Earth of Shadows

Yesterday I bought a bottle of Waterman’s Absolute Brown, a richer complement to my J. Herbin Cacao Du Bresil, and favourite KWZ Honey ink. A little research reveals that this is a rebranded version of Waterman’s older, more evocatively-named Havana Brown. It isn’t a perfect brown, but flows well in my Grey-Blue Pelikan M101N and the colour is agreeable enough.

Recently, I read that some former Omas employees have re-emerged as Scribo. I don’t know their pens, but enjoyed a frisson reading of their Classico Sepia ink. Could this satisfy my interminable pursuit of a bottle of Omas sepia? The quest is for something that resembles the deep, muddy brown from this note in Walter Benjamin’s archives, possibly black originally, but faded to a wonderfully earthy riddle of a colour, the shadowy umber from which Rembrandt’s self portraits emerge.

This photograph is taken from an enthralling Verso collection of Benjamin’s personal manuscripts and documents. I enjoy the swirl of Benjamin’s essays, but am equally fascinated by him as a reader and collector. It’s no surprise to me that “high-quality paper, particular pens, ink, and nibs, and, furthermore, specific spatial preconditions were important prerequisites for a non-resistant and smoothly running flow of writing. In a letter to Siegfried Kracauer, for example, Benjamin reports on the acquisition of a new fountain pen, an ‘enchanting creation’.”

The creation in use in the first photograph is a Pelikan 101N, one of a series inspired by vintage Pelikan pens from the 1930s. My picture doesn’t sufficiently capture the appeal of the design or colour, but, if that is of interest, there are better places for that. I generally prefer bold, music, or oblique nibs, unlike Benjamin who had “such a small handwriting that he never found a pen that was fine enough, which forced him to write with the nib upside down”.

Both quotes here are from Verso’s Walter Benjamin’s Archive.

4 thoughts on “Earth of Shadows

  1. Rembrandt’s Late Self-Portraits by Elizabeth Jennings

    You are confronted with yourself. Each year

    The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.

    You give it all unflinchingly. You stare

    Into yourself, beyond. Your brush’s care

    Runs with self-knowledge. Here

    Is a humility at one with craft.

    There is no arrogance. Pride is apart

    From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift

    The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt

    But there is still love left.

    Love of the art and others. To the last

    Experiment went on. You stared beyond

    Your age, the times. You also plucked the past

    And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,

    And old age can divest,

    With truthful changes, us of fear of death.

    Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,

    The sadness and the joy. To paint’s to breathe,

    And all the darknesses are dared. You chose

    What each must reckon with.

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