Picture This

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” Plutarch

I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. William Wordsworth

All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea, swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,… Elizabeth Bishop

You are beautiful and faded Like an old opera tune Played upon a harpsichord; Or like the sun-flooded silks Of an eighteenth-century boudoir. Amy Lowell

…but that night, I drove home alone

with nothing swinging in the cage of my heart…   Billy Collins

“Words, words, words” Hamlet simply replies when asked what he is reading. As one who created countless vivid visions in this one, incredible, four-hour play, Shakespeare likely delighted in repeating the word “word” to emphasize the power of words.

Re-read the snippets of poetry above and allow the images to bubble up and wash over you.

In the movie Words and Pictures a literary professor and an art professor battle to see which is a more effective medium of communicating meaning—words or paint. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/movies/juliette-binoche-brings-own-art-to-words-and-pictures.html?_r=0)

The question I play with is: can you paint words? And how many ways are there to do that?

As many of you know when my poet/painter friend, Beverly Partridge died I endeavored to feel closer to her by using her verbal imagery as the basis for each painting in my next exhibition. It was challenging to take a phrase like “everything was tucked in for winter” and allow an image to emerge and then paint it. Sometimes I had to find a resource that looked like what her words described. Sometimes I just kept moving paint around until I felt a prick in the solar plexus and a connection was felt.

Another approach would have been to actually use the physical words as part of the imagery like Larry Rivers, ( http://www.larryriversfoundation.org/press.html ), or John Baldessari. ( https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/john-baldessari-what-is-painting-1966-68 ), or Jean-Michel Basquiat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Michel_Basquiat ), who utilized words as commentary in their art making.

Then there is Cy Twomley, who served in the U.S. army as a cryptologist. He used the graphic marks of handwriting as “medium” in much of his work. Wikipedia- “His paintings of large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors are in the permanent collections of most of the museums of modern art around the world…” (http://www.cytwombly.info/ )

In honor of Wordstock this week, held for one day only at the Portland Art Museum, (http://www.literary-arts.org/what-we-do/wordstock/schedule-of-events/), I propose we again think about words, pictures and paint and see what comes up. As you go about the day, notice the shapes of letters and groups of words. Take time to read twice any phrase that offers up a picture. Envision playing with letters and words in unconventional ways to facilitate resonant imagery. Notice how different handwriting communicates differently—we all can imagine something about the person who dots their “I’s” with circles or hearts. Or the person who carefully takes time to form each letter compared to those who scribble wildly.

Whatever approach you choose, in the words of William Wordsworth be prepared to: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

(For more on Plutarchhttp://www.livius.org/articles/person/plutarch/)

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