(” Pleasure Principle” pictured, Christine Palamidessi)
Since I have been active in both the visual art and written art worlds, I often contemplate what the difference is between the the disciplines and what are the similarities.
I began as a writer, writing fiction and the novel and teaching writing at Boston University. At a certain point I was compelled to shift focus to visual art: sculpture.
In the beginning of my career as writer, words were totems I piled up to communicate mind patterns, ideas, and sensations on paper that could be shared with readers. I mailed paper to an editor; readers read words on paper. I enjoyed perusing fine stationary shops for paper, fountain pens, document boxes, mailing envelopes.
At a certain point—both because of my particular pleasure in physicality and the march of technology— my words seemed to be becoming etherial: ghosts. I typed into my computer and sent them off to join a miasma of other people’s words on the internet. Internet? Where was the internet storing these words? The computer itself became smaller and smaller, the internet bigger.
I hungered to handle weight, volume, color. I wanted to turn away from the internet and my thin computer and work in the same space that my body occupied.
Turning back to my early training in the visual arts and mentoring by classically trained Italian artists (mask makers, painters, cartapesta artisan), I immersed myself in sculpture, using paper and words and the human body. Those were the qualifiers I assigned to myself. I was unfolding, like a flower, from the world of words into the world of 3-d and I vowed to retain the materials of my original discipline—paper, ink, letters— and to take my heart and humanity’s heart with me.
The heart is in the torso. The heart is sacred. From the start I made a deliberate decision to use the torso as a vehicle to express the human condition.
First using the torso to explore time, I sought out the relationship between Greek myths and people I knew. I wrote on the sculptures. Next I moved on to exploring how the brain is revealed in the shape of the torso ( see “Pleasure Principle” above) and wrote smaller words on the plaster torsos. I moved on to Brazil: using foraged materials —and no words— to describe a place. Color and shape said what I wanted to say. I was no longer using words.
Inside it felt as if a something heavy had been removed from my brain when I shifted away from verbal. A very primal creative spirit emerged.
I personally do not know other writers who have shifted their work from writing to creating 3-D art. I am sure some exist and will look for them. In the world’s literati there are many cross-talents that in addition to writing have practiced visual art. William S. Burroughs, e.e. cummings, Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Sylvia Plath, Anyn Rand are a few that come to mind right away.
Here are a few Henry Miller paintings: