Dom Sylvester Houédard was a concrete poet, learned theologian and Benedictine priest. A true avant-garde eccentric, he wrote
extensively on new approaches to art, spirituality and philosophy, studying a wide variety of belief systems and working with counterculture figures such as the poets William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, artists including Gustav Metzger and Yoko Ono, and the composer John Cage. Fascinated with the interplay between the meanings of words and their physical form, he used his Olivetti typewriter to create intricate compositions such as Optical Art (1964). His friend Edwin Morgan coined the word ‘typestract’ to describe these typed abstracts, whose playful textual manipulation aligned Houédard with the concrete poetry movement of the time. Freeing words from traditional constraints to new zones of expression, concrete poetry can be traced to the inventive typography of 1920s Modernism; the present work also echoes the Constructivist abstracts of László Moholy-Nagy, whose futuristic interest in technology and machinery finds an apt analogue in Houédard’s mechanically-printed visual language. Moving from poetry to absolute pictorial abstraction, individual letters are layered and iterated to illegible density; clusters of ‘N’ and ‘e’ can be glimpsed, but the emphasis is on the shapely impact of the letters’ forms, not their meaning. Houédard poses a beautiful and serene inquiry into the relationships between sign and signifier, word and image, with more than a hint of divine mystery.