For centuries, visual artists have looked to poetry for creative inspiration, while poets are drawn to certain works of art that emerge vividly in their writings.
For the most part, these interrelationships between art forms are well documented and well known. Perhaps the most famous examples are the Pre-Raphaelite painters, whose works are often closely linked to literary counterparts (John William Waterhouse’s paintings The Lady of Shalott (1888), which refers, for example, to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name).
However, more recent transitions between painting and poetry are less recognized. Many people do not know that the famous 20thth In the late 19th century, the poet Sylvia Plath was indeed deeply connected to the visual arts and created a number of works of art that offer fascinating additional insights into her writing.
Plath was also heavily inspired by modernist painters such as Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Klee, writing some of their poetry directly in response to their works.
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Closer to home is the Australian poet John Kinsella, a writer whose work has always been strongly linked to the visual arts, although for many years these have existed more in his subconscious than on paper or screen.
A poet who has always painted
Kinsella told ArtsHub that when he started publishing poetry in the early ’80s, he painted and drew almost as much as he wrote.
“I was in fine arts at the time, and I think I’ve always seen them both [visual art and poetry] as inseparable,” he said.
As Kinsella’s writing career developed, however, the visual arts disappeared, and for decades he confined his art to small sketches in his private journals while he concentrated on his writing—”writing took over,” he said.
More recently, however, the poet has returned to a creative process in which he is again as prolific in the visual arts as he is in poetry.
Kinsella has produced a series of drawings which are currently being shown in an exhibition alongside the work of Western Australian poet Glen Phillips. Justified Two poets paintthe show will be billed as one of the drawcards of this year’s York Festival in regional WA.
“In the past I’d only ever written poetry for other people’s art, although I’d written poetry to accompany my own photography,” Kinsella explained. “But this current series of works I have started in recent years, where my own visual art work is closely linked to my poetry.”
The exhibition presents 25 of around 70 drawings by Kinsella, which reflect his dedication to the 14thth The major work of the 17th century poet Dante Alighieri. “I have tried to illustrate Dante’s complete works divine comedy,’ said Kinsella.
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“I think I’ll do something similar [19th century] Artist-poet William Blake,” he continued. “Because I interpret it [The Divine Comedy] through my own poetic practice.’
The result is a series of brilliant-sounding illustrations that are expansive but also severely disciplined in their patterned, largely abstract fields of color. Some works overwhelm the senses with cascades of kaleidoscopic colors and shapes, while others make reference to recognizable forms such as rivers, buildings, and the night sky.
“Some of them have a sense of autobiography because they’re not just reacting to it the divine comedy, They relate to things that are active issues in my life,” Kinsella told ArtsHub. “Some of these are about environmental destruction, some are about politics… I mean, a work like Five mining thieves from WA – It’s hard not to see the meaning behind this work.’
Ultimately, visual art is an extension of my poetry. The drawings are always linked to the poems and would not exist without them.
– John Kinsella.
While Kinsella, who is also a committed environmental activist, uses Dante’s work to highlight some of the perils of our time in this series, these works are not somber — they’re fiery and filled with possibility.
“I’ve always tried to achieve a sense of inspiration – even with the works that refer to states of hell,” he explained. “Dante’s exploration of themes like greed and power – these states can also have contradictory aspects, and the works contain these ambiguities.”
Writing and creating art: two very different processes
The marked shift that Kinsella has made in embracing the visual arts as an equal part of his creative practice is also fascinating to look at from the perspective of the artistic process.
The poet admitted that while his writing style can be quite fast-paced, his artistic creation process is at the other end of that spectrum.
“The creation of these drawings is very time-consuming,” Kinsella said, explaining that his technique of microdistributing his pencil marks onto paper is a method that shouldn’t be rushed.
“I’m very interested in the way the pencil marks are placed on the paper and I couldn’t quickly create them even if I wanted to,” he said. “This process [of art-making] is very different from the way I write – the writing can be slow, fast or complex.
“Ultimately, however, visual art is an extension of my poetry. The drawings are always linked to the poems and would not exist without them,” he concluded.