One of R. P Dana's titles of his book is The Power of the Visible. There are some poets who create what one can't help but see. Many of Bob Dana’s poems fit into that category. Every so often, I’ve been impelled to respond to these poems in the best way I can.
Of course, with me, they go through a transfiguration. As the painter Robert Richenberg said: "if you can’t transform it, you haven’t understood it". Moreover, in accord with Gotthold Ephrahim Lessing, and as an orthodox card carrying modernist (R.P. called me "the last of the red hot formalists"), I can't help but be sensitive to the fact that I use paint and plastic-not words, and so, mutadis, mutandi, something other than a poem appears on canvas and paper. Reification has its limits.
As I said in my eulogy at his memorial service "In his work he could be as lyrical about nature and love, or as nitty-gritty about the horrors of the world. Often he would combine the two in ways one is not supposed to, as in his poem "Mercy, Perhaps". He could be mundane as some birds, or as metaphysical in the same poem" the Riddle poems, or in that wonderful masterpiece: "Starting Out for the Difficult World, "which brings into such familiar focus: small town. Bob had a feel for towns, didn't he? One need only think of his later poem, Elegy for a Hometown” (used, in part in my painting: Two Cabins).
I hope I’ve measured up in my artwork.
Kindred SpiritsSometimes life contains remarkable and wonderful coincidences. On one of my frequent trips to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., I was pleased to see (and to see many times thereafter), Asher Durand’s wonderful painting of Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant, depicted in their newly acquired painting: ‘Kindred Spirits.’ In my iconological take, the painting embodies much of my feelings about America. Thomas Cole, the great American landscape artist who, while glorifying our majestic vistas, still, in a prescient way (more relevant today, than ever) warned of the dangers of our hubris, in, for example his polyptych: the ‘Course of Empire.’ William Cullen Bryant, in his ‘Sonnet to an American Painter Departing for Europe,’ reveals in the glory of the primordial vistas of the American landscape. However, Bryant (and Cole does) warns us that if we take the imperialist path, we risk the same destruction which visited Europe. In ‘Thanatopsis’ Bryant again showed both the glory, but also the gloomy, foreboding, unstable aspects of our landscape. The wilderness scene of the Durand painting itself shows these two personages communing with our energetic, raw magnificence and yet, by their precariously standing on a ledge, and by the tangled wildness of the scene, Durand evokes apprehension in us. So I sought to find my own ‘Kindred Spirits’ in my own thoughts and in my own life, and to celebrate them by depicting them as well – complete with all their instability. Then, mirable dictu, I was invited to be part of the stable of the very gallery in Iowa City, which, in its very name pays homage to the very milieu which Asher Durand and Thomas Cole found themselves: The Hudson River School. The works in this show are representative of my preoccupation with transparency, and the sense of evanescence which it conveys. I use materials, varieties of plastics which are, I believe a reification of our very American Civilization, for better or for ill.