A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Artist + mathematician = Basile Morin

On my last night on Don Det in Southern Laos, I’m invited for drinks at Basile Morin’s house.

My quest to find writers on my travels leads to this invitation – the owner of my guest house, Mathieu, introduces me to his friend.

Basile is an artist and a writer. He is also a mathematician. Originally from Paris, he now lives permanently on Don Det.

Basile's creative works contain a central paradox – the unlikely combination of spontaneous artistry and formulaic mathematics.

Take Basile’s ambigrams, for example...

An ambigram is a word or phrase designed to read the same when it is turned through 180 degrees.

Don Det in Laos

amour / haine

Dieu / satan

artiste Basile

bicycle for rent

probleme / solution!

What I love about Basile’s ambigrams is this combination of symmetry and surprise – it’s as if I don’t quite believe the magic trick until it’s performed in front of my eyes – especially with antonyms such as amour and haine (love and hate) and Dieu and Satan (God and the Devil).

“Ambigrams are a passion for me, they are a bridge between the picture and the words,’ Basile explains. ‘I get surprised by what works, there’s something magical about it.”

I'm going to ask Basile if he can make ‘shyness’ and ‘passion’ into an ambigram design for me – this has been a central paradox in my life, one that challenges me on a daily basis!

For more ambigrams, visit www.ambigrammes.com.

Basile's paintings...

‘My paintings are abstract and colourful constructions,’ Basile says. ‘They are about mathematics. They are also about patience – it takes me many days to complete a painting. It’s a game for me.’

Below are two of Basile's paintings that I particularly love. See www.basilemorin.com for more.

Fumeur (2007)

Design (2010)

4000 Island life...

Basile has lived on Don Det for almost 6 years.

“I first arrived here by chance. I knew I would come back. I felt good here. I decided to sell my flat and furniture in France. It was much more a feeling than a rational decision to stay in Don Det.”

Basile describes 4000 islands as a puzzle in his poem Loin là-bas – he plays a game with sound in this poem, only using certain consonant sounds throughout.

Here are the first four lines (in the original French to retain the sound play)...

Loin là-bas
(poème consonantique utilisant les sons B/P, S/Z et L uniquement)

Loin là-bas au Laos, le ciel ensoleillé
happe les oiseaux blancs aux ailes éployées

En puzzle les îles aux ilots s'assemblent
Les eaux poussent le sable ou les pièces ensemble...

For more of Basile's French writing, visit his writing site.

Just before I leave Basile’s house...

...he tells me that my name, Charlotte, is an anagram of ‘total cher’ – French for ‘expensive addition’. That makes me laugh out loud.

As I walk back to my guest house after meeting Basile, it’s like I’ve walked into the Bible. A hailstorm of crickets flies into my face. I'm careful not to step on fat toads along the pathway. Thousands of moths and midges buzz round lights. And a lizard falls on my arm.

The anagram comes to me when I get through the creature-storm to my door.

Basile is an anagram of ‘is able’.

Basile is able (in the talented sense of the word).

That works perfectly for me.


  1. Dear Charlotte, I'm very glad to discover this anagram of my name you've found in english, which is great, because in this game the simpliest words always are the best ! With the same letters in french, we have " la bise " wich means " the kiss "... I had a really great time talking with you that night you came, it's only a shame your lao visa expired too early, otherwise you would be invited for a lunch or a dinner, or both or more... Well, next time I hope ! (soon ?) I'm going to work right tonight on your ambigram. Thanks for your article, it's famous and the previous one also on Don Det !
    I wish you the best for your travel, blog and novel. Good luck !
    La Bise...

  2. Basile - I agree, the simplest words are the best. It's a key principle for my writing. It really was a fantastic hour of my travels to talk with you about your creativity. I'm glad you are happy with the way I've written about it.

    Clems - you're right, Basile's work is awesome!