Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry in Oils

It so happened, in this month of poetry, that I bought a new painting for my living room, and I thought, painting is poetry captured in oils.

Surprise, surprise, this is not a new idea.

Ut pictura poesis “as is painting, so is poetry” Horace

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen

Owning a piece of art for your home is one of life’s quieter joys. It’s something that Terry Teachout has written about frequently and with eloquence: the purchase of a piece, receiving it into the home, finding “the spot” for it, taking literal time to sit enjoy it. Teachout has several artists that he had the desire for and then found the means to purchase. For me, it is just one, the New York, now Westport-based artist David Barton.

I am friends with David, by my desire to collect his work is on a completely different plane from that personal bond. I fell in love with his painting years ago. He has several series, but it’s his architectural paintings that I am drawn to and have collected: a house from Booth Bay, Maine; a detail from St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans; a sun-drenched country front door; and the new piece, a Soho corner. (This jpeg of the piece does not do it justice in the slightest.)

I love the interesting color palette, and the precision of line. I love the stylized sensibility and the mastery of place. I love the sheer talent expressed. The paintings are silent, but it’s no accident that the language of art buying centers around a piece “speaking” to you or not. And that language, for me, is poetry, not prose.

“The Relations between Poetry and Painting”

This is the title of a lecture Wallace Stevens gave at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1951. For such a sexy title it’s a pretty dry lecture. But one good point is that there is a cosmic sense of the poetic that gets equally channeled to painting and to words.

More specifically, Poets have been inspired by great paintings: W.H Auden “Musee des Beaux Arts”; John Berryman “Winter Landscape”; William Carlos Williams “Peasant Wedding.” (This site matches up pictures of the paintings with the poems).

And there is at least one very famous reverse: the William Carlos Williams poem “The Great Figure” inspired Charles Demuth to paint "The Figure 5 in Gold."

Among the rain
And lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

And so I will soon have the poetry of a Soho cast iron building in my living room with a startling blue sky (that sadly echoes how blue the sky was the morning of 9/11). It will be like having a window to downtown from the Upper West Side.