Addition and Subtraction


Like many artists during the pandemic, I have spent more than a bit of time organizing and documenting my work. In the process it became evident that over the decades I had created / developed/ accumulated a personal inventory of images. Most started out small, even isolated however more than a few have not only endured but have easily become defining elements regardless of differences in my media or techniques. At times mutated thru repetition the images often carry multiple references specific to my work.

One such image is the hatchmark; four downward strokes diagonally crossed by a fifth stroke . Part of the power of this image is its history as a manual counting system, still universal in usage and comprehension today. My earliest use of the hatchmark is found in “Memory Vault’ a large textured assemblage first seen in the Musee Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne Switzerland. This early variation was composed of nails firmly stitched to a highly textured base vault.


Eight years later it appeared in Terrorists Diary, a unique artist book documenting terrorist attacks in 1985. In the pre-digital age, the date, and city of each attack was rendered in charcoal using stencils. Deaths, injuries, hostages and hostages killed were all documented by hatch marks. I intentionally bordered the edges of each page in red paint mimicking the black edging of death announcements . In the ensuing years I used “Terrorists Diary” as a template for “Addition and Subtraction” ; a collage compendium of global terrorist attacks beginning in 1985.


The seemingly random locations of these attacks only asserted themselves as bellweathers in September 2011.

Addition and Subtraction measures 23 by 7 feet and includes the body count of all the lives lost in New York, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Like many of my works these are intentionally meditative, inviting contemplation and conversations. Currently, I am using the hatch marks as a commentary on the Covid virus. The initial assemblages were heavy acrylic on linen canvas with PPE (gloves, paper gowns) attached. They worked visually but despite the uniformity of color (white) seemed too contrived. I have since resized the format to postcard size and minimized the content to just hatch marks.

The working title of this new series, “Silent Voices” is a variation on a haiku that I wrote over twenty years ago for another work.

Silent Voices
Fill the Air
Echoing our Fears
Shattering our Dreams.
copyright Anne Dushanko Dobek 1982

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