7 March - 9 April 2020
Through two language systems, painting's formal language of colours, spaces and lines, and the linguistic signs and structures of written (and spoken) poems – punctuation, line breaks, breaths – I explore the occurrence of intervals within these two different semiotic systems. My aim is to bridge between these two formal languages. To this end, my studio practice operates in as a kind of a feedback loop, or circular relation: moving from painting to poetry, and back again.
For this exhibition I have included both figurative paintings, which are suggestive of open spaces – resting places, physically experienced while walking in the landscape, or swimming in the sea; and also paintings/drawings which function more as indexes: visual records of the pauses and punctuation codes from Hilda Doolittle’s imagist Sea Poems.
As a painter I experience Doolittle’s poetry through emergence in painting processes and properties. My painterly marks mirror the poet’s approach to writing and presentation of text. In each instance patterns – interactions – are allowed to appear between words and visual images (i.e. the star shape of a flower, or the blue of the sea or sky). Words and punctuation marks like the em dash, and the typographical-spatial layout of the poem articulate space and time.
By reading poems from Doolittle’s Sea Garden, I discovered how verbal properties and punctuation codes operate to make intervals emerge within a poem. These discoveries translated into a new understanding of my own studio practice: the way I choose lines and intervals (pictorial spaces) to emphasise how colours and shapes emerge within a painting – that is, establish a presence as inchoate forms and structures that integrate themselves into the overall development of the work.
To grasp this point, consider Doolittle’s use of the em dash. The em dash (—) is described as “perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect …” (https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html). Doolittle uses it to create both an interval and a point of connection, or bridge, between words. The em dash becomes more than just a punctuation mark; it becomes a poetic operation with a double function of gap and bridge: it suspends meaning; then allows it to resume, sometimes abruptly, sometimes more haltingly, and sometimes with an unexpected twist or a transcendent turn. This type of poetic operation is encoded into my painting process via techniques or formal devices that belong to the specific language of painting. Pictorial formal language translates or stands in for verbal formal language; stanza breaks, punctuation pauses, vowels and consonants in a poetic composition become colours, lines and open pictorial spaces, gaps or intervals, in a painting. From my experience of emergent painting processes, I can imagine how a poet might want to manipulate verbal language to create particular effects.
In my own painting practice I have attempted to bridge the interval between painted colours and the words for those colours (or “colour words”) such as yellow, russet, amber, and sea blue. Reading Doolittle’s compositions, I try to capture such colour images as:
‘Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow’
(from the poem Sheltered Garden, in the collection Sea Garden.)
The poetic image is transcribed into my emergent painting language. That is, it is reproduced or “repeated with difference” as Deleuze might say. The verbal image, or verbal colour, cannot remain the same; the act of repetition carries over a trace of the verbal into the visual, while unavoidably altering it. What is carried over includes the idea, or the compositional strategy, of the interval. An interval in poetic language is a gap in meaning, or (more graphically) a line break or an em dash or a caesura. In music, an interval is the difference in pitch between two notes. In painting, we speak analogously of high key colour (“the set of colours that range from mid-tone hues to white”) and low key colour (spanning “the range from mid-tone to black” 1). In my own work, “interval” takes on an additional dimension of meaning. It refers to the interval between the verbal and the visual, as well as those intervals within their corresponding art forms (within a poem, within a painting). The colour intervals on the painted surface, between differently coloured shapes and forms, do not literally represent sea plants, wind or volumes of sea water – images from Doolittle’s poems – but are transcribed as abstract colour patches. They show evidence of brushmarks, are intensified by juxtaposition, and are experienced phenomenologically as tonally contrasting warm and cool, vivid and soft colours – as sensuous and affective intervals of colour. In this way, the painting addresses a varied set of intervals and relations: between colours, spaces and shapes within the painting, and between the visual image and the poetic (verbal) image that inspired it. Each of these differences, or intervals, is allowed to emerge – to unfold and take on shape and colour – during the act of painting. Hence the description of my painting practice as “emergent painting”: images are not pre-planned but come into being through a sequence of artistic-aesthetic decisions, continuous adjustments, and holistic review until the moment when everything appears to be in balance and the emergent forms have established their presence, their place and their right to be.
- Sandra Bushby, March 2020