For Alice Attie, language and drawing are closely connected, as are writing and signs. She is fascinated by the multitude of possibilities of leaving a mark on a piece of paper. She adds forms, ciphers, and structures to the vocabulary of letters and numbers in order to visualize philosophical deliberations, trains of thought, and narratives. In her drawings, she appears to be testing a new system of signs that transcends the possibilities of language to reveal the connections between cognition and imagination. Attie’s works are often based on scientific and philosophical writings, the language of which she transforms into visual and poetic worlds. The artist, who lives in New York, has also published several books of poetry.

We can point to something with our art; we can try to lift above or penetrate through, or burrow into, but the most, I think, we can be certain of is that any circumstance will generate works that are particular and unique to that circumstance.

— Alice Attie

Alice Attie

C19, 2020
gouache on paper
30,5 x 30,5 cm (12 x 12 in.)
framed 43 x 43 cm (17 x 17 in.)

close-up

Alice Attie

C19, 2020
gouache on paper
31 x 31 cm (12 x 12 in.)
framed 43 x 43 cm (17 x 17 in.)

C19

Attie’s gouaches belong to her new ongoing series C19, which she began in spring in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. C19 refers not only to this new virus, but also to ideas associated with it, like crisis and contemplation.


The repetitive execution of the same gesture and thus the repetition of the same form in minimal variations is the defining aspect of this series of works. The small sheets of paper are entirely covered by almost identical strokes placed closely together, creating a rhythm and delicately calibrating color nuances of warm red, purple, and orange hues that structure the picture. Like a mantra, one stroke follows the next in a seemingly meditative process that is abruptly interrupted by the picture’s edges, which create a clearly distinguished and defined frame. Attie explores the potential of abstraction through her minimal markings, forming the individual small strokes into a pattern that expands into a single abstract form, ultimately filling the entire pictorial space.

close-up

Alice Attie

C19, 2020
gouache on paper
30,5 x 30,5 cm (12 x 12 in.)
framed 43 x 43 cm (17 x 17 in.)

The variations may be discernible or they may be hidden, subtle or overt, but they are nuanced and continuous. My works often employ repeated marks, which meet the page, over and over and over, in incremental shifts. Those shifts interest me both because they are often very gradual and because they accrue to become visually like a shimmer or a wave or merely something that points to the beauty of the repetitive, the beauty of its impossibility.

— Alice Attie

Alice Attie

C19, 2020
gouache on paper
31 x 31 cm (12 x 12 in.)
framed 43 x 43 cm (17 x 17 in.)

close-up

Alice Attie

Three, Thinking II, 2020
gouache on paper
46 x 61 cm (18 x 24 in.)
framed 50,5 x 65,5 cm (20 x 25 3/4 in.)

Alice Attie

Three, Thinking I, 2020
gouache on paper
46 x 61 cm (18 x 24 in.)
framed 50,5 x 65,5 cm (20 x 25 3/4 in.)

Portraits of Ambiguity

With Portraits of Ambiguity, Attie has created a series of works that explore the human body and the ambiguity of its physical and emotional modes of expression. The title refers to the way these portraits are rendered: The facial features are blurred and only hinted at in a minimal way. Attie forms the shapeless, abstracted figures through a lively combination of expressive brushstrokes and color planes that bleed into each other. This creates a tension in which the figures, which are divorced from all context, seem to be caught in a strong dynamic movement, reflecting an inner emotional agitation and a mysterious ambiguity.

Three, Thinking I and II, might signify what is going on between us or within us in the way of thoughtfulness and contemplation. ‘Ambiguous’ because, I believe, most things are. We cannot name them; we can rarely describe them, but our efforts to do so are pervasive. We think things through ceaselessly.

— Alice Attie

close-up

Tumbling Numbers

Alice Attie’s works are often based on texts, which she abstracts into structures, forms, and new systems of signification. In the ink drawing Tumbling Numbers, miniscule numbers take shape seemingly at random within the space, only to coalesce into a loosely formed sphere already sketched on the paper. The elementary form of the sphere is a recurring motif in Attie’s works – be it as a recognizable form, a fragment, or as a space left blank. The sphere seems to act as the key component here, although it is only a fragment – one that, for the artist, represents the core of all possibilities, despite being incomplete. Attie intends it as a philosophical element: By preventing something definite from being established, the fragment allows continuity.


Tumbling Numbers is a continuation of Attie’s series focusing on language and ciphers. On a formal level, the individual works of this series are reminiscent of planetary maps. For the artist, they contain all available means of language: All the potentialities of communication as we know them, all the ciphers of our language, are there, tumbling into any imaginable combinatory sense or nonsense.

