Sometimes a word or a picture, a color or a sound, gives me pause. A pause to consider something more deeply or differently. Something clicks, connections are made and my creative life grows. While this is never planned, I am not surprised if it happens when I am engaged in reading (or watching) certain authors or artists. What brought me joy (and inspiration) recently, was a juxtaposition of one beloved author’s words and one admired artist’s technique.
I keep books and magazines on my bedside table for reading often late into the night. The topics covered are varied ranging from fiction to non-fiction and prose to poetry. That mixture almost always includes Mary Oliver’s anthology, Devotions. I do not bookmark this particular title because instead of reading in an orderly fashion, I just open the book and read what the random page provides. Mary Oliver was such a prolific writer, until her death in 2019, that I often discover something I haven’t yet read. What a pleasure that is. I am just as pleased when I get to reread a poem I’d forgotten or one that impresses differently than it did in past readings. This happened recently when I opened Devotions, to the poem, Sometimes. I’ve considered this poem before but in this moment these lines read differently. They gave me pause:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it
I also keep a variety of art books, magazines, and videos in my home studio. I read or watch these whenever I need their content to spark creativity. At this point in my career I have a library to choose from but I do gravitate to certain favorites. Hashim Akib, a master painter of acrylic portraits and landscapes, is one of those favorites. I love his loose painting style. His paintings are vibrant, certainly contemporary and maybe a little unorthodox. With large brushes and quick broad brushstrokes, bright colors and tones, he captures the essence of the people and things he paints. It is the character of a face or a place rather than a carbon copy of features or objects that Hashim uses to tell a story as he perceives it. He captures the spirit within through spirited, fearless painting on canvas.
I was reading Mary’s poetry and watching videos of Hashim’s portrait painting while also working hard to create a website where I can post my work. Connections were forming. I wanted to paint a portrait of Mary Oliver and wanted to practice Hashim’s painting style. I figured why not combine the two and create some art? Connection number one: I would capture the essence of the writer with the emotive strokes of the painter. Connection number two: I would write a journal entry about this process and add all of it – painting and essay to the website.
Then I went to work. I found a black and white photo of a young Mary Oliver on the internet (I could not find any photographer credits) and used it as a reference. I did my best to capture the essence of the visage in a relaxed style reminiscent of the work of Hashim. I used large brushes and made relatively loose strokes. In my painting, Mary’s expression is relaxed and slightly amused. She presents as comfortable but maybe a little hesitant or shy as she looks to one side and not directly at the camera. I did not copy the photo but used it as a reference to try and capture the essence of a master poet in the style of a master painter. I am pleased with the result. The painting is not a carbon copy of either the reference photo or a painting technique. The painting is my interpretation of both. Finally, I wrote this essay to try and share with you the inspiration and the process.
I plan to continue reading Mary Oliver, and reading and watching Hashim Akib. I plan to continue painting and writing. Some of my paintings and writings will find their way to my website. I will continue to stay open to new connections that inspire me to pause and look at my world and work on my art with new and deeper understanding. Perhaps, most relevantly, I plan to remember Mary Oliver’s instruction about living a life by living my life with the mantra: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it. I know that is what I did in this instance. Inspired by the connections I saw, I surprised myself by combining the two disparate art forms in which I work – writing and painting, while connecting Mary Oliver and Hashim Akib, a writer and a painter, who might otherwise never be connected, with one another. Finally, I can share it all in a new meeting place opened up to me, and those who choose to join me there, on the internet.