This week, we feature a piece of art composed of poems by e.e. cummings and ask the artist, Jason Arnold, about his process.
About the piece of art, from the artist
I used only e.e. cummings’ Dial Paper Poems (1919-1920) and other random early poetry that was originally unpublished as the setting/background for this painting. As I rarely feel connected to paintings as real artistic statements anymore, I view my paintings as almost sculptural objects. This painting I set and dried with particles and sand embedded in the surface. The final artistic act was the recording of the action of throwing paint like a sexual explosion over the canvas.
draft journal: Why e.e. cummings’ poems in particular for this piece of artwork? Were you drawn to the content of the poems, the images, how they look on the page, some idea embedded in them, or something else?
Jason Arnold: The Dial poems were unique in cummings’ work, because they capture a playfulness and energy that he had begun to experiement with in 1916. These poems were like nothing else he had written up to that point. That may have been due to his personal life (an affair with a woman who would later become his second wife) or his excitement around breaking with poetic traditions. In the work, the lines are almost ecstatic in their placement on the page, and they tackle an array of subjects from spirituality to sexuality. Also, to be perfectly honest, my wife and I passed notes through a copy of a cummings book that included these poems. We were both married to other people at the time, unhappy and longing to be together. These poems seemed to capture our excitement and the gentle nature of our courtship. The white paint that covers some text throughout was meant to create a kind of gauze or flesh-like appearance. I am drawn to Abstract Expressionism but am always a little skeptical of its power now. With Franz Kline’s work or Robert Motherwell’s work (the Elegy series especially), the power of the work can’t be questioned. It is amazing to stand in front of those paintings and be completely consumed by the m. I wanted to get to that state with this painting. I wanted it to be larger than most things I have done, so that it could seem almost monumental in a smaller space.
dj: What was your thinking in the arrangement of the poems? Was it random or did you have a methodology behind it.
JA: The poems are arranged with some order. If they are read from left to right, the most spiritual of the works in the final page affixed to the canvas. I was becoming more interested in art that can “travel” within someone, like a poem. I was and still am interested in how mediums can work together to create a new experience. Reading a canvas as a visual experience got me excited.
dj: What connection did you make in the process of crafting this piece between your own writing and painting, if any? How do the words expand the visual experience of the piece, and how might the visual experience expand the words?
JA: I’ve always tried to create a visual that was striking enough to stand on its own. However, with this piece, and with a lot of art I gravitate to now, there needs to be engagement on a lot of levels and I don’t feel I can achieve that strictly working with the image itself. Instead, I want the surface and more focused readings of the painting to unfold for the viewer.
After completing this particular painting, my own writing was driven into a very organic, descriptive style. I’ve focused more on my writing and performance and less on painting recently. Painting doesn’t feel as immediately communicative as words and sound to me right now. I struggle with how to even enter into the dialogue with an image alone. Even when drawing a simple landscape, I am inclined to add text…even when I have no idea what relationship the text has with the image right away.
Jason Dean Arnold is a former elementary and high school teacher with a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and a doctorate in process. Jason is the Learning Systems Architect for the University of Florida’s College of Education distance learning program. Recently, his poetry has appeared in a few online journals and his composition “Unrecognizable Beauty” (based on several poems and written for eight musicians and readers) was performed at The Museum of Contemporary Art – Jacksonville in 2010. His random writing, photos, and paintings can be found at redbyrd.tumblr.com.
This guest post is part of our ongoing web series MARGINALIA about all things writing, reading, & learning. To submit your own experience, please read our guidelines.