Except for William Blake, few major poets have illustrated their own verse with memorable prints. But now, an often gorgeous exhibit at Wellesley College merges poetry and printmaking to create an enhanced medium that might be called visual verse or poetic prints.
Except for William Blake, few major poets have illustrated their own verse with memorable prints.
But now, an often-gorgeous exhibit at Wellesley College merges poetry and printmaking to create an enhanced medium that might be called visual verse or poetic prints.
Bringing together 42 poets and artists, "21 Etchings and Poems" pleases the senses by unifying words and images in lovely and sometimes startling ways.
Displayed in the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, the show combines vivid prints and thoughtful poems by artists and poets who deserve to be better-known today.
Curated by Elaine Mehalakes, it showcases a complete set of 21 prints from a groundbreaking project initiated by artist Peter Grippe, director of the prestigious Atelier 17 print workshop in New York. Starting around 1950 he convinced 21 distinguished artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline to collaborate with an equal number of notable poets like Dylan Thomas and William Carlos Williams in a project that eventually took 10 years to complete.
Wellesley College's Kemper Curator of Academic Programs, Mehalakes said the artists created "visual equivalents" to the poems that often reinforced their imagery and ambience.
She said Grippe typically sent the artists a few poems by one of the poets so they could select the one that best suited their style. Mehalakes said after the artists finished their prints, the poets wrote their poems in their own hand on the page.
Some collaborations were inspired.
For Richard Wilbur's darkly cerebral "Mind," Salvatore Grippi drew a skull-like figure that seems to be devouring the text.
Grippi's haunting creature seems to be chewing on Wilbur's words: "Mind in its purest play is like some bat / That beats about in caverns all alone."
Composed throughout the 1950s, many prints reflected elements of the Expressionist movement popular at that time.
Peter Grippe's print accompanying Dylan Thomas's psychological fable, "The Hand that Signed a Paper Felled a City," conveys prevailing Cold War anxieties with dark, distorted imagery suggestive of a burnt out city.
An artist and poet little known today, Ezio Martinelli and Horace Gregory, who were colleagues at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., collaborated on a wondrous print of the poem "The Blue Waterfall." Mostly known for his abstract imagery, Martinelli depicted a waterfall cascading down a steep mountain in a delicate style reminiscent of a Chinese scroll.
Written as an homage to the Japanese printmaker Hokusai, Gregory's eight-stanza poem seems to be flowing down the craggy face of Martinelli's mountain.
Like yin and yang, Martinelli's clear lines and Gregory's evocative verse create a harmonious imagistic poem that's both moving and beautiful.
Originally published in 50 sets, few complete sets remains because prints by de Kooning, Kline and a few others were profitable to sell individually.
Wandering through the gallery is a soothing, meditative experience.
By coincidence, "21 Etchings and Poems" serves as an instructive counterpoint to its neighboring exhibit, "Cell Tango," a video installation that's as frenetic as these prints are calming.
Adding another dimension to the show, the poems are read by Wellesley students and faculty and can be heard by visitors on several iPods available in the gallery.
Several faculty members deliver powerful readings.
Wellesley Theater Director Nora Hussey reads Frank O'Hara's "Poem" in a tremolo reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's recitation of "Daddy." On the first take, English Professor Lawrence Rosenwald captured the dramatic inflections and urban rhythms of Thomas Merton's "Aubade: Harlem."
While Blake's fantastic color prints of his own works like "America: A Prophecy" represent the epitome of a poet illuminating his own verse, "21 Etchings and Poems" admirably achieves more modest aims.
By showcasing Grippe's innovative project 50 years later, it celebrates the collaborative efforts of artists and poets who infused one another's work with their own creativity and vision.
MetroWest Daily News
The exhibit "21 Etchings and Poems" runs through Dec. 13.
The Davis Museum and Cultural Center is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. through 5 p.m., Wednesday until 8 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
It is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is free.
Free parking is available in the lot behind the museum or in the Davis Parking Garage.
Free tours led by student museum mentors and museum curators are available Wednesdays at 1 p.m.
The museum and Collins Cafe and Cinema are handicapped accessible. Wheelchairs are available at the museum free of charge. Special needs may be accommodated by contacting Director of Disability Services Jim Wice at 781-283-2434 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information, call 781-283-2051 or visit www.davismuseum.wellesley.edu.