Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Poetry Month/Emily and I

The poems of Emily Dickinson have been a part of my art life from the beginning. I was drawn to calligraphy by both the letters and the words. I loved the tactile pleasures of pen and ink, the beauty of letter forms and the quest to write them well, and the opportunity to interact in a physical way with the writings I loved.

Emily Dickinson's poems were an inspiration from the beginning. Here are some pieces from those days with apologies for the poor quality of the images.

I returned to Emily for inspiration twenty-six years later when I was just beginning to bring lettering back into my work. I had done an installation at Outdoor Sculpture at Maudslay the previous year using lines from local poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

I felt that I had a different relationship with the texts. Instead of being interested in whole poems, I was drawn to individual lines. Part of the reason was the nature of the project and the limited space of the tyvek strips. But a big part of it was what I was looking for from the poetry—not whole poems but short bits, individual lines that reflected the joy and beauty of the park.

A lengthy conversation could follow about what computers are doing to our brains, but I will limit it to saying that I think this interest of mine in lines of poetry is connected to all the time I spend on the internet. I am a grazer online. I love the way I can meander through all kinds of subject matter picking up bits and pieces. While I may not explore as many topics in the depth I used to, I find this approach offers opportunities for synthesis that I may not have noticed before.

I'm also in a different place in my work. One of the things that drew me away from calligraphy was the need to make work that was completely my own. Jenny Hunter Groat talks about the difference between originating and interpretive artists. She uses the examples from dance—the interpretive ballerina Margot Fonteyn and the originating modern dancer Martha Graham. In the way I did calligraphy, I was an interpretive artist and I wanted to be an originating one.

I found my voice through the book arts but I never stopped lettering. I made cards and addressed envelopes for friends and family, occasionally wrote out menus and made yard sale signs. It was a part of everyday life and very casual.

When I took a photo of a pieris in early spring the year after Whittier at Maudslay and manipulated it in photoshop, I had one of those wonderful, mysterious moments when I instantly knew how to complete the piece—combine it with the line The Wondrous Nearer Drew from Emily Dickinson. I did the lettering with my favorite tool, a pentel brush fountain pen, scanned it into the computer, made it a screen, and added it to the image. Although I was using Emily's words, this did feel very much my own.

More posts about the Emily Dickinson Series

1 comment:

Valerie said...

i like your comment about having a different relationship with the text now than years ago. i find that is often true, as we come at it from a different place now than then.

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