Poetic Art 2020 — A Virtual Art Show

Life is picking back up here in central Illinois, slowly but surely. The library I work at started staffing hours for curbside pick-up, and people are taking full advantage. The dance studio I take classes at (virtually, for now) finished its spring semester and went right into a special “Summer 1” semester, since they couldn’t hold their annual Memorial Day weekend recital (which I do not participate in, for the record). I’m still making masks for the local hospital (up to 119 completed and turned in, with another batch in progress) plus I’ve started some for the library, since all staff have to wear one while in the building.

All this is a bit of an excuse for why I didn’t write something last week, though the bigger reason is, I also got some news that knocked me off my axis a little bit. Specifically, the unexpected death of a person who, though we haven’t been close in a long time, used to mean a lot to me. It affected me more than I would have expected; it’s hard to explain why and I don’t think I’ll try to here.

Instead, I’ll talk about the thing that happened on Friday, which I meant to preview here last week but which will be a recap instead. I participated in a collaborative art show which hosted online opening on Friday evening (May 15). Her Creative Collective, a creativity and wellness collective I joined back in mid-March, put out a call for local poets to submit work, and then invited artists (myself among them) to choose a poem and create a piece of artwork based on it. Originally the exhibit was scheduled to open during Boneyard Arts Festival at the beginning of April (do I even need to say it was cancelled due to COVID-19?) but then Dana, the Collective founder, had the idea to host the exhibit online.

The poem I chose was called “Locomotive,” by Jim O’Brien, and I went pretty literal with my interpretation, as you can see here.

Locomotive, watercolor on Arches cotton paper. 10″ x 14″.

I wanted to try something a little less realistic, a little more stylized, which is a direction I’ve been trying to move toward in my practice (in between my hyper-realistic work). I think I mostly succeeded; the key of course is choosing which details to highlight to still give the impression of the whole thing (it’s a lesson in progress). I tried out several different ideas in various sketches, all with a limited color palette which I found really helped me scale back elsewhere:

Cerulean blue hue is one of my new favorite paint colors. I really liked the moodiness of this atmosphere, though the train looks a little toy-blocky to me in this first attempt.
Purple, just because it’s another of my favorite colors, and a closer view to figure out some details. Still feels a little blocky to me but I worked quickly on purpose (again, so as not to over-develop it).
No pencil sketch beforehand on this one; just paint to paper (Indigo blue and Davy’s grey, which is actually more of a green). Some of the proportions are off but I like the overall contrast, and I think the balance of detail is closer.
Cerulean again, this time with Payne’s grey. I did sketch some shapes and details in pencil first this time and to be honest, there’s aspects of this that I like better than the final version. The coldness of the blue and grey don’t quite fit the poem, though.

I feel like you can see the evolution of my ideas as the paintings progress; I was trying to find a balance between detail and abstraction while also giving it something of a muted mood to fit the poem. This is probably the most planning/pre-work that I’ve put into a painting in recent history (and probably something I should do more of).

You can read Jim’s poem on the exhibit web page (our pairing happens to be first in the line-up) and see the rest of the artistic pairings as well.

And, since no art exhibit is complete without an opening night reception, Dana hosted one of those too, via Zoom. She put together a slide show of all the artistic pairings and invited each artist (poet and visual) to say a few words about their piece and what inspired it. That’s on the website as well, until August 15. (You can also just view her slide show video if you scroll down.) You can hear my (somewhat awkward and unscripted) remarks on my piece about halfway through the opening night video; I really liked hearing Jim’s comments on his poem too. He and I hadn’t had any kind of contact while I worked on my painting and it was illuminating to hear what his intentions were in the poem, and which ones I connected with and tried to illustrate.

Have you ever collaborated with or created work inspired by another artist?

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