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BELU by Sally Van Doren Photo courtesy the artist

The Art of Words With a Poet Turned Painter


Sally Van Doren is the Walt Whitman Award-winning author of three volumes of poetry whose carefully chosen words tempt readers toward interpretations, but as an emerging painter, her work is purposefully inscrutable.

“All of my work relates to asemic drawings, that’s the source I draw from,” Van Doren said during a phone interview from her home in Cornwall, Conn.

Free from linguistic context, asemic writing is an avant-garde expression of movement and writing without communication. This illegible form of calligraphy invites us to rethink the relationship between writing and drawing and has been used by artists like Mirtha Dermisache, Brion Gysin, and perhaps most famously by American painter Cy Twombly. Asemic writing in art has often been about capturing the frenetic movement of the pen in hand, leaving the viewer with motion, but not meaning.

For nearly 20 years Van Doren has started her day with this meditation on paper. “I do it every morning, so I now have thousands of pages of this asemic writing. I have always written in journals, but at a certain point I no longer cared if I could read them, and as my handwriting became increasingly sloppy, I began to like that my writing was illegible. Eventually, what I realized is that I was not writing, I was drawing.”

Well-known in the area as a poet, in 2017 Van Doren unveiled her visual work to her New England community at a gallery show held at The Cornwall Library. “That show was the first time I liberated this asemic drawing from the pages of my notebook and put it out into the world. I was nervous about it then, a few years later now I’m much more comfortable and confident in this artistic exploration.”

Since the library showcase, Van Doren’s work has been seen at Cornwall’s annual Rose Algrant art exhibition and at the Longview Farm House Art Gallery in St. Louis, Mo. She enrolled in an undergraduate art program at Hunter College in New York City and now has a dedicated art studio in West Cornwall.

“Having a studio space  has had a big impact on both the work I have been making and my increased visibility as an artist. It has enabled me to have studio visits with artists, collectors, curators, and sometimes lost tourists. I’ve done commissions for private collectors and just finished a large public print commission.”

New works by Van Doren will be unveiled at her upcoming solo show at Furnace - Art on Paper Archive in Falls Village, Conn. Curated by gallerist Kathleen Kucka, paintings in “Tangled Language” combine Van Doren’s signature scrawling with blocky, stenciled letters reminiscent of Cecil Touchon, floating out of order as shapes to be seen, but not read.

“My art is a liberation from the poet’s pressure of being specific with the use of words. In my painting I look for a freedom I don’t have in poetry.”


"Tangled Language" opens on Feb. 11 at Furnace - Art on Paper Archive in Falls Village, Conn. Van Doren will also read from her upcoming collection " Sibilance," and will be joined by Cornwall, Conn., author Roxana Robinson reading from the 2020 edition of "Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life." For more information go to www.furnace-artonpaperarchive.com

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