"In Memory of Jane Kenyon" (2012) acrylic on canvas, 11x14
I have liked Sean Scully's paintings since the Metropolitan Museum ran a retrospective of his work in early 2007, and I wanted to paint something with lots of rectangles but that would be my own and not an imitation of someone else's style. I came up with the idea of picking one of my favorite poems and having words represented by colors.
The poem I selected was Jane Kenyon's Lines for Akhmatova from her Collected Poems. I very much enjoy Kenyon's poems because they usually describe moments of ordinary life that I can relate to (the simplicity of her writing reminds me of Billy Collins in that respect, although Collins has more humor), and she died of leukemia like my godmother. I also like the poetry of her (still alive) husband Donald Hall, but Kenyon's verses have a special place in my heart. Another of my favorite poets is Anna Akhmatova (I have two of her volumes at home) and not only did I learn some Russian in high school but I have always felt a strong admiration for intellectuals who brave strong oppression and dictatorship to make their voice heard, so that poem seemed the perfect choice.
The poem has 25 verses, and I was concerned the horizontal lines would be too thin on a 11x14 canvas so, not letting this "tiny" detail get in my way, I only color-coded the first 15 (the first three stanzas out of five). I used the first line to decide how much space each character should take to then compute the length of each word in the width of 11 inches, but of course there were later lines that used more characters than that first one so my calculations got flawed quickly. I guess I paint to use my right brain and give my left brain a break, in spite of my engineering education. The pale yellow on the right side denotes blank spaces (or, in the case of the third line, dots... before the sentence picked up again.) That area of color, never to be found on the left side, hopefully gives the viewer a hint that this is not pure non-representational art and that there is some hidden meaning in the painting.
Initially I color-coded similar-sounding names, but I realized about a third to halfway through that the colors weren't "popping" because complementary colors weren't ending up next to each other, so it looked a little drab. That's when I dropped the color-coding idea and just decided to paint whatever color would most enhance the painting. (I had prepped the canvas by penciling the rectangles already.) I am particularly proud of my grey and dark pink - so proud of them in fact that I didn't want to waste a drop and painted a few rectangles next to each other with the same color, so you can't map out all the words anymore. What can I say... It looks nice in my living-room now, and nicer than if I had stuck to my original plan.