Dom Sylvester Houédard was a monk, theologian and artist, born in 1924 in Guernsey and educated in Rome and Oxford. Houédard served in the military intelligence of the British Army before becoming ordained as a Benedictine priest in 1959 at the Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire.
Houédard wrote widely on new approaches to spirituality, philosophy and art and soon became a cult figure in London's counter-culture of the 1960s and a leading authority on the Beat movement. His abstract visual poems were created on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter which he started to experiment with while still working for the army. Houédard, also known by his initials dsh, was a pioneer in the emerging concrete poetry scene and his interests reached far wider than those normally associated with a monastic priest. He was known for his abstract, precise and graphic work and was an active participant in the radical creative expression of the 1960s, where he worked alongside culture figures such as Yoko Ono, John Cage and Allen Ginsberg. He referred to his abstract visual poems as Typestracts – a combination of the words ‘typewriter’ and ‘abstract’.
As a literary figure, he appeared with his first visual poems in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s poetry magazine Poor. Old. Tired. Horse in 1963. The visual work of Houédard came into view from 1962, and from 1963 onwards he was increasingly prolific and visible in the international concrete poetry movement. In 1964 he co-founded the concrete poetry collective Gloup, together with John Furnival and Ken Cox, a founder and vice president of the Association of Little Presses. He refocused on religion for the last ten years of his life, as an infirmarian, and died in 1992, aged 67.
Houédard exhibited throughout his lifetime at venues including the Arnolfini, Bristol (1966); Lisson Gallery, London (1967 and 1968); the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1972); and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (1971). Exhibitions featuring dsh’s work have been organised posthumously at the Print Center, Philadelphia (2019); South London Gallery (2012); the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2009); and Whitechapel Gallery and Hayward Gallery, London (2000)