Visual Narrative & the Plot of Pattern In her book works, Erica Van Horn often explores the elements of visual narrative and the ways those elements might be exploited and subverted within the linear structure of the book. In an entirely modern reinterpretation of the heavy use of patterns found in the borders and backgrounds of much Medieval art, Van Horn uses the recurrence of lively visual patterns to frame and shape scenes and figures and to underscore what might be thought of as plot points in her visual narratives. With little or no text, Van Horn suggests lively, dramatic, and compelling stories. Her frequent use of the accordion format, which looks and functions like a book but c an also be unfolded to reveal a many-paneled panorama, provides her narratives with a page-by-page pace while also calling to mind the scope and grandeur of panoramic images. In the tradition of 19th-century panoramic paintings, Van Horn often uses the form to depict landscapes, narrative scenes, or combinations of the two; in this way, these works can be viewed as idiosyncratic visual maps of key sites in the artist’s life. Likewise, in Van Horn’s work every day patterns like the number and grid pattern of the calendar or the irregular loops and swirls of cursive handwriting are infused with narrative significance.

La Ville Aux Dames

La Ville Aux Dames, [Paris: s.n.], 1983

La Ville Aux Dames is Erica Van Horn’s “fictional plan for a real city”; the artist writes: “La Ville aux Dames is an actual town in the Loire, not far from Tours. When I first visited, I anticipated beautiful Streets all named after famous women in French history. Instead, I found an antiseptic new town, with very little beauty to celebrate these women.” Van Horn’s reimagining of the City of Women includes the streets she anticipated, along with visual patterns incorporating female forms and abstract representations of buildings and other features of the town.

Beinecke Call Number: 2009 Folio 67


1989, Docking, Norfolk, England: Coracle, 1991

A calendar of a sort, on its surface 1989 records Erica Van Horn’s travels in 1989; the varied representations of days in the calendar portion of the book correspond with the dates in the index, which indicate where Van Horn was on all the days of the year. The visual patterns of the book, both the calendar pages and the dates and location index, are immediately recognizable, and so at first glance, the broad narrative of the book seems obvious. Following the index, however, Van Horn includes a kind of ratio: 365 / 231. The index and calendar do not reveal the nature of the 231 days, complicating what seems at first glance like a straightforward narrative. In this case, Van Horn uses visual patterning both to reveal and to conceal; a basic narrative is visible but a private narrative is hidden in plain sight. Van Horn underscores the personal and semi-private nature of this calendar-diary by using her own handwriting for both the calendar-drawings and the book’s text.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 991N

++ See also This Is the Everyday

Oeuf et Une Chaise

Oeuf et Une Chaise, Vitry-sur-Seine, France: s.n. 1983

In this private visual narrative, a kind of imagistic autobiography or self-portrait, Van Horn records what she calls “an awkward time—thinking I was pregnant while very poor and living alone in Paris and not having a clue as to what I would do about it.” Much as her work often pares a narrative to its most basic elements, in this case, the artist writes: “I reduced the problem to 2 elements: the egg and the chair, literally waiting for the egg to drop.”

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +983Q

++ See also Portrait & Likeness

The Seven Virtues (Accompanied by the Seven Liberal Arts)

The Seven Virtues (Accompanied by the Seven Liberal Arts), [Paris], 1985

Like much of Van Horn’s work in the mid-1980s, The Seven Virtues reveals the artist’s abiding interest in experimenting with visual patterning inspired by her study of medieval art. Describing this large accordion format book, Van Horn writes: “The Seven Virtues is mostly an excuse for me to continue the obsessive patterning and storytelling which I love from medieval art. Combining the structure with a looser drawing style makes that world mine, not a fake relic.” Throughout this period, Van Horn makes over elements of the work that inspires her, creating thoroughly modern and personal interpretations.

Beinecke Call Number: 2009 Folio 68

Black Dog White Bark

Black Dog White Bark, [United States?: s.n.], 1986

This unique hand-painted book was later produced in a printed edition, which described the work as a collaboration: “text by Louis Asekoff; drawings by Erica Van Horn.” The work, Van Horn has written, “evolved from a conversation with the poet Louis Asekoff. What I refer to as his story was nothing more than the four words which stayed with me after the talking.” Black Dog White Bark clearly illustrates Van Horn’s interest in experimenting with the most pared down elements of narrative. This hand-painted edition of Black Dog White Bark is made up of cards advertising an exhibition of Van Horn’s work, which she has recycled for use as painted pages.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 986B

++ See also Leftovers

Odyssey, Paris 1982

Odyssey, Paris 1982, [France: s.n. 1982]

A lively and rich visual narrative, Odyssey, Paris, 1982, documents Van Horn’s first trip to Paris; recording the artist’s steps through the city (one sees her purple boots—garments which appear in several books of this period),—the book is both a personal map and a illustrated memoir. The artist uses an accordion format to highlight the continual unfolding of her story. About the heavy use of patterning in this book, Van Horn writes “My first trip to Paris was a mission to explore and spend time with Medieval art. I wanted to learn about another way of making pictures. I had not expected to be so excited by the city itself. I tried to apply the world I was studying to the world in which I was living.”

