This is reposted from my old blog. I’ve imported the whole post, comments and all, into a single space here. I’ve listed it here under its original date.
Reflections on dark ‘til dawn
Saturday, October 24, 2009
There was really only one thing that ever kept me from becoming a visual artist of some sort — a decided lack of talent. I don’t have a steady hand. My fine motor skills are, well, less than fine. I have never been able to put the pictures in my mind onto the page without recourse to words. Words, it seems, are the only chance I have at producing art. I have always felt it a pitiable lack in myself, that I did not have even a shred of talent that would allow me to enter the world of visual arts.
Because of this particular ineptitude that I’ve always known was mine, collaborating on the dark ‘til dawn series with Peter Zhou (周宇) of decollection has been a great pleasure. The project involved creating 30 designer lamps sporting Zhou’s paintings, with both the design and painting growing out of my haiku. Each lamp was to be a one-of-its-kind art piece, with a unique design and painting inspired by the haiku. The idea was to incorporate East and West, contemporary and traditional. It was a huge undertaking, and I am very satisfied with the job we’ve done, having just completed it this week.
The process began with poem selection. I went through my existing body of work, and took out several haiku that would form a basis for the series, including some that were previously published, like the haiku portion of the haibun “Blowing Smoke,” still available in the archives at Sloth Jockey. Haiku seemed to be a natural choice for the form of poetry that would suit the lamps, both for its brevity and for its emphasis on image and “the moment.”
As Zhou and I sat discussing the poems, me trying to translate the ideas into Mandarin for him, we found that the best approach was to first talk image, then move to feel, effect, and associations. It was an invigorating process, and also quite humbling. It is very difficult to pick apart one’s own poetry and put it into such bald, exposed terms (though I never mind doing it to the work of others). Zhou impressed me with how quickly he could capture the ideas and relate them to the pictures floating around in his own mind.
Our next step involved Zhou producing sketches for the paintings and lamp designs, while I put together a few more poems to flesh out the series. We ended up going through about 45 poems in order to find the 30 that we finally settled on. Some of the haiku were, typical of my work, first created as works of speculative poetry. Watching Zhou recontextualize these poems into a more traditional Chinese setting was amazing. For instance, there is one piece that was written as part of a longer poem, envisioning the view of Earth from space:
compelled by her hues
overlaid by swirling whites
her rich greens, deep blues
Zhou’s image of this poem is a scene of a river gorge cut between two mountains, with the clouds rolling over the waters in the middle of the valley. It is very typical of a certain style of traditional Chinese painting, and nicely places the words of the poem into a new context that I had not imagined for them. Similar work of situating the verses into new surroundings happened over and over with the 30 pieces, bringing Merlin into contact with Da Peng Niao, the phoenix with a Chinese sunbird, and meteors with Chinese astrology. It has been lots of fun watching all of this come together.
Zhou is an amazing artist, endowed with all of those talents that are necessary for one to be successful with the visual arts — a steady hand, a good eye, a cool demeanor, and a quick recall across the huge breadth of images residing in his mind. It has been a great pleasure to see my poetry being brought to new life by his hand.
By next week, there should be photos and descriptions of the lamps up on the decollection website. Check back if you’d like to have a look.
© 2009 Shelly Bryant