‘In writing,’ says Glenn Ligon, ‘something is always left out, it can’t be articulated in the space of an essay. Using letters that bleed and disappear is about getting to that difficulty’ (G. Ligon in H. Drohojowska-Philp, ‘Glenn Ligon Gets Obama’s Vote,’ LA Times, 11
December 2009). In the present work, the words ‘Slept Awoke’ form a groggy incantation, oilstick letters progressively misaligning and sinking into coal-dust darkness as they repeat mercilessly down the page, capturing the grim monotony of daily grind. Ligon’s textual conceptualism deals with life as an outsider, examining race and homosexuality through a polyvocal prism of quotation and visual poetry. Using stencils and oilstick in order to distance the words from his own handwriting, he further obscures many of his texts with coal dust, accruing dark, shimmering passages of surface, or disintegrates letters across the page. In so doing he underlines the slippery semiotics of language and labels, allowing voice to fragment or coalesce in shifting palimpsests of meaning. As Holland Cotter wrote in 1996, ‘Mr. Ligon’s use of old-fashioned stencil type links his drawings with the early work of Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana, though his direct address to questions of race and sexuality mark a departure from those models. However forthright their content, though, Mr. Ligon’s drawn words have their own mystery. Seen through a haze of charcoal or in raking gallery light, they’re hard to read, but their ideas are big’ (H. Cotter, ‘Art in Review: The Evidence of Things Not Seen – Drawings by Glenn Ligon,’ New York Times, 18 October 1996).