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Once or twice a month I post current work, what’s happening in my studio, or upcoming shows and events.

painting and poetry

[In this post I’m referring to poetry and painting from the early 20th century to now. And although I promised these posts would only be 1-2 paragraphs, I haven’t posted in a while and ask you to indulge me a little.]

la llaga  - 16 x 16 inches - cold wax/oil/wood ash on panel - 2019

la llaga - 16 x 16 inches - cold wax/oil/wood ash on panel - 2019

If you follow my work, you know that my last three shows have been an exploration of poetry and poets: Edna St Vincent Millay, Constantine Cavafy, and Walt Whitman. My upcoming show with Rebecca Crowell continues this theme. I thought in this entry I’d share a little about why poetry and painting are so intimately linked for me.  

Examining poetry and painting is not new. From Titian to Wallace Stevens, people have explored their relationship. The connections are multitudinous and range from extremely literal to tangentially symbolic. These are some of the connections that come to mind for me:

  • About both poetry and abstraction, people ‘don’t get it’. They ‘don’t understand it’. They ask, ‘what does it mean’. Basically, a lot of people find both inaccessible.

  • Non-representational paintings don’t try to explain, and poetry doesn’t try to explain. They both create images that are meant to evoke moods, feelings, and sensations.

  • At their core, both share focus on sensibility, subject matter, technique, and aesthetics.

  • In both art forms the artist ‘sees’ the world, or their world, and evokes their vision of that world in an individual work of art.

  • Poets use a vocabulary of words, structures, and images while painters use a vocabulary of textures, colors, shapes, lines, and compositional motifs.

  • You might call poetry, ‘word painting’.

  • They both use pattern, repetition, rhythm, and flow.

  • Like writing a poem, the way I paint is an iterative process, adding and taking away, until the final vision is realized.

  • While individual poems or paintings might inspire a painter or poet to individual works, the literature of painting or a collection of poems, might inspire correspondingly.

  • Both offer an opportunity to discover something inside yourself that is outside everyday experience. Painting, writing, looking, and reading offer something beyond the ordinary, or at least an experience of the ordinary that is beyond the ordinary.

William Carlos Williams spoke of poetry like a painter, "There is no subject; it's what you put on the canvas and how you put it on that makes the difference. Poems aren't made of thoughts — they’re made of words, pigments put on the paper.” 

Reading poetry and about the lives of the poets who write it puts me in a specific space, a space of being more outside, and simultaneously more inside, myself. A space where I am more able to shift my mood, feeling, and sensations into something I can paint. It causes a shift in me, a shift I find difficult without the words of poets.

I choose poets not only whose work, but whose lives, too, resonate with me, whose struggles, personal experiences, desires, agendas, and paths remind me of my own. As I wind my way through the work of a poet, I notice in them a stumbling evolution into the way they use words, letters, stanzas, and lines that reminds me of my stumbling evolution into how I use shape, line, texture, value, and color.


My show with Rebecca Crowell ( opens at the Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette, California on September 5, 2019. Rebecca explores her response to the work of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I am exploring the life and work of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

I look forward to your comments…

Jerry McLaughlinComment