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Michael Winkler

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Lima, Ohio

Birth year

Lives in
New York

Works in
New York


spelled-forms painting abstract conceptual language-based drawing


The Abstract Forms in the Paintings Above are Information-Preserving Visual Transformations of the Spelling of Words

"To generate visual transformations of the spelling of words, the 26 letters of the Roman Alphabet are treated as a uniqely-spaced circle of 26 points--each point represents the location of a specific letter. When lines are drawn which connect the letter-points in the sequence of the spelling of a word, an abstract form is produced"--for more information on how the spelled-forms are generated, see the About page of the artist's website ( Michael Winkler has been visually and conceptually exploring spelled-forms for over 30 years using the same process.

Notes on the Relation of the Work to Some Emerging Ideas

Recent archeological discoveries are providing evidence that language most likely emerged very gradually from the visual foundations of the symbolic mind, rather than through a sudden genetic change 60,000 years ago. This would seem to lend credibility to the contemporary idea that a written word can serve as an image. But there has also been a recent discovery, resulting from advances in eye-tracking technology, which demonstrates that we actually read the individual letters of words (Parallel Letter Recognition) rather than the overall outline or shape of written words as was previously thought (Bouma Theory). This means that it is the sequencing of the letters which is actually conveying the word rather than apprehension of its image (a letter's identity is not inherently connected to the character used to convey it--it can be expressed in uppercase, lowercase, script, Braille, or even flashes of light in Morse Code, etc). Since words are read as a purely sequential form of patterning rather than as images, treating them as interchangeable with images has no foundation in the nature of their experience.

Since language is the greatest manifestation of culture, misinterpreting its nature is not likely to lead to deeper awareness. Winkler's process converts the sequencing of a word's spelling into a visually readable image and, for him, the visual result of the transformation is highly meaningful and profoundly mysterious. He produced mixed-media art based on spelled-forms for many years but for the last several years he's become primarily interested in exploring them in painting: "The scale of painting allows the overlay of the lines to be illustrated and the possibilities presented by the exploration of color are especially exciting (it's been discovered that language and color perception are processed in the same part of the brain--this discovery inspired the idea of exploring a perceptual resonance between language and color, with the goal of literally bringing the inner-workings of language to light). Experiencing the spelled-forms in the context of the historical framework of painting facilitates a comparison between visualization of the innately ordered structure of language and the abstract forms of intuitive visual explorations of the past and present (any structure apparent in the spelling of English words would have to result from innate forces because it did not evolve according to any plan)." Winkler's work is problematic for many theorists of contemporary art because it challenges the Saussurian idea that signs are arbitrary; however, it has been of interest to some researchers studying the origins of the symbolic mind (he was invited to write an article for the Newsletter of the Pleistocene Coalition in 2010).

Biographical Information

Awards: National Arts Fellow, Fellow of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Line Grant Recipient, and Special Members Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. Work has been featured in art and literary journals such as Rampike Magazine, and in books such as Imagining Language (Rasula & McCaffery, MIT Press, 1998). Exhibitions have been presented in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Major exhibitions include: Alignments, an installation at Galeria AT, Academy of Fine Art, Poznan, Poland; a large-scale wall installation in Poetic Positions at the Kassel Art Museum in Germany; and a 20 year survey at the Rosenwald Gallery, Van Pelt-Dietrich Center, University of Pennsylvania. Work is included in the permanent collections of various art and literary institutions such as: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, Miami Beach (extensive collection); India's National Institute of Design; and the King Stephen Museum in Hungary.

For info on the artist's current activities, visit:

Recent Exhibits

Michael Winkler participated in these exhibits:

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