New Blood Art

Carefully curated artwork by outstanding emerging artists...

10th Apr 2019

The Eternal Smile: How words inspire…

There are plenty of overlaps between art forms… particularly between literature and visual art, and as it’s National Poetry Month – yes, there is such a thing (!) and as this influence often goes unseen… I wanted to shine a light on the many ways in which words inspire our artists.

For Toni Cogdell, poetry is fundamental to her practice. ‘Murmuration’ was particularly significant as the first piece she explicitly incorporated text within. I love the title – like the murmuration formed by starlings in the sky and mumured whispers – the words emerge and disappear within the painting.

Stephen Todd found inspiration from T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Men and that feeling there is a gap between self and perceived reality. The symbolism of the ferry boat “has the purpose of passing between the two places and all the classical references that go with that..”

Isaac Aldridge takes direct inspiration from the structure of William Burroughs’ ‘cut-up’ style of poetry – creating paintings in a similar style. Sometimes he literally cuts things up and applies them to the canvas and other times working with multiple visual sources and combines them compositionally using a fragmented ‘cut-up’ approach.

Peter Evans is massively interested in poetry (and a published poet) with the Tate including in their library section a book of quotes about the weather, which he sourced from various postcards. Interestingly a lot of his work is created in response to overheard comments or phrases – sometimes using these as the title of the work.  It’s almost as if the corner of the room has overheard and noted down the comment – planes of abstracted colour meeting at angles with poetic titles hinting at the passing conversation: “He’s Buying a House There”. “What, to Live in?” & “Doesn’t Even Feel Like We’ve Been Away”.

Iain Andrews
..My temptation of St Anthony series are all based around Flaubert’s play of the same name – also the Eliot poem ‘Little Gidding’ that includes the lines ‘the end is where we start from’ is something I consider a lot when I make the drawings, based as they are on Faery stories and pre exisiting myths – there is a working backwards going on , a re-inventing of the story or a retelling of of it.

More ambiguously, Glib Franko, in the manner of Cy Twombly, has several works incorporating text which he makes deliberately unreadable in form with gestural, overlapping strokes of paint.

And perhaps my favourite, the influence of the book The Eternal Smile by Swedish writer Par Lagerkvist, can be seen underpinning much of Birgitte Lykke Madsen‘s work – particularly in her subject of groups gathering to talk. In the novel, small and bigger crowds gather after death “to tell each other stories in the darkness, seeking the answer of life… slowly coming to realise that their community IS the meaning of life.”

To see additional & extended responses from artists to the question of how words inspired their work – & I’m so glad I asked the question (!) see below:

Toni Cogdell
Poetry and the written word have always held magic for me; a powerful form of expression and connection, a way to unveil thought and emotion giving it a physical life on the page. Another way to paint perhaps. Another channel and well of creative substance impossible for me to resist.

For as long as I’ve made visual art I’ve written, and read, and felt such a union between them. For me words and paintings chip away at the same rock, both carving out the space I’m looking to create. I want them to coexist on the same canvas, the same page, yet without the relationship words and images usually have, that of illustration or straightforward storytelling. Just something that is uniquely theirs, two art forms searching for a truth.

It’s only been in the past year or so that this has succinctly been happening, naturally and without doubt. As my painting attempts to merge boundaries between the figurative and abstract, exploring our inner and outer realities; words have become a kind of bridge, marks and clues that open up the space a little more. Fuelled by and containing poetry, my ongoing Ambition Bird series began in response to the poem Ambition Bird by Anne Sexton. That poem seized me with an unsettling recognition and connections between my work, words and images began to be made. Sexton’s Ambition Bird is a creature all Creatives can recognise. It rages, flaps and flits in her mind and body, through the days and nights, a fury and joy willing itself to form and be seen. A deep-seated need, in spite of all sense and folly, to create, make art, give expression to her voice. Poetry, words and paint are ultimately about ‘voice’. Our truths and contradictions endlessly looking for light, needing to be released from us in some way in order for us to find our place in the world we live in. The fingerprint in thought waves and breaths that reveals us, expresses our uniqueness and in doing so becomes a beacon for like minds and matter. In moments of recognition we come alive. We thirst for these moments. Art extends those moments and for me, words and paintings enter into a ceaseless dialogue with each other in that space of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’.

