Ryoanji: Drawing Around Objects.

The dry garden at Ryoanji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) in Kyoto is Japan’s most famous Zen Garden. Created c.1450, it is a 30 x 10m area of raked gravel with fifteen stones, arranged in groups of three as five mossy ‘islands’. The garden can be viewed from a raised platform, but from no point can all fifteen stones be seen at once.

Inspired by Ryoanji, John Cage worked extensively with drawing around stones making his first series in 1983. Each drawing involved choosing and locating stones at an I Ching-specified point on a (non printing) grid laid over the printing plate.

Inspired by John Cage, I asked visitors to Every Day Is A Good Day to help create a single A3 drawing over three hours on a Saturday afternoon. Objects that people were carrying in their pockets or bags were placed on a grid according to the roll of two dice. A third dice was used to select a colour.

The instructions were:

1. Choose an object of a suitable size from your bag or pockets.

2. Roll two dice. The left dice is the vertical axis, the right dice is the horizontal axis.

3. Place your object on the chosen square.

4. Roll one dice. Choose the pencil that corresponds to that number.

5. Draw around your object.

Any exercise in Cage’s preferred territory of chance, acceptance and non intention goes against our normal controlling conscious training and is interesting as a way of loosening up and discovering possibilities. This drawing also acutely revealed how hard it is to simply draw around a shape fluently. It was fascinating to see how the drawing changed over the afternoon, sometimes subtly and sometimes radically with the addition of a single item.

Another surprise was the way that the drawing acts as a catalogue of things that we carry. I thought it would mainly consist of mobile phones and keys but that, it seems, just reveals a limited male viewpoint.

The objects that participants chose included: Box of raisins, breadstick, coins, seahorse keyring, mobile ‘phones, gallery attendant’s radio, apple, lipstick, moisturiser, asthma inhalers, credit card, nail varnish, wallets, purses, digital camera, Tic tac box, lighter, notebook, single Tic tac mint, keys, spectacle cases, hair grip, key fob, bunch of keys, pebble from beach, eraser, sunglasses, hairbrush, suncream.

Gallery Interaction: Mesostics.

<!– @page { margin: 2cm } P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm } “I have something to do, a puzzle to solve…”
John Cage.


Cage often used mesostics as part of his creative process. A mesostic is a poem or other typography such that a vertical phrase intersects lines of horizontal text: “Words come first from here and then from there. The situation is not linear. It is as though I’m in a forest hunting for ideas.” Cage used texts such as James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and regarded them as oracles, instructing him where to go next in his ‘exploration of nonintention’.

Making mesostics with gallery visitors, we were immediately struck by how deceptively difficult this is. We adults are very bad at playing with words in a freeform way, maybe because they are usually so embedded in structure and intent. Only young Thomas Denton wrote a mesostic all on his own, the play hasn’t been knocked out of him. The rest were group efforts and happened slowly, interspersed with lots of fine conversation about John Cage, chance and nonintention.