SANTA FE, N.M. — Bucking the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words, artists and poets are coming together at Vivo Contemporary to demonstrate how words can be used to enhance an image.
“I think poetry and visual arts go together really well – both get beyond language,” said Paul Biagi, who writes poems to accompany his own artwork.
“Sometimes I think critics of art should write in poetic form,” he added.
“I really like the marriage of poetry and art,” said poet Gayle Lauradunn. “I like finding art that speaks to me so I can speak back to it.”
The offsprings of this marriage can be seen in the third incarnation of “Giving Voice to Image,” an exhibit pairing artworks and poems at Vivo Contemporary that opens tonight and runs through April 21. Fourteen artists and 15 local poets are participating; half the poets will read their words next to the artwork on display on March 27, with the remainder giving a reading on April 10.
The readings often draw enough people to fill the gallery, participating artists said.
Generally, the way it works is that poets visit an artist’s studio and see which piece they want to write about.
That’s what happened when Lauradunn visited first-time participant Melinda Tidwell to look over her selection of collages. She chose “Visitor,” a rectangular work lined up in sections and straight lines, with a list of sideways words splitting a torso and the top of a man’s head.
Lauradunn said she thinks it was the figure in the work that drew her in. “An image, a thought, a memory – something strikes me, and I go from that,” she said. “I go wherever it takes me.”
“That’s similar to my process,” Tidwell said. “I have a bunch of cut-up stuff on the table; there might be a word … I start putting stuff together.”
Lauradunn said the poem she wrote is not just inspired by Tidwell’s collage, but very specific to it. She did the poem in two or three weeks – a bit of a departure from her usual process, in which she might let a poem rest for six to eight weeks and go back to it “when I have more objectivity,” she said.
Her poem for “Visitor” ends with the lines: He chokes on words/this man tied tight/into his life./So daring and,/so missing.
Tidwell said she very much can see the relationship between her collage and Lauradunn’s poem. “It’s certainly an extension,” Tidwell said. “I started somewhere and she took it further, to a more specific place … Gayle sort of made a story about it.”
The artist herself said she often is inspired by words. Driving to the gallery, she said she was thinking about “thermodynamic” and “cohesive energy” – words that have a specific scientific meaning but carry layers of complexity in their relationship to human beings.
Tidwell said she uses books she gets free from book recyclers as material for her artworks.
And while the neat alignments in her works may reflect her background in mathematics, perhaps Biagi’s work reflects his background in physics. “I’m order; he’s chaos,” Tidwell said.
Biagi is writing a poem to go with his work, “The Appearance,” an acrylic that suggests two abstract figures bursting with bright color and animated brushstrokes.
“The figures are broken up by color and light. The idea came to me that one was a goddess appearing to someone seated below her,” he said. “The energy is so great that the form can’t exist” as a whole.
That impression came to him after he completed the work, he said, and wasn’t an intention while he was painting. “A lot of times when I do paint, I work intuitively,” he said. “Sometimes it tells me something I didn’t realize I knew.”
As he puts down brushstrokes, Biagi said, the painting sometimes tells him what it needs next. “It’s almost a conversation with the canvas,” he said.
He will put a painting down, come back to it later – sometimes years later – and say, “What the hell does this mean to me?” he said.
That was the case with “The Appearance,” he said, explaining he was able to write the poem “once I realized what it (the painting) was about.”
The poem he came up with, only eight lines long, was not quite finished when he talked with the Journal. “I’m playing with one word that escapes me,” Biagi said.
A book will be put together to go with the show, with an image of the artwork on one page with the accompanying poem on the facing page.