Source: New Haven Independent (6/7/19)
Art Of Darkness
By BRIAN SLATTERY
The words are surrounded by billows of shade that could be smoke, or clouds, or particles moving through water. The color seems both kinetic and serene at the same time, capturing light and shadow. The words are written by hand: “Scooping up handfuls of fresh / silence from a mirror of oblivion, / I gather from the well / that night disguises his guests. / It pleases him that wind / must wait. Even rain. Misled / the tempered dark takes a false / step. So many shadows. / So few ghosts — I was lonely / but curious / in this imperfect end.”The above poem-painting is one of several pieces in “A Blue Dark,” a collaboration between Paris-based poet, translator, and Zheng harpist Fiona Sze-Lorrain and Connecticut-based artist Fritz Horstman running now at the Institute Library on Chapel Street through Sept. 7, with a guided walk-through by Horstman on June 9.
Sze-Lorrain’s and Horstman’s artistic partnership sought to “explore a cross-genre range of textual/non-textual responses to the presence of a luminous dark,” as the accompanying description has it. “Both artists meditate on its changing physicality, materiality, space, emotions, images, meanings, and music by dialoguing with each other’s work — ink drawings, poetry, and translation — inspired by the complexity of black, gray, and white, as well as their fluid mysteries of being.”
For those of us looking for something more concrete to grab onto, however, there is something there. Sze-Lorrain and Horstman connected in 2017 when Sze-Lorrain was a visiting artist at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Horstman coordinates that foundation’s residency program. In the process of their collaboration, Horstman prepared the papers first, then gave them to Sze-Lorrain to write poems upon.
Horstman’s techniques and the resulting images may appear to be thoroughly modern abstract work, but in their use of sumi ink and washi papers, they’re also partaking in an art form that is centuries old. Ink wash painting — using calligraphic ink in different concentrations to achieve various effects — first appeared in China’s Tang dyansty about 1,500 years ago, and since then has been used in Asian art to produce everything from landscapes (often of mountains) and animals to washes of evocative shades of gray. From very early on, as the use of calligraphic ink implies, the painting technique was also paired with text. In this sense, Sze-Lorrain’s and Horstman’s collaboration is both modern and deeply traditional.
The way the exhibit is designed, it’s possible for viewers to dissect for themselves what the effects of the pairing are. Several of Horstman’s pieces are displayed without text. As with many abstract images, some veer toward being readable as concrete objects. This one, for example, could be a glacier on the shore of a body of water in front of a mountain range. Another image looks startlingly like a landscape of mountains around a lake at twilight.
But as the other images in the exhibit suggest, such resemblances to landscapes or figures are likely incidental. Often at least part of the method by which the pieces were made is easy to see from the outcome. Horstman’s pieces revel in leaving part of the image to chance — the way the ink can run, pool, dilute, or bloom when the paper is already saturated, or folded.An accompanying book for the exhibit displays Sze-Lorrain’s poems typeset on one page with Horstman’s images on the opposite page. You can begin to see the dialogue at work there. The pairing encourages the audience to linger, for longer than it takes to read the poem or take in the image. An accompanying video, in which Sze-Lorrain reads her poems and works in translation, suggests just how long. Sze-Lorrain reads with unhurried deliberation, weighing each word.
But it’s when the Sze-Lorrain’s handwritten words appear together on the wrinkled pages of paper with Horstman’s paintings that the marriage of the two seems most complete, as if one inspired the other, but it’s hard to say which came first. In one case the image and the poem, with its sketchy handwriting, fit together so well that it’s easy to imagine them being composed side by side, a word inspiring one brush stroke, one brush stroke bringing out the next words. Both Sze-Lorrain and Horstman made their art through the same medium — a brush dipped in ink. It’s a little easier even to conceptualize writing and painting as almost the same kind of art.“The rain / came hard in, from the middle / of somewhere, of / nowhere, like an orchestra / of spiders, frozen / and eyeless / at my empty funeral,” the poem reads. It’s more than worth visiting the Institute Library’s gallery with an eye toward seeing how the words and images connect, with seriousness of intent but playfulness too — or stopping by when one of the artists is in the house.
“A Blue Dark” runs in the third-floor gallery at the Institute Library, 847 Chapel St., through Sept. 7. Visit the library’s website for hours and more information. Fritz Horstman will be giving an exhibition tour on June 9 at 4:30. Visit that event’s Facebook page for more information.