Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Striking Matches: Writing Images, Seeing Words

Striking Matches: Writing Images, Seeing Words

By Tom Wachunas

Sometime in high school I saw a picture of Rene Magritte’s 1929 oil painting, “The Treachery (Perfidy) of Images.” Beneath a realistic rendering of a pipe (for smoking) are the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” - translated from French, “This is not a pipe.” And of course, one of several points that Magritte made (all challenging our trust of labels and language) was that the painting is no more a pipe than the Mona Lisa is a woman.

Seeing and thinking about the painting was something of an epiphany, as it increased my sensitivity to the tentative, delicate relationship between images and the words we assign to, or associate with them. In my case, that sensitivity has taken on a protracted life of its own – writing about visual art. Not only describing, but ascribing meaning to pictures with words. And the reverse has often been true, too – making images in response to written words. Looking back, I’ve often thought Magritte’s painting could just as well have been called “The Treachery of Words.” It would have been just as meaningful. It all comes down to the fascinating, mysterious, even confounding thing we call the creative process – how one expression of symbols gives rise to our response via another form of expression.

It’s the subtle symbiosis between the written word and visual forms that is the heart of the current exhibit at Anderson Creative, called “Blind Date.” The show is a “resurrection” of last year’s bold “Blind Date: The Romance of Word and Image.” So, think of symbiosis here as romance – as in a mutual wooing of sorts, a call and response between parties who, in this case, never met until the opening of the show. Fifteen writers and 15 visual artists anonymously exchanged works, each writer getting a visual work, each artist a written work. Then each participant responded with a new piece.

And there’s another kind of wooing going on here, too. That would be, in case you missed last year’s edition, the renewed invitation to consider the “gallery experience” in a more expansive, perhaps challenging light. It’s an invitation to carve out the time needed to “read” the fine visual art as well as “see” the equally fine literature. Here, one feeds the other in a deeply imaginative, poetic way, without succumbing too much to mere illustration of the obvious.

Speaking of poetic, along with narratives of varying lengths, the considerable number of poems here are particularly fascinating with their matched art. Paul Digby wrote the originating text (poem) called “Dualities” that accompanies the acrylic painting by R.M. Hugget, titled after the poem’s last line, “We Forget and Move On.” The poem’s lyrical symbolism around an owl and mouse in a barn becomes a slick, graffiti-like cartoon in Huggett’s sure hands, with one toothy figure asking another, “Did I tell ya the one about the mouse, the barn, and the owl?” His companion responds, “My shirt needs a haircut.” And we move on.

Van Misheff’s “Style” is a poem in response to Judi Krew’s watercolor, “S.T.Y.L.E. (Say They, You R Limited 2 1 Expression).” The painting suggests a stained glass window depicting a naked, shackled woman, clutching paint brushes in one hand, her face covered with a wire cage. A prisoner in/of the luminous color? Misheff’s upbeat poem picks up on the rhythmic pulsing of Krew’s color planes, and reads like a jazz rap with a touch of free-form 1950s hip.

Gennae Falconer wrote her moving “Let Me Have Another Day” in response to Kyle Begue’s stunning, viciously energetic mixed media painting on glass called “Otis Redding” (the beloved soul singer who died in 1967 when his plane crashed in a Wisconsin lake). The collaboration is one of the show’s more viscerally haunting moments.

Haunting too is the originating text by Judi Christy, “Empty Nest.” The somber narrative describes, in beautifully measured sentences, the parting of ways between mother and daughter. Anne Welder’s responsive oil painting effectively translates the spirit of the text with a no-nonsense, earthy immediacy.

A similar appropriateness of spirit is at work in the match between painter Ines Kramer and poet Tim Belden. In many ways it reflects the overarching, ephemeral chemistry of creative collaboration and interpretation that fuels this show. Kramer’s painting, “Sedan,” is a smooth, surreal cityscape of gently skewed perspectives. Traveling through a dream. Belden’s responsive poem, “Street Meditations,” is itself a journey: “…The Desk is a Sedan / I watch headlights on streets / follow arrows pointing in all / directions, cueing me to drive / right or left on bearings in this / dance we do…”

Like any blind dates seeking mutually satisfying connections, the diverse pairings in this “Blind Date” have indeed resulted in many delightful, compelling dances, so to speak. While it’s taken out of context here, I’m nonetheless drawn to a line in Jessica Bennett’s achingly eloquent poem in the show, “Yearn,” reminding me that here are artists and writers who have thoughtfully surrendered to “…a purposeful, quenching muse.”

Photo, courtesy Anderson Creative: “Sedan,” mixed media by Ines Kramer. On view in “Blind Date” at Anderson Creative THROUGH MAY 28, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery Hours 12 noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday.

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