Clash of symbols

Wild lines, musical scales, mathematical formulas and a new alphabet

An artwork from James Weaver’s “Dogs That Go on the Paper” series.

An artwork from James Weaver’s “Dogs That Go on the Paper” series.

Imagine a man who has inherited too much language. He knows too much and can no longer keep the facts straight. Over the years and throughout his travels, this man has picked up dialect after dialect. The linguistic codes are scrambled in his brain and chaos comes out of his mouth. He’s a one-man Tower of Babel.

The man’s insane. Maybe the linguistic informational overload made him crazy; maybe he always longed for pandemonium, being mad from the very start. He takes a multi-colored lead pencil, sharpens it with a knife to a wedge-shaped tip and turns the polyphonic chorus inside his head into art. Half the artworks are called “Straightjacket Poetry.” The other half, “Free Verse.” The former is made up of symbols within a rigid rectangular composition. The “Free Verse” works are made up of fluid shapes and more symbols.

The symbols and the fictitious insane man come from the imagination of artist James Weaver, an art instructor at Western Nevada Community College. Weaver created the character to fit the art. This series of works, he says, is a response to the way we live our lives today—constantly over-stimulated by the random facts and images afloat in an Information Age.

Weaver says that his art is driven by contrast, particularly contrast between hard-edged, geometric shapes and soft “organic” shapes—for instance, the letter “O” with a “#” symbol inside of it. Through his repetition of letters that resemble the English alphabet, musical scales, mathematical symbols and scientific formulas, Weaver creates not a language, but a densely scrambled code of sorts. He is interested in symbols simply for their aesthetic value, rather than for what they signify.

“I created deliberately composed works of art, not a new language,” he says. “I’m an artist, not a linguist.”

Weaver says that he’s more than willing to admit that in art, everything has been done. But the past can always be reinvented with subtle variations. In his work, Weaver seeks to chart new territory through his unusual deployment of lines.

“I try to extend lines so you look at [an artwork] and say, ‘This is part of a larger cosmos.’ “

For Weaver, the viewer is just as vital to the artwork as the artist. While admitting that he could make art anywhere and with anything—"I can make art in a bomb shelter,” he says—he feels that art is about dialogue. He mentions that during an art exhibit at Lake Tahoe, a woman came up to him and said that his pieces had given her an idea for her own art.

“What she has done is what I don’t have the energy to do,” Weaver says, adding that he’ll get to a place where he doesn’t “know what other questions to ask and to answer” when creating a certain kind of artwork.

At that point, it’s the viewer who, he hopes, will begin to ask and attempt to answer a new set of questions—and perhaps even decipher his chaotic artistic language.