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +982P

++ See also Eulogy—Favorite Clothes who Died in France in Leftovers and Mes Vetements Sont Souvent [Une] Un Problème in This is the Everyday

Yellow Woodgrained Table

Yellow Woodgrained Table, [Paris: s.n., 1986]

The very exaggerated wood-grained surface of the table in this work makes the table’s surface as significant as the objects it holds, creating a curious still life in which the focal point of the painting seems to shift foreground to background and back. Remarking on the format, Van Horn calls this work “a folding painting, a kind of non-religious version of a retable.” The accordion format makes this work a text-less book, a visual tabletop sequence of images unfolding panel by panel.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 986Y

++ See also This Is the Everyday

[Illuminated Books #18: Demon Tumbling Down Stairs]

[Illuminated Books #18: Demon Tumbling Down Stairs], [Paris: s.n.], 1988

Van Horn calls these painted books “a bit of play with the term Illuminated Book”; this spine-painting is, also, an inversion of the rare and beautiful book art of fore-edge painting, in which landscapes and narrative scenes are painted on the edges of an open book’s pages. The artist struck upon this unusual format as “a way for people who have no wall space to have a painting, and for people who don’t read to have books.” To make her Illuminated Books, the artist purchased inexpensive books at a used bookstore in Paris, until the booksellers discovered what she was doing with them—wiring them together and rendering them unreadable—and refused to sell her any more.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 988D

++ See also Leftovers

Creation Perfection

Creation Perfection, [S.l.: s.n.], 1983

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 983C

Stiles & the Pennine Way

Stiles & the Pennine Way, Docking, Norfolk, England: Coracle, 1993

An unusual daily travel journal, Stiles & the Pennine Way, records an eleven-day-long walking trip in England; seven day of the trip were spent walking the Pennine Way, a trail ranging across the Pennine Mountains. To keep from getting bored and as a way to distract herself from the steady rain, Van Horn kept track of the stiles she passed through or over along the walk by making hash marks on the sleeve of her raincoat with a waterproof pen. “I was very tidy about my little group of tally marks,” Van Horn writes of her second day on the trail, “and found myself admiring my sleeve a lot through the afternoon, especially since it was raining hard and I had to keep my head down.” Though the book includes Van Horn’s prose narrative about her trip, her drawing of her sleeves interrupts the text in its center; in this way, Van Horn suggests that the marks and the practice of making them are at least as important as the straightforward description of the journey.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 +993S

++ See also This Is the Everyday + Portrait & Likeness

Erica Van Horn & Harry Gilonis, Envelope Interior Art History

Erica Van Horn & Harry Gilonis, Envelope Interior Art History, [London]: Coracle, 1997

In this witty envelope interior album, Van Horn and her collaborator Harry Gilonis see the work of various important artists in a collection of repeated visual patterns; represented artists include abstract and conceptual artists, such as Jasper Johns and Sol LeWitt, alongside more classical artists, such as Gustave Caillebotte, whose famous painting Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) is represented by a pattern depicting two figures walking under an umbrella.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 997E


Rusted, Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland: Coracle, [2004]

The first page of Rusted describes the images that follow: "six small iron articles of unknown use found & drawn." Describing the work in greater detail, Van Horn writes: "Over the last ten years, I have found these metal implements: sprockets, chisels, cotter pins, mostly things for which I don't have names. They appear regularly in the soil of this former farm in Tipperary. Each metal piece was a part of something, a solution to a specific problem. That is all I know. I draw them in this simple silhouette form so that I will not forget them." Much of Van Horn's work elevates the unassuming articles and quotidian practices of daily work, be it domestic labor in and around home and property or the work of making art.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 2004R

See also Leftovers + This Is the Everyday

Mes Vetements Sont Souvent [Une] Un Problème

Mes Vetements Sont Souvent [Une] Un Problème, 1983, [France: s.n. 1983]

Van Horn uses an unusual format, creating an accordion fold-structure by sewing loose cards together, to document a challenge of her daily life in Paris: "my clothes," Van Horn writes, "were ALWAYS a problem (not fashionable, not new, not expensive, and often mismatched)." This book is one of a series of "souvenirs," in which Van Horn models the form on the familiar folders of postcards that are readily available on the streets of Paris, where the artist was then living. The clothing depicted here is also visible in other work Van Horn made during this period, including Eulogy--Favorite Clothes Who Died in France, 1983, and Odyssey, Paris 1982, in which Van Horn's purple-booted feet can be seen in the first frame.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 983M1

++See also This Is the Everyday + Portrait & Likeness

Some Words from that Letter

Some Words from that Letter, [S.l.: s.n.] c1985

That Van Horn’s habit of reusing materials extends even to language is evident in Some Words from that Letter. A work produced in several variant editions, including one in which several small books are housed in a house-shaped box, Van Horn uses text and image fragments to suggest a narrative: “Some Words from that Letter,” Van Horn writes, “is the boxing up of the end of a relationship. The letter signaled the end.” The work acknowledges the letter as the central fact of the relationship’s resolution, but by transforming its language into the raw materials of her work, the artist cuts the letter loose from its original context; in this way, Van Horn remakes the letter, taking charge of its content and reimagining its possibilities.

Beinecke Call Number: Zab V3115 984S

++ See also Leftovers