From ‘Ambition Bird’ I began to find poem after poem, especially by women writers, that contained echoes of the Ambition Bird and the importance of voice and expression along with the perils of the unexpressed and unheard voice. Thinking of all the repressed and denied voices throughout history and right now, I have so much awe and respect for those women artists who made poetry, writing and paintings in a patriarchal society that held no space for them, having to fight and work twice as hard to make their voice heard, paving the way for future artists to own a little more creative ground on which to stand. These thoughts have become my Letters to A Poet series: works on paper alongside my Ambition Bird series that represent an infinite conversation back through time to our artist ancestors, connected now in this time through our work, our joined creative yearning. The series references R. M Rilke’s and Virginia Woolf’s essays / collections ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, reminders that we all enter the same stream on the way to expression and while working alone we are always interlinked, allowing each other to step further into the unknown.

Poems have become bedrock for my paintings and my own writing, collaged as text on the canvas or scrawled on the surface of paint, hidden or revealed as our own voices are. Much of the text ends up illegible and more as another mark made, yet as handwriting we recognise it symbolically along with its suggestion to us about streams of thought and communication, voices and meanings. Some words show more clearly, giving a clue and marker to the journey of the painting. Which words remain through the layers of paint once the artwork is complete is a chance result of word-divination, and this process is a wonderful journey of its own.

Myka Baum:
Poem by the artist:

Travelling through the tunnels of the Victoria line – seated wearing my commuter amour gear

noise cancelling headphones blaring out music I don’t want to hear to stop the voices
roaring between my ears

to soften the glaring light to protect me
from any contact with their eyes

a book
to shield me
from the spears flying from their eyes the nauseating stench
the red-rimmed holes
that want to swallow me up – ALIVE

a hood
connected to a phantom blanked – with spikes to protect me
to keep me apart
to vanish
into the dark

I brace myself
to battle the swarming crowds in the tunnels of Finsbury Park

Eventually untangling, they fall in line The pain softens – I SIGH

The misty rain is softly falling on my face My eyes adjusting to the gentle fading light I walk the backstreets

sinking my feet into the ground

I feel the wet air on my face
I breathe, I smell, I see
I try – to be
I release my blanket – And I SIGH!

I reach the traffic
I cross the lights
I enter through the double gates – open wide

St Mellitus, a mighty church like a roman temple with four pillars
and lots of stairs

the paving stones shimmering in the dark measure 84 steps long and on average 8 steps wide

thanks to neglect
there are lots of cracks
from which on a damp dark night more than 400 worms come into sight

they stretch out far profoundly angular

I tiptoe around
and have to take great care not only to not step on cracks but nowhere near in fact.

Wayne Sleeth:
My Westminster/Financial Times paintings are all bound to a book of haiku l had published last year ( Financial Times) by Sampson Low Ltd (London) on the theme, still available too on amazon, and with the Br…word being hot as it is, I’m creating a mini-buzz even though I’m back in france. I’ve never really promoted the fact that l’ve had poems published since l was 18..

View and buy Wayne’s book:

Birgitte Lykke Madsen:
The swedish author/poet Per Lagerquist has written a beautiful and existencial novel called Det Evige Smil (The Eternal Smile, I guess),  Where smal or bigger crowds gather after death and tell each stories in darkness. This silence – and eternity – that is their situation in common makes them seek for the answer of Life and they go to ask God. On their way they slowly realize that their community IS the meaning of Life. This silence in the novel and the way people gather and talk is over and over my inspiration in my paintings.

Heather Gentleman:
My work is narrative in nature, finding inspiration in literature and symbolism. I approach my work primarily through painting and drawing, but I also work in sculpture, video, writing, interactive installation, audio and performance. I choose to layer media when it enhances the telling of the story by allowing the viewer a fuller comprehension of the layers of meaning in the work.

A Familiar Solitude Installation is based on a poem of mine of the same name. A lone woman kneels with her back to the opening of a cave. Inside the cave the woman has shed the constrictions of social scripts. Within the comfort and the confines of the cave she has entered the realm of possibilities within her own psyche. Carl Jung believed caves could be interpreted as passageways to an underworld where manifestation of the unconscious is realized and memories reside. She and the cave become one entity : the rocks and formations change into biomorphic viscera and her body becomes rock-like. The painting has a totem like quality that functions as an installation which deals with the conscious and unconscious, the body and architecture, and space and memoir. Some of the under-painting is left untouched, to create a relationship between the conceptual space of potentiality and the experience of the present moment, and the physical space between the looseness of the sketch and the finished areas.

The cave as a place of potentiality is explored further by the installation composed of clothes in the form of a cave. The clothes in the installation are aspects of her narrative. They are layered, each one different and unique; metaphors for the layers of her life experiences. Sewn to layers of clothes are bits of cloth embedded with stanzas of the poem, “A Familiar Solitude”. Each is separate, like a unit of time. Attached to each stanza is a rock, which also marks the passage of time as each one has become progressively smaller due to exposure to the elements. Each stanza, as part of a poem, can be read sequentially, but doesn’t need to be. Because the poem is sewn into the clothes in a random manner, it can be read any way the viewer chooses. The poem speaks of isolation and hopelessness as well as a sense of hope for the future.