Conceptually, the fragment and the empty space share the same horizon. They are where we find the ineffable lodged. Empty space (think of Mallarmé) is where all of the possibilities reside. I love that idea. We approach that place with omissions, with absences, with pauses, and with fragments. Here is where language, any language, is denied access and thus works around and through and towards. Such spaces are poignant philosophically. They are places that are not consumed by language. They are unbounded; around them we can form and reform how we see the world.

— Alice Attie

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Alice Attie

Tumbling Numbers, 2020
ink on paper
76,5 x 57,5 cm (30 1/8 x 22 5/8 in.)
framed 81,5 x 61,5 cm (32 x 24 1/4 in.)

Before and After

come dear one   come
be close   be near from far
time in the increments of time
suspends

I have found and lost
not entering  not leaving
not here not there
as if sound  as if rain

tapping the mind is
the chirp of the bird
I thought I saw   I thought I heard
something like this

unease we cannot name
as the hawk circles
as we walk the long loop
along the long afternoon

the frogs in small clusters
dropping their croaks into deep silence
leaning into the reeds
their gold tones like chords play the mind

heave us into thought
come dear one   come
be close   be near from far
be steady as the tree is steady

gather back and forth
these singular cries to imagine
the bird seeing  your seeing  eye seeing
be close   be near from far

measure the days  the years  the hours
as we are  as we were  as we will be
as the hour is presence
is silence itself

is a mystery tumbling through us
here   and here   and here
to steady the stranger knocking a door
to steady the voice breaking up  breaking down

to steady the oak
to swing as birds
to branches
as leaves in flutter

as tongue to page
come steady us
as something is and will be
steady and begin again

in the reach of language
shaping and un-shaping
these things that are and are not and are
again  the sun behind the grey cloud

just barely  just hardly into the slow season
just barely  just hardly as knowers know
something not yet ours is turning us
around and around as if and as though

come dear one   come
steady the undone doings
steady the divisions divided
steady time in the branch visible

be close   be near from far
come as darkness into daylight comes
as time through the buds
will swell into presence

will steady time in the branch visible
be close   be near from far
come as darkness into daylight comes
as we are  as we were  as we will be

March 2020
— Alice Attie

Alice Attie in her studio, 2020, © Alice Attie, Margaret Streeter & Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder

Black Figures

What constitutes a body? How does it work, what story does it tell, and what can it endure? These are questions Attie addresses in her series Black Figures. The figures dance, bend, and distort, sometimes in a humorous, sometimes in an acrobatic way. They are always in motion, assuming poses involving many gestures. Their bodies are their instrument; their postures are reminiscent of dance improvisation, expressing a broad spectrum of human emotions, like grief, ecstasy, surprise, joy, and insecurity. At the same time, they are controlled in their sweeping and expressive gestures, almost never crossing the boundary defined by the edges of the picture.


The process of their creation, on the other hand, is based on chance. Attie tears a sheet of black paper into small pieces and reassembles them into a collage, which is how the figures acquire their curious habitus. This allows for several levels of interpreting inner emotions. It is this play with such possibilities and ambiguous perceptions which is so characteristic of Attie’s work.

close-up

Like marionettes in the theater of life, these anonymous black figures, claiming the white paper, limbs bounding and mouths open, mirror and mime us. They are strange and familiar.

— Alice Attie

Alice Attie

Untitled, 2015
torn paper, collage
30,5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in.)
framed 42 x 34 cm (16 1/2 x 13 3/8 in.)

Alice Attie

Untitled, 2015
torn paper, collage
30,5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in.)
framed 42 x 34 cm (16 1/2 x 13 3/8 in.)

Alice Attie

Untitled, 2015
torn paper, collage
30,5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in.)
framed 42 x 34 cm (16 1/2 x 13 3/8 in.)

We Talked About it Last Night

we watched the snow

blanketing
disappearing

about the plague
we stopped short

we declined

as the sun
in the distance

declined

its glow
in steep descent

as we talked about it

listening to Art Tatum
the piano keys in rapid sequence

became metaphors
possible and impossible

now
something

perhaps the wind
lifting the leaf

descending
softly

is the mind
listening

to something
in the distance

a screech
perhaps bird

perhaps
thought

troubling
into full throat

I am here
I am possible

if I can
I will

if I can
I will

in an effort
the sky

arching into daylight
dipping into darkness

is an effort
as one thought

finds
another

we stray

as if
as though

threading
unraveling

unraveling
threading

to be
part of

as
we are

part of
as time

disperses
time

we talked about it last night

April 2020
— Alice Attie

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