The Writing is on the Wall

Patterson Webster

The Writing is on the Wall   2016
Collection of the artist

This neon work brightens a shady area next to the house with its illuminated statement, “The Writing is on the Wall.” The saying comes from an Old Testament story in which the prophet Daniel interprets words on a wall as a judgement. While the phrase now predicts an unavoidable negative outcome, the bright colours and neon lights of the sign belie the gloomy message.

This piece by the artist was a gift to her husband on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Put “up in lights,” as on a Broadway marquee, these words celebrate her husband’s career in journalism as well as the work of the many other professional writers in her family.

The use of cursive reflects the years that the artist and her family spent in China during the Cultural Revolution. At that time, handmade “big character” posters (dazibao) were popular forms of public communication and debate. The neon sign replicates the hand-written nature of these posters, while the location on an outside wall of the house provides a public setting for the message. The words, which are literally written on the wall, invite a viewer to consider the relationship between form and content. Or, to borrow Marshall McLuhan’s formulation, to understand that “the medium is the message.”