While David Byrne's public persona remains inextricable from his achievements as the iconic lead singer for Talking Heads, the wide range of other creative projects undertaken by the multi-hyphenate performer does not disappoint. His activities since the band's dissolution almost three decades ago have spanned avant-garde theatrical productions, visual and conceptual arts-related endeavors—and even, beginning in 2005, an eponymous radio station. As of late, he has poured his energy into expanding Arbutus, the nonprofit he launched in 2018 as a locus for humanist-minded media initiatives geared toward promoting a sense of national unity.
For one such venture, We Are Not Divided, Byrne began making a series of playful line drawings for placement within article layouts. Historically, the publishing industry designated such innocuous filler imagery as "dingbats." As Byrne explains in a his recent essay, "What means this dingbat?":
I was thinking of the little drawings that are used in The New Yorker and other publications to visually break up imposing blocks of type. A row of asterisks, a bold sub-head, a row of bullets or stars accomplishes the same thing. We like markers as we read—paragraph indents, spaces, chapters—and stars or a tiny drawing of a flowerpot—they all do the same thing. They make reading easier and in most cases they don't have to reference the story directly, but sometimes they echo the tone of the whole publication.
By the time COVID-19 descended on New York City—where Byrne has lived since the 1970s—his dingbats were displaying increasingly elaborate concepts and forms. The artist, in turn, discovered in the subsequent lockdown something of a temporal blank page: a void through which to structure his experiences in a meaningful way. Byrne found that his dingbat-inspired illustration method allowed him to record observations and musings in real-time.
Presented online by Pace Gallery—as well as on a rotating basis in its physical space—"dingbats" reveals 50 drawings that capture epiphanies, frustrations, and idiosyncratic, often humorous reflections borne from Byrne's self-isolation. Infinite Sofa (2020) [pictured], for instance, depicts human figures situated with some distance between one another—indeed, at a socially distanced distance—on a couch that stretches beyond the horizon. The surreal composition manages to express the paradox of grappling with boredom and loneliness as an individual—while simultaneously enduring such psychological tribulations as a community, all in the name of protecting others within it.
Likewise, proceeds from "dingbats" will support Arbutus in fostering initiatives that act on behalf of a greater public good. — Rachel Small
David Byrne, Infinite Sofa, 2020. Fadeproof waterproof ink on archival paper, 9 × 12 inches (paper); 11 × 14 inches (framed).