AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
What flows from the paintbrush and the pen and how they intersect is the subject of a curious new exhibit at the diane birdsall gallery in Old Lyme through July 21.
An exhibition by painter/poet Jacqueline Dee Parker titled "Dream Houses" opens June 23 and continues through July 21. A companion event, "Poetini Time," takes place in the gallery on June 30. It will include a martini reception and poetry reading by four Connecticut published poets.
'A visceral construction of space...'
...is what Dee Parker calls her mixed media works-"a cross-pollination of the artist/painter and poet psyche."
Born in New York City and raised in New Haven, Dee Parker lives in Baton Rouge, La.-where, since 1993, she has taught in the English department at Louisiana State University.
She says she is excited to return to her Connecticut shoreline roots with this exhibition.
Nationally recognized for both art and poetry, Dee Parker was awarded the juror's prize in the 2009 Rauschenberg Tribute Exhibition at the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including Atlanta Review, The Southern Review, Chelsea and American Diaspora: Poetry of Exile. Her work also has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Dee Parker says visual art and writing have always been equally engaging modes of expression for her-and music also plays a big role.
"I kept a sketchbook journal since the age of 10," she says. "I was inspired by the home I grew up in."
Her mother has been a professional violinist with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra for the past 45 years.
"She taught (music) in our home and always painted," Dee Parker says. "She used to tell me picture stories: she'd make up a story and illustrate it as she was telling it. It was very powerful."
She began writing poetry in college.
"I used to say more life had to happen to me before I could think in long sentences," she says. "Fragments coming together make sense to me. The purity and economy of a poem-crystallizing something-feels honest and natural."
Her poems aren't directly linked to the visual art, Dee Parker explains, but inform the work in a more conceptual way.
Always attracted to working with collage elements and most comfortable expressing herself abstractly, she says materials and where they come from is all part of her process as well.
"I use a lot of papers from vintage books, old sheet music and player piano rolls that my husband (who's a cellist) gave me a huge lot of five years ago. It's been a really rich resource."
Pieces in the show called "Gameboards," Dee Parker says, "initiate a return to a slightly livelier palate and a little more play."
While stretching canvases, she realized the dimensions were the same as those of the game boards she played on as a child.
"The squares brought to mind images of the past, a joyful urgency, when token placement on a game board could mark a player's relationship to the universe," she says. "I guess, metaphorically, these game boards are an effort to recover the kind of youthful spirit of well-being."
Several very small pieces on cut canvas called "Rites" represent the meditative part of her daily practice.
"Their scale and color and the way I arranged them on the wall reminded me of Tibetan prayer flags," she says. " I've always loved the idea of the flags blowing blessings of wisdom and compassion into the space that surrounds them."
Another thing to note, Dee Parker says, connecting all her work, is the graphite line, which references several things: the act of writing with a pencil and the line being what happens when a point becomes something, quite literally.
"As a child I watched my father, who was an architect, pull his pencil across paper, and I'd watch my mother pull her bow across strings; an interaction that created beautiful sounds."
"I'm essentially concerned with balance," Dee Parker says. "I think of the verticality in my images as growth or ascension?metaphors for human life (which is) definitely made up of balancing acts."
Four voices, one philosophy
Four local women poets will come together to read their work at the "Poetini Time" reception: Suzanne Levine and Pamela St. Clair, both of Chester; Janet Passehi of Essex; and Christina Cook, originally of Old Lyme-where she still has a family home-now living in New Hampshire.
In their collective statement, the group says: "A poem's strength is subtlety, the quiet gesture between title and body, word and word, image and sound, line and space. Two common gestures define our group: mutual admiration for each other's art and gratitude for the opportunity to read and listen together."
The women began meeting regularly just over a year ago to share their work, as writing poetry is a rather solitary endeavor. But reading alone in front of an audience can be solitary, too, according to St. Clair.
"For a lot of people, poetry is off-putting," says St. Clair. "If you have more than one voice to listen to, it gives the audience more to draw from, attach to-they might find something different (in the poems)."
The women's work reflects a wide range of styles.
"Janet is also a visual artist and brings that to the page," St. Clair observes. "Her poetry focuses a lot on language, but also on the space on the page and in the poem.
"Suzanne's is the most narrative and injects the most humor into it-there are more comedic moments," St. Clair says.
"Christina," she says, "draws heavily from biography. Lots of her poems have to do with her mother's recent death and are rooted in settings-geography. They're not sensual poems, but her language and imagery is often quite sensual."
Of her own work, St. Clair says, "Mine tend to be shorter, less narrative pieces. Suzanne's honor some part of her past (while) mine tend to be more lyrical and fiction-based. My poems mostly come from a sense of loss.
"I always tell people, I don't think there's one complete understanding of a poem," St. Clair adds. "Usually I don't even know what a poem is about until I finish it. If I think I know the ending or where it's going, it's a poem that never lifts off the page."
St. Clair says she loves reading in a gallery because of "that synergy between what's on the walls and the visual and verbal art-the art on the wall and the art that you're listening to."