EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series about poets and artists who paired their works in the seventh annual “Merging Visions” exhibition.
What: The Visual Arts Society of Texas and the Denton Poets’ Assembly present a collaborative exhibit of art and poetry.
When: Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The exhibit runs through June 6.
Where: Meadows Gallery at the Patterson-Appleton Center for the Visual Arts, 400 E. Hickory St.
On the Web: www.dentonarts.com, www.vastarts.org, www.dentonpoetsassembly.weebly.com
Poet Michael Bergel knew he wanted to pair his work with Allison Proulx’s art during the opening reception for “Merging Visions” last year.
“I saw her paintings and I said to myself, ‘OK, this artist is the one I want to work with.’” Bergel said. “This year, I contacted her a few months before the exhibit. She told me that she been picked up already. So sad.”
Proulx sent Bergel the link to a website where he could browse among her finished paintings.
“I saw them and I liked them, and saw two of them that I could easily fit with two of my poems,” Bergel said. “They were just bull’s-eye perfect. Just like, made for these two poems.”
Bergel and Proulx ended up pairing two pieces in “Merging Visions,” an annual joint exhibition between the Denton-based Visual Arts Society of Texas and the Denton Poets’ Assembly. The two groups started the exhibit as an experiment. Both poets and artists wanted to know how images might inspire words, how poetry might inspire painting.
Coordinator Becca Hines said the annual exhibit features 50 pieces of art and 50 poems. Poets can submit up to four poems to the arts society starting in August each year. The artists survey the poetry. If any of them inspires an artist, or has a relationship to a completed work, they approach the poet for a pairing.
Hines said there is no pairing without agreement. And over the years, she said, poets and artists have discovered each other during the exhibitions, like Bergel and Proulx, and have committed to create a pairing.
Perhaps the most arresting pairing is Bergel’s “Alice Is Not in Wonderland” and Proulx’s multimedia painting A New Hope.
Bergel’s poem considers the fabled Alice in a frightening and poisonous opposite-world trying to abstain from threatening little bottles. Proulx’s painting shows a shadowy image of a Catholic cardinal, ascending from a dark urban stairwell into the light. The sky is a bright blue above him. Festive colored paper looks to be caught in mid-flight.
A figure looms at the top of the stairs, looking into the dark. Look closely at the painting and you’ll see images of happy, celebrating faces, and a cluster of Catholic bishops and priests.
“When I look at this painting,” Bergel said, “it reminds me of this huge writer that just died … Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote this book One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Marquez was known as the master of magical realism, and Bergel said A New Hope reminds him of that writing style
“And this painting is — if I could attach a style to that, it would be [magical] realism. You have a dream and half reality merged together, almost like a [piece by painter Marc] Chagall.”
Both Bergel and Proulx are associated with Texas Woman’s University. He’s a professor of biology; she’s a graduate student studying painting.
Proulx said she painted A New Hope after her painting instructor, Laurie Weller, challenged her to develop her palette and mature in her composition. Proulx, who moved to Denton from California, described her pre-grad-school palette as “a California palette.”
“My colors were very saturated. My paintings were very busy and my instructor … was trying to get me to neutralize my palette and simplify my imagery,” Proulx said.
A New Hope indeed resonates with Bergel’s disturbing poem about a vulnerable Alice trying to persevere in a frightening place.
“This piece initially, originally, was about the Catholic Church and the damage that the molestations had done to their reputation,” Proulx said. “But I think there was a lot of pressure on Pope Francis. I did this piece the week that he was elected. All of those images are related to Pope Francis and the people rejoicing at his election.
“I think there was a lot of pressure of him to bring the Catholic Church out of its dark cloud. I think the metaphor of Alice works really well with that, actually.”
Bergel’s poem finds Alice in “Rednow-land,” a place where the rabbit she pursues is black and bats eat cats. While Proulx’s painting makes the viewers feel as if they are rising, Bergel’s poem gives the reader a sinking feeling, a feeling that things aren’t getting better.
When asked if Alice suffers from an eating disorder — or if she might self-mutilate, Bergel’s answer was definitive.
“All of the above, yeah,” he said. “Complex case.”
Bergel said the poem was inspired by someone who sought his help for an eating disorder and cutting. He said the woman’s revelations made him think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
“First of all, there is something in Alice in Wonderland that that creates this mystical environment of [what is] real, [what is] not real,” he said. “I’m following … something that may be, or may not be. Something that may be good, may be bad.”
In some people, he said, there exists “this huge confusion about what is real and what is not real, what looks good but is actually danger, and what is dangerous looks good. Wonderland is usually good, but this is why I came to her not being in Wonderland. She is in this opposite place.”
Bergel and Proulx hope to continue their partnership for future “Merging Vision” exhibitions.
“I’m so fascinated by Allison’s art,” Bergel said. “This is something I’d like very much to do again.”
The exhibit runs through June 6, and the winner of the People’s Choice Award will be announced on May 27.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
Alice is not in Wonderland
Alice is rather in Rednow-land,
Where razors grow on Rednow-trees,
Where the black rabbit is always on time,
But Alice is late.
Her very fast free fall in the rabbit-hole
Brings up her food,
Where fake-gold-plated lead keys lead to a labyrinth
Of never-ending hallways running in closed lariats.
Over there the bats eat the cats,
And the bottles are marked “poison”
Yet Alice ignores the labels.
“I’m six weeks free of the shrinking drink,”
Alice tells me from time to time,
Smiling bitterly by the Pool of Tears.
— Michael Bergel, 2013