translations: painting and poetry
My current exhibit (with Jerry McLaughlin
), Translations: Painting and Poetry
, at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery
in Lafayette, California is up for another week and a half, until March 14. If you're in the area and haven't had a chance to see it, I hope you will stop in.
My paintings in this exhibit are based on work by the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney. I was first drawn to Heaney because his sources are so deeply rooted in the culture, landscape, and history of Ireland, a country I have grown to love over many visits. When I was asked to choose a poet’s work as my reference for this exhibit, I thought of him immediately. My appreciation grew as I began to read his work more deeply, a rewarding aspect of this project. His poetry evokes in me a longing for the earthy beauty of Ireland, while his observations of the complex inner lives of humans are profound and moving. Stylistically, his work is built on complex rhythms, meanings, and resonances that have continued to unfold for me over time.
|with Ground of Being, 68"x40"|
Responding to poetry as abstract painting is a new way of working for me, and I found that Heaney’s words led me to a more conceptual approach than I have used in the past. They led me to use a combination of geometric minimalism, organic textures, and subtle but specific imagery. In some cases, the images emerged as direct reference to certain words or phrases he uses, and other times they are simply what came to me intuitively as the result of immersing myself in his work. But although there are certain images from his work in the mix, my own memories, associations, and ideas are also strong factors.
|Squarings, each 12"x12" |
My suite of small paintings, Squarings
, is based on Heaney’s long poem of that name. Heaney’s Squarings
consists of four sections of twelve short poems each with twelve lines. This geometric structure influenced my interpretation of twelve 12”x12” square paintings. I painted these during a residency at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ireland in March of 2019, while reading and re-reading parts of the poem each day. I set out to complete this series during my residency in Ireland so that I was immersed the whole time in the country at the heart of Heaney’s work. The poem examines dualities including the material and spiritual worlds, the present and past, and private and shared experience. It is considered the most fluid and intuitively written of his many works. The other paintings in the exhibit also draw on ideas from Heaney’s poem Squarings
, with the exception of St. Kevin and the Blackbird,
which refers to a poem of that name that speaks to me about the creative process.
|St. Kevin and the Blackbird, 42"x36" |
A wonderful aspect of this exhibit was the opportunity to exhibit for the first time with my dear friend and business partner, Jerry McLaughlin. Here is an excerpt of what we wrote for our shared statement that is posted in the gallery:
While the term Translations indicates our shared intention to retain the spirit and ideas of this poetry, our work is not meant to illustrate that work. Rather, our approach is to reflect our experience as readers of the work, as the poet’s words bring our own thoughts, feelings, and memories to the surface. These paintings may best be described as conversations with our selected poets in which each of us adds meaning.
Because abstraction defies linear thought and exact description, it seems a perfect fit for this interpretation. The poems themselves are complex, evocative, and multi-layered, with no one right way to read or respond to them. The process we both use in our work is also in alignment with dense and layered meaning. Oil mixed with cold wax medium is built up gradually in layers allowing for complex surfaces and glimpses of underlying history.
Although the two poets we chose to work with--Frederico Garcia Lorca (for Jerry) and Seamus Heaney (for Rebecca)--are different in many ways, the work that we produced for this exhibit is congruent in terms of structured compositions, organic textures, and earthy, neutral color. Perhaps this points to our shared sensibilities as close friends and collaborators. Without prior discussion we each gravitated to a poet who distills the complexities of experience into grounded yet nuanced words, and this is reflected in our interpretations of that work.
|Jerry and I with Jennifer Perlmutter, gallery owner|
My last post was about my time in Greece in May and its effect on the work I was preparing for my exhibit, Overlays, at Addington Gallery in Chicago. That show is now up and can be viewed through August 29. There are nine medium to large scale paintings that all relate to my time on Skopelos and in Athens. Each one holds memories and impressions personal to me. But I hope I've also conveyed some sense of the monumental and ancient aspects of the place that are more universal.
|Artifact, Overlay, and In the Presence of Antiquities at Addington Gallery|
This work was created at an unusually fast pace. From the three weeks I spent in Greece gathering visual and conceptual ideas to the intensive five weeks in the studio in June, a very condensed version of the creative process was underway. The work seemed fueled by an especially pure, direct interpretation of my experiences in Greece.
|Akropoli and Fragment at Addington Gallery|
Usually, for me, the build-up to an exhibit spans many months and references a variety of experiences, sources, and memories. In terms of creative process, it is a gradual unfolding. Sometimes this creates a challenge in terms of consistency--the earliest work may not seem to be in the same vein as the final pieces. But usually I work back and forth on all or most of the paintings, looking to create a body of work that is consistent and integrated. In any case, there is a fairly long period in which various ideas are explored and refined.
With Overlays, my actual painting time was only about five weeks. After the first week or so, I felt confident about meeting the deadline because I was experiencing an unusually strong flow of ideas, and I felt focused and energized. About halfway through June, a studio visitor asked how long I'd been working on the paintings, and I had to stop and think. The answer at that point was "two weeks" which amazed us both. Some of the paintings were done and everything else was well underway. And at the end of June, I even had enough time left to do a ninth large painting, although the initial request from the gallery was for eight.
|Aegean Series, Addington Gallery|
The point of this story is not about how fast I can paint (I don't even consider that to be a virtue!) It is more that there was a sort of magic happening. I feel both grateful and perplexed by this, and wonder how this body of work fits with my typically slower creative process. Was I so on track because I was working toward a close deadline? If so, why wasn't there more stress or anxiety involved? Instead I felt mostly calm, focused, and pleased. Of course I had some frustrating days, but overall it seemed that a clear channel for expression had opened up. For me, the phrase "trust the process" takes on new meaning in light of this body of work. I see again how the creative process offers up endless surprises and new ideas.
As a final touch, when I delivered the work to Dan Addington, he immediately saw how perfectly it fit into the available space, and he had it all laid out in a matter of minutes. Although we hadn't gone into detail beforehand about specific size requirements, it turned out that the two smaller paintings fit exactly with the proportions of the two narrow hanging walls on either side of the doorway. The rest fell into natural groupings on the other three walls. Dan said he'd never had an easier time laying out an exhbiit.
|with Fragment at Addington Gallery|
If you are in the Chicago area, or passing through thius summer, I hope you will stop in and see the work. Thanks!