The medieval bestiary was a compendium of beasts – each described and accompanied by an illustration and in some cases, a moral lesson. In those times, a beast was almost anything NOT human so it was not unusual to find plants and rocks next to birds and beasts along with their fantastical offspring – hybrid creatures with horns and beaks and tree limbs all in a single body. These imaginary beings are testaments to the inventive spirit of the late middle ages when ideas were still bound to the image but we can also see them now as visual calling cards for the anxieties of an age that was unable to contain its world in a simple compendium or a single philosophy.
The bestiary survived to modern times and it was there that I met the bestiary in the form of Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings.
The late author’s baroque and labyrinthine language brought me into the book but the large margins and numerous blank pages throughout the compendium were what sustained me. The blank pages appeared at the end of each signature so that you were never sure if the pages were an intentional taunt or a byproduct of a under-financed publication. I remember feeling the beast was not only in the rich descriptions but in the book itself, waiting in the gutters of the blank pages ready to spring out with the slightest prodding of my imagination or by invitation of my wayward pencil.
In my own practice, I’ve looked for the beast in most of my endeavors but they have also sought me out in places I never expected to find them. The names I give these beasts, my beasts, are drawn from their actions or their origins—face scratchers, heel nippers, man-made or woman-born. They are my friends. They are my soul.