Friday, March 30, 2012

on painting and poems

It all started a few years ago, when I finished a moody, woodsy landscape and went hunting for a title. Tired of my simple “woods’ path” or “through the trees” titles, I picked up a volume of poetry and scanned through it searching for inspiration.

After a few minutes, I opened the page to Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and my eyes rested on the line “the woods are lovely, dark & deep”. Perfect.

Kristina Wentzell, lovely, dark & deep, oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches. ©2009

Since then, volumes of poetry and literature have been my go to place for title inspiration.

Then I had an idea. Why not reverse the process, and paint a collection directly inspired by the poems?

So, I spent the winter, curled up in bed on cold nights, combing through poetry books; bookmarking dozens of poems, dreaming of landscapes, making notes on pages, discarding many. I settled on Robert Frost because his poem was the first to catch my attention. I then turned to Emily Dickinson for her rich, visual imagery and child-like wonder.

I wanted to find a common theme among these poems--one that unified the series and also matched my own artistic sensibilities. A love and reverence of the natural world, a reflective sense towards personal history, childhood, and a sense of place were the qualities I sought. My paintings are bright, vibrant, full of life, connected to the natural world, to places that hold meaning to me, sometimes heavy and filled with history. Like in Frost’s poem “Birches” which is at first simply an observation about a line of trees after an ice storm, and then goes on to speak about carefree boyhood days with a melancholy wistfulness. I was never a swinger of birches, but this poem brings to mind my own solitary, carefree days as a girl, combing the fields and woods near our home, lost in my own world of imagination. My own birches are upright and proud, rather than bent, but the sentiment is the same.

Kristina Wentzell, birches 3, oil on canvas, 40 x 20 inches. ©2012

In some of the poems, it was just a line or two that grabbed me and held such strong,visual imagery…I couldn’t NOT paint them. The lines I’ll tell you how the sun rose, a ribbon at a time from Dickinson’s “A Day” triggered images of an exquisite winter sunrise with all the shades of violet and rose reflected on a snowy landscape.

Kristina Wentzell, how the sun rose, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. ©2012

I was surprised how often I would feel a visceral, visual spark. A sphere of simple green, from “The Grass” brought immediately to mind all the smells, sights and sounds of one of my favorite hiking spots in the Monadnock region. Pitcher Mountain is a popular hike with a fire tower on the summit and acres and acres of Blueberries for Sal-esque berry picking in late summer. However, the place I am continually drawn to is not at the top, but tucked away on a short side path about three quarters of the way up. Through a small wooded area, the path stops at the edge of a high, rolling meadow. The hills roll beyond, and beyond and beyond in shades of ever quieter dusky blues. The air is still; the grass intensely green--an oasis for the taking.

Kristina Wentzell, the upper meadow, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches. ©2011

And then there is Frost’s lovely poem “A Prayer in Spring” where he tells us Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; And give us not to think so far away. It is my hope and intention that my paintings bring this sentiment to you; to be your oasis, a reminder of your own connections to the land--your own sanctuary.

Kristina Wentzell, a prayer in spring, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches. ©2012

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.
-Robert Frost

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