In a few weeks, I’ve got a speaking engagement with a group of high school art students. The topic I’ll be presenting is how poetry has influenced my process. This is to highlight a unit in which they are writing poetry and creating a painting on the subject of water.
My first Rilke inspired painting was created in the Winter of 2010. I was struggling with finding meaning in my work (aka artistic voice), which at that time were these bifurcated and abstracted landscapes. I knew how I wanted to paint–my method–but didn’t know why. I recalled a professor telling me to look to Rilke if I was ever without a source for images. Way back then I had purchased Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and it was there on my bookshelf when I needed it.
My process has evolved from this first experiment with Rilke. I no longer write the poem in sharpie on the back of the canvas, but rather let the poem find its way into the process somewhere along the line. The first painting, however, began with this poem written large on a 48 x 60 inch canvas. I navigated from front to back with the struggle of how to interpret and express the sentiment of the words in visual form. Belltower, breathe, flow…these are all symbollically represented here, to me.
I showed the painting at a Big Works show I sponsored at my store front studio. I included the words along with the painting. There was an interesting response to the work, and from what I could tell both forms of art–the painting and the poetry–were elevated by the pairing. I have continued with Rilke as my muse since then, always with a painting in process in the studio even when my works have deviated to another series or idea. I am really quite in love with his metaphors, his transcendent ideas, his reverence for nature, and the way in which my spiritual struggles are met with his wisdom. To say that he is a muse understates his influence on my whole life, for it is not just my art practice that his words have been absorbed into.
Quiet friend who has come so far, feel how your breathing makes more space around you. Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength. Move back and forth into the change. What is it like, such intensity of pain? If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night, be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses, the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you, say to the silent earth: I flow. To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 Translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows