approach, explore —all “stroke by stroke.”

It’s an appealing and attractive volume, if occasionally frustrating (though that frustration of communication is an essential part of what he is trying to convey). The imagery is striking, the text limited but intriguing. Worthwhile.

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