A YEAR WITH RILKE
Painters and poets frequently mine each other’s modes of expression for inspiration. It’s as if the vocabulary we each are searching for to describe our intentions exists in the other’s art form. I have channeled Rainer Rilke’s words for so many years that I now see with his poetry. Fragments from his poems are right there in my head when I view a particularly moving moment in nature. For example, the words “softness touching the earth” come to me when I see the mist intermingling with the treetops or “the hidden and silent beginnings of something” when met with the sun striving to shine through the morning’s dense fog or “the unity of dread and bliss” to describe a dramatically beautiful storm cloud.
The series “A Year With Rilke” was born out of my long held appreciation and respect for the poetic and metaphoric words of Rainer Rilke. I yearned to create, in a big way, an homage to his presence in my studio and my work. I used my well used and dog eared book also titled “A Year With Rilke”, with translations from German to English by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, to guide the mood and imagery of the 12 large scale paintings that make up this series. Because my storefront studio was closed for the pandemic, I hung the blank canvases (all 6 feet tall and varying widths) around the room in order of months of the year and painted them in place. I taped my most loved selections of poetry for the corresponding month next to the canvas and painted these works from the summer of 2020 to the summer of 2021. Color stories were also selected to further define each painting’s intention.
Rilke uses the word breath often in his poems. It is no wonder, with my attraction to atmosphere and the way that I paint, that we are so connected. I create with a layered technique that requires time for the painting to take shape and time for the illumination to reveal itself. During the silent days of the pandemic, Rilke’s words proved to be a companion to my process as well as the driving inspiration for these paintings.
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The Words: Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs, and there at its source you’ll find the answers to the questions...Though the reflection in the pool often ripples away, take the image within you. Only in the double realm do our voices carry all they can say...what batters you becomes your strength, move back and forth into the change...echoing the ocean’s vastness...so my voice becomes both a breath and a shout, one prepares the way, the other surrounds my loneliness with angels. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, December selections)
The Color: Prussian Blue, a blue most common and most beloved. A blue that Thoreau thought needed to be Americanized. It’s the color of waves and stamps. It’s an accidental pigment, a happenstance color and an antidote for heavy metal poisoning. Darker than cobalt and moodier than indigo, it is often called the first modern pigment. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)
A Year With Rilke: December
so my voice becomes
both a breath and a shout
72’"x 48” oil on canvas
The Words: All creation holds its breath, listening within me, because, to hear you, I keep silent. At my senses’ horizon you appear hesitantly, like scattered islands...You see, I want a lot. Maybe I want it all: the darkness of each endless fall, the shimmering light of each ascent. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, November selections)
The Color: Payne’s Grey, the color of English rain and Henry Miller’s Paris. When used in place of a true black, Payne’s gray creates lifelike shadows, artfully mimicking the blue stain of a storm cloud, the long aching darkness of an overcast evening. Landscapes washed with Payne’s gray look moody and damp, foreboding and quiet. It proved to be quite a useful tool for depicting far-away mountains, made indistinct by the scattering of light in the atmosphere.It’s amazing that a color which looks so close to black contains none of it at all. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)