A Painter’s Way Through Poetry

Thursday, May 20, 2010

“YOU GO WHERE your life takes you,” mused artist Kat Hastie in a conversation we recently had about an upcoming show where visual art and poetry meet.

“Contemporary Charleston 2010: Influence” runs at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park from May 20 through July 3 with an exhibit that matches 10 poets with 10 painters who pulled names of the poets out of a hat. But in the end it was not as random as Kat Hastie originally thought.

A Kat Hastie piece based on a poem by Katherine Williams

The poet that she drew was Katherine Williams, the Charleston author of several chap books. “I began to read and absorb Katherine’s poetry and the poem I landed on was Hand which was inspired by Wallace Stephen’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

After many readings, Kat began to visualize the structure, colors, and materials she would use. She considered the rhythm and activity of the poem and related the images to her composition. “I collected things like blue wood, roofing material, graphite, oil paint, and gold leaf—they all became part of a building process.” She also related the size of the painting to poetry—which you hold in your hand as you read—thereby providing a sense of intimacy between reader and poet. Parts of the composition even came to resemble an open book.


My body and your body and our body.
The two-fingered hand.

Tracer of love in the dust.
Spike in the tree.
Bringer of madness.

She never follows the four winds,
only the fifth—the cyclone—
wind of the fist.

Two hands interlace, not ours.
It is a charcoal of my other hands.

The hand fumbles at cats cradle in sunlight:
it takes far longer
when there are eyes involved.

Key to the dialect of midnight:
the vowels are always shaped
like fingers.

Even borderlines hold their breath
at the sound of those hand-shadows
parting the air.

Morning seeped in under the door
as blue fog. Four hands
cradled the steam above one clay mug.

Marionettes danced
The Firebird across the stage
as though their souls had fingers.

Not painting, but the act of painting:
the presence of the absent hand.

How is the piano without hands
unlike a painting without speech?

With a wave of the leader’s hand,
hundreds were lost.

One glimpse of the cosmos is forever.
When read like braille,
the stars sizzle in the hand.

~ Katherine Williams

In particular, Kat became interested in how the poem evolves from images of darkness to light. “Softness happens almost unnoticed and has to do with opening, awareness, and realization.” This idea became pivotal for “that business of the collective unconscious—how we are all interconnected became clear to me.” And she realized there had been nothing random about the match of Katherine’s poem and her own artistic vision.

Poet and painter had a few general conversations; not a true collaboration, but with a result of art and poetry that inform one another. As Katherine Williams states in her poem, Hand

Not painting, but the act of painting:
the presence of the absent hand.

Serving as that absent “hand” also gave Kat Hastie a new appreciation for poetry. “Doing this work opened up a whole new pathway and made me understand that words hold not only meaning, but feelings.”

Parts of the larger collage work by Kat Hastie

Special thanks to curators Max Miller and Erin Leigh Glaze who organized this exhibit.

Also featured are artists Jocelyn Chateauvert, Juilio Cotto, Scott Debus, Sarah Haynes, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Hirona Matsuda, Max Miller, Timothy Parker, and Lynne Riding; and poets Carol Peters, Jonathan Sanchez, Bryan Penberthy, Dennis Ward Stiles, Paul Allen, Marcus Amaker, Morrow Dowdle, Carol Ann Davis, and Ellie Davis.

Contemporary Charleston 2010: Influence
Thu, May 20 – Thu, July 3
Poets will read from their works • Friday May 28
City Gallery at Waterfront Park • 34 Prioleau Street

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2 Responses to “A Painter’s Way Through Poetry”

  1. The absent hand, love that image/concept. Very present indeed. Beautiful show, great article. thanks for covering it.

  2. Love that the “absent hand” pulled together so many interesting and complementary materials.


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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
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