In the Reflecting Forest: When Poetry Meets Painting

Poet LB Thompson and artist Ellen Wiener in the enchanted forest.
Poet LB Thompson and artist Ellen Wiener in the enchanted forest.

When artists of any type cross the boundary from their chosen discipline to another art form, they enter a new dimension that can’t help but expand their creative ideas.

Such was the case when North Fork poet LB Thompson and painter and printmaker Ellen Wiener first began their collaboration, <Forest Mirror> <Ink Page>, which opens this weekend at Art Sites in Riverhead.

It was a poem that brought both artists together.

Ms. Wiener, who often includes snippets of poetry in her work, had included Agha Shahid Ali’s poem, Even the Rain, in one of her recent pieces. It turned out that Even the Rain is one of Ms. Thompson’s favorite poems.

A detail from Fibonacci/Forest | Jeff Heatley photo
A detail from Fibonacci/Forest | Jeff Heatley photo

“I’m a really fanatical reader, but often the poets chose to work with are dead,” said Ms. Wiener. “When I started working with LB, I realized she’s able to follow me and I’m able to follow her. That’s a relatively rare experience.”

Ms. Wiener had been working on a large pen and ink project, titled Longhand Forest, while Ms. Thompson had been at work on a reflective poem sequence called Fibonacci Monstrosity, which takes cues from mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci’s sequence of numbers found in nature.

They’ve fit the two pieces together, in a work called Fibonacci/Forest, in which scrolls containing the poems are placed throughout the forest mural.

Longhand Forest has got a narrative feel to it, as does a lot of her work,” said Ms. Thompson. “The forest is very dense. It’s a wonder. If you walk along it, you feel like you’re in a storybook, in a walk through a forest where something is about to happen. We plotted out the mural in a specific way, so that there are hidden scrolls of poems inside the mural. People can pull of a cap, steal a poem, and it’s theirs to keep.”

Each poem in the sequence has the number of lines of each of the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, until the longest poem, which is 89 lines. The poems than reverse in length until they return to the beginning of the sequence.

“The sequence is really cool. It’s what determines the way sunflower seeds are arranged on the face of the flower, and spiral of nautilus shells,” said Ms. Thompson. “The way we have placed the tubes on the wall is using the nautilus shape. When they meet you’re at the longest poem, in the center of the mural.”

“Nowhere else in northern culture, no other location, is used as often as the forest as a landscape for transformation,” said Ms. Wiener. “It has to do with moving out of the civilized into this transitional space where things go on, things that are not in your control.”

Poems in the Suit of Diamonds | Jeff Heatley photo
Poems in the Suit of Diamonds | Jeff Heatley photo

The two then began work on a second collaboration, called Poems in the Suit of Diamonds, in which each of the cards in the suit is represented by a poem about economy, currency and exchanges in the material world, all things which are associated with the suit of diamonds.

“Both pieces are connected, even though the poems and artwork are very different,” said Ms. Wiener. “They’re connected by a sense of mirroring, doubling and reflection, of pensive self-orientation. To me, painting and writing really are acts of reflection and deeper looking.”

“In tarot, the diamonds are called pentacles, and they do have to do with the material world,” said Ms. Thompson. “The painting gives you a view of what used to be called a curiosity cabinet, a cabinet of wonder, with representative images from each of the 13 cards.”

They have also created a boxed set of the poem cards, which will be available for sale at the gallery.

“They look and feel like playing cards, and it also comes with a little booklet for how to read them and footnotes for sources in the poems,” said Ms. Thompson. ” They’re meant to be handled. You have to turn around to read them. You totally engage with them. We really made it to be a tangible physical thing.”

Ms. Wiener says she hopes to expand the project to other tarot suits.

“I would like to continue,” she said. “She’s just great to work with. I usually work alone. She’s also a hermit, like myself. This was rather brave of us.”

“Once you’re within the parameters of a project, you have to dig as deep as you can,” she added. “An enormous amount of things that we worked on did not get into the project. I really, really read those poems deeply, turned them inside out.”

The opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sat., May 31, with a poetry reading by Ms. Thompson at 6 p.m. and music by Hidden City. Art Sites is located at 651 West Main Street in Riverhead. The show will hang until July 6.

 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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