Poems, paintings ‘say the same thing in a different way’

Images and words, from the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors

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Going bust: Anneli Arms’ Bernie Madoff (2009; wire, polyurethane and acrylics; 15 ins. x 12 ins. x12 ins) makes for “A Cautionary Tale.”

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  During a visit to Paris, John Silver and a few friends would play the game of Tarot — not, he notes, “with the same deck used for telling one’s fortune, but with a different and more ancient one.”

As a member of NYC’s Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Silver was immediately drawn to how the backs of the cards were divided in half. “Above the line,” he recalls, “was a painting…and below the line was a different painting.” Informed by friends that both images conveyed the same message (it was up to the viewer to figure out what that message was), Silver’s gears began to spin…and a picture began to emerge.

“I thought, this a good starting point for an exhibition. Although the back of this deck will be the poems, paintings, drawings and sculpture on the gallery wall and floor, this will be an interesting game.”

BY WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)

The wild winds weep,

    And the night is a-cold;

Come hither, Sleep,

   And my griefs infold:

But lo! the morning peeps

  Over the eastern steeps,

And the rustling birds of dawn

The earth do scorn.


Lo! to the vault

   Of paved heaven,

With sorrow fraught

   my notes are driven:

They strike the ear of night,

   Make weep the eyes of day;

They make mad the roaring winds,

  And with tempests play.


Like a fiend in a cloud

   With howling woe,

After night I do crowd,

   And with night will go;

I turn my back to the east,

From whence comforts have increas’d;

For light doth seize my brain

With frantic pain.

You’re invited to play that game, “The Image and The Word,” through June 17, at Westbeth Gallery. As curator, Silver has brought together 29 artists, exhibiting 79 works.

Although he chose the artists (all of them Federation members) and the particular works of art, Silver detached from the process of determining the complimentary content.

“Each artist in the exhibition,” Silver says, “either chose, wrote or had a poet friend write a poem — or poems — to go along with their painting, sculpture or drawing. The poems are hung on the wall adjacent to each work…or, in some cases, groups of work. The concept is loose. You have a poem and a painting that say the same thing, in a different way. This is very attractive, because it stimulates your mind to work in two different directions,”

Patricia Melvin’s “View of Cloisters, Snow” (2011; oil on linen, 12 X 24 ins; from the collection of Sam Turvey).


We were very tired, we were very merry – 

We had gone back and forth all night upon the ferry.

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable —  

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,

We lay on the hill-top underneath the moon;

And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry – 

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;

And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,

From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;

And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,

And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,

And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;

And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and the pears,

And we gave her all our money but our subway fares. 

Like those divided Tarot cards that commanded his attention in Paris, Silver hopes the exhibition’s side-by-side contrast of art and poetry will “in the end, help each other. You can go deeper into a painting by reading a poem that has a similar idea in it.”

Contrary to the notion that visual mediums require their creators to “get beyond language, because language interferes with your ability to see things clearly,” Silver asserts that both art and poetry both share a unique ability to deliver their message by way of shorthand.” In the visual medium of drawing, he observes, “We have symbols we use. The sun is a circle with lines around it. When people draw the sun, they use that symbol right away. Language, in a poem, has to create a space between the words that creates an emotion. So in effect, it goes back to painting in a way. It creates an image…but it’s more of an emotional image that transcends the actual words that it’s made out of.”


Through June 17
Thurs.-Sun., 1-6pm
At Westbeth Gallery (55 Bethune St. at Washington St.)
For more info, visit westbeth.org and fedart.org


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2 Responses to Poems, paintings ‘say the same thing in a different way’

  1. Valorie Niccore

    Good idea for a show and an engaging experience. Congrats to Lance (John L Silver).

  2. YES! We are more the same than we are diferent. Thank God for the arts and artists of all kinds.

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