A Familiar Solitude
It is a familiar solitude
A time for whisperings
Her mouth forms a cry
An agony of existence, a lamp in the abyss
Life wrenched out of the murky chaos
Can she hear that her voice is smothered?
Her hand writes on the walls : death, life, tears
Her finger brushes it aside
Nothing shudders
Her mouth forms a whisper
Riparare la sua casa
Her house is in ruins
Her songs are silent
Her mind is cloistered
She follows a child who is thirsty, down winding streets
Her furrow deepens
Her mouth is dry
A mosaic of a childhood lost placed in a glass jar is carried through the streets
He is covered in mud
What door should she knock at?
The cowed guide her
Her ruined lover
Her lost childhood
Her severed hands
Her phantom limbs
Vesica Pisces
Under the ceiling of oblivion she enters a cave
She has pawned her last song
Her body in tatters
She tightens the noose of lonely solitudes
And remembers the silence of her squandered songs
Deep in the mud
Her hands, her holy sacredness plant a seed
A thick husk
Its lips in the earth
The blackness of the soil joining the threads of her hands
Terra sustenance : beauty, dark truth emerges
One in the darkness
Created in the blacknessa
The shine of the abyss
The space in which it stands
The destiny of the seed
She places her silver glove in butterfly wings

Sonja de Graaf
My titles are often exerpts from Virginia Woolf’s books, songs or other literature.

Grant McGregor:
Jean Paul Sartre has been a key influence in my work. Particularly his philosophy book “Being and Nothingness”. This quote especially represents my own thinking

“We have to deal with human reality as a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is.”

For me this quote is all about being stuck in life. Trapped in a circle of responsibility and the dream. Everything caught up in a state of continuous unbecoming.

Stephen Todd:
Words are an vital part of my work, from a source of inspiration and the titling of work, to the use of text and phrases within the paintings themselves as a source of mark making.

My painting “Falls a Shadow”  is informed by T S Eliot’s Hollow Men and that feeling there is a gap between yourself and a perceived reality. The ferry boat has purpose of passing between these two places, and all the classical references that go with that…..

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow”

Isaac Aldridge:
A lot of my work has a close relation to poetry. I am very attached to William Burroughs and his ‘cut-up’ style of poetry. My paintings are completed with a similar cut-up technique, sometimes literally cut up and stuck onto canvas, other times taking multiple preliminary sources and combining them with the cut-up technique. I am fascinated by the correlation between language and visuals, often language stimulates the work and vice versa.

I am very connected to writing and often use poetry as part of the process in painting, I find it is very helpful when considering the visual language that is being used and whether or not imagery and colours are effective.

Sometimes even use the cut-up style of writing to name my work.

A bit of an insight into my process that normally goes unseen and is why a painting is such an emotional battle, with the physical application of the paint and mental critiques through the building and reworking of an image.

Grant McGregor:
Jean Paul Sartre has been a key influence in my work. Particularly his philosophy book “Being and Nothingness”. This quote especially represents my own thinking

“We have to deal with human reality as a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is.”

For me this quote is all about being stuck in life. Trapped in a circle of responsibility and the dream. Everything caught up in a state of continuous unbecoming. “

Peter Evans:
“I’m big into poetry, I recently had a poem published in the New River Press yearbook and it’s a part of my practice.

For the work I have on NBA the abstract room corner paintings are most of the time presented with overheard comments or phrases, sometimes these I use as the titles of the work. Almost like the corner of the room (the Painting) has overheard and noted down the comment.

Not sure if this is really poetry but I love to try and include text in my work wherever I can. I have a book of quotes taken from postcards all about the weather too which the Tate included in their library collection.”

Jan Valik:
‘We perceive sooner than we understand… The line is perceiving the ink, the ink is perceiving the brush, the brush is perceiving the wrist, the wrist is perceiving the soul…’

Shitao (1642 – 1707), Enlightening Remarks on Painting

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

In an age of  fragmention of awareness that has lost its sense of wholeness, I strive to portray the ineffable. Fluidity of perception among imagination, recollection and landscape share for me the same roots as the poetry of John Keats in its certain contemplative aspects as well as those of William Wordsworth. The complex rapture between nature an culture not excluding subjective and spiritual reflections remains utterly important even in our contemporary times.

My work is in its core inspired indirectly also by poetry of Japanese and Chinese authors, Matsuo Basho and Shitao respectively (to name but a few). The sensitivity and minute observations of nature and landscape with which they bridge the subjective and imaginative atmosphere inspires me in my own exploration and contemplation of the art of painting.

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