Depicting the unseen

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Angelia Ford/Courtesy photo
"Kant or Rand +32.77789 -96.79348" is a graphite drawing by artist Angelia Ford. The title refers to two things. The subject of the portrait asked the artist “Kant or Rand?” when they met. “He was asking me which writer I prefered,” Ford said. Her answer: Immanuel Kant. Ford said the homeless man would have declined to pose for her if she preferred Ayn Rand, the famous author who split America into two camps — parasites and capitalists — in her famous novel Atlas Shrugged. The numerals are the latitude and longitude of the spot where the artist and model worked. “Kant or Rand” was paired with poet Samika Swift’s “Trayce of a Poet” in “Merging Visions: A Collaborative Exhibit of Art and Poetry.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories about poets and artists who paired their works in the annual “Merging Visions” exhibition.

Poet Samika Swift and artist Angelia Ford gravitate to the unheralded and invisible.

The shared interest led the two women to pair up in “Merging Visions: A Collaborative Exhibit of Art and Poetry,” an annual exhibit of work by members of the Denton Poets Assembly and the Denton-based Visual Arts Society of Texas. The show runs through Friday in the Meadows Gallery at the Patterson-Appleton Center for the Visual Arts.

Swift’s poem “Trayce of a Poet” was paired with Ford’s graphite drawing Kant or Rand +32.77789 -96.79348. Both Swift and Ford have two pieces each in the exhibit. Their pairing turns a lens on the people who rarely achieve celebrity: writers and the homeless.

“I wrote the poem several years ago,” Swift said. “It was inspired by a spoken-word poetry open mic. This guy, this poet, he was in his early 20s, and he was so insightful. I loved listening to his poetry.”

“Trayce of a Poet” is a sketch of the young poet, particularly as he applies his writing to a woman he admires. The setting? Recycled Books, Records and CDs, with a group of writers clustered around the poet in the basement. Swift’s verse then turns to her own wish — to hear a particular poem. The poet cringes, and then offers up a different poem — a tribute to four-letter words (love, hope and pure).

Swift, who got the knack for poetry in elementary school, focused on poetry when she was teaching high school creative writing in Indiana. She’s taught English literature and composition in a charter school, and has taught in alternative and public schools. She wrote “Trayce of a Poet” for a contest.

Ford’s drawing is part of a body of work that became the central project of her Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing at Texas Woman’s University.

“The guy that I had drawn, all the people I’ve drawn [in this series] are homeless,” Ford said. “I jump into the car and I drive to Dallas and drive to downtown and look around for people who look interesting.”

Ford approaches her subjects and explains her goal: to interview them and make portraits of them without exploitation.

“The basic reason I am doing this is because they are so ignored,” said Ford, who commutes to Denton from Garland. “This is a group of people that most people won’t even look at. Like, people won’t look at them when they pass them by.”

When subjects agreed to participate, Ford said she started with an interview that could last from two to four hours.

“I have a beat-up old Moleskine notebook,” Ford said. “I’ll sketch them. Sometimes I’ll do a watercolor of them when we talk. Sometimes I’ll take a photograph and refer to it afterward.”

Ford said she deliberately leaves some of the drawing unfinished.

“Part of the drawings are done with my left hand, to keep it loose, and then I’ll go back with my right hand and finish some of it out. But I want to leave them unfinished because their lives are unfinished.”

Ford said she’s found that the people she has documented through portraiture defy the prevailing assumptions about the homeless. She said most of the people she interviewed and sketched — the vast majority of whom were men — didn’t report addictions or mental illness. Most told her they just wanted a second chance.

“A lot of people think that the homeless want something,” she said. “What they want is another chance. In all of the people I’ve interviewed, only one asked me for something.”

The portraits imply honesty and dignity. Ford is drawn to the Renaissance era in art history, and often adds something to her subjects’ clothing.

“It’s my way of giving them a higher status than they have,” Ford said.

Ford said this is her first time to have art in “Merging Visions,” which started seven years ago.

Swift said she relished seeing Ford’s portrait, and enjoyed seeing how the art and verse relate.

“I had a very specific person in mind, and the young man in the poem looks nothing like the man in the portrait,” Swift said, “but I can see why [exhibit coordinator] Becca saw these together. This is Becca Hines all the way. She has great intuition in putting words and images together.”

Swift has had poetry in “Merging Visions” since its inception.

“This is the one thing I can do each year to honor that side of the creative process,” she said.

Swift said she’s juggling parenthood, marriage and writing. She reads young adult fiction and is working on a novel.

“Merging Visions” has made Swift more conscious of visual art and its ability to inspire literary creators. Like a lot of writers, though, Swift said she leans mostly on music when she needs to get words unstuck.

Ford said she doesn’t see any end soon to her body of work examining and humanizing the homeless.

“I would love to be able to show these to the people who helped me make them,” she said.

But the homeless are transient, and without addresses or telephone numbers, the only way she can reconnect with her models is to keep an eye out for them as she laps the Dallas streets.

“My favorite interview is still my first one,” she said. “I’d love to show him what I did, the drawing. But I found out from his friends on the street that he passed away.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.

 

TRAYCE OF A POET

His favorite poem is the one he’ll write

tomorrow. Ink like miner’s coal dust baptizes

his hands, betraying the trade occupying careful

lines in cheap notebooks, each page an offering.

He’s traced her body in calculated curves,

Roman shapes, a palimpsestic homage

to the Salome of her spirit. His script a veiled

dance, transparent cover — offering his own head

for her platter. Does she realize her divinity?

We listen inside the old opera house,

surrounded by others’ dreams trapped

between tree-birthed binding. I request

the poem that reminds me of the color red,

maybe shades of orange — something

about a coffee shop and her sadness

or possibly the one in which she cuts herself.

He cringes. He never likes the poems others want

him to perform. Instead, he offers a short verse

as we sit, wedged in tight — Science Fiction

to our left, record albums to our right — listening

to a poet canonizing four letter words:

Hope.Love.Pure.

I wonder. Is he still speaking of her?

— Copyright 2008 Samika Swift. All rights reserved.

 

MERGING VISIONS

What: The Visual Arts Society of Texas and the Denton Poets’ Assembly present a collaborative exhibit of art and poetry.

When: The exhibit runs through Friday. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

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

 

PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD WINNERS

Visitors to the exhibit were invited to vote on the piece they liked best in the seventh annual “Merging Visions: A Collaborative Exhibit of Art and Poetry.”

Three pairings were selected:

* “Grandparents are ...” by poet Sandy Seaborn, with artist Lin Hampton’s painting Blue Britches;

* “Peace Passing Understanding” by poet Lydia Alexander, with artist Tesa Morin’s painting Prayer Flags: Portrait of Jackie Gibbons; and

* “Come to Life” by poet Christina Smith, with artist Texa Morin’s painting sserd-dress.


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