WILLIAMSTOWN - Literature and visual art have resided side by side since ancient times, one often inspiring the creativity inherent in the other. Time however, has changed this relationship of late. This year, the Williams College Museum of Art will present several exhibitions to examine the many facets of this synergy. “Painting Between the Lines,” opening next month, is one of those shows.
WCMA curator of special projects Kathryn Price said the exhibition is a sign of the evolution of the connection between art and literature.
“Even though writing and painting have been connected throughout history, literature has become a diminished subject in the medium of painting, which has looked more to history, society, politics and itself for inspiration,” Price said. “Through reintroducing literature as a viable subject for painting, this exhibition looks at the relationship between these two, their different modes of representation, the various ways text can be translated into image, and how they both have the ability to elicit a response.”
While examining how contemporary artists look at storytelling, literature and writing as expressions of individual thought, “Painting Between the Lines” provides a look into the state
The artists in the exhibition - 14 will be presented - create across a number of different forms and styles and are based in the United States and Europe. Price said the choice of the novels has been central to the commissioning process.
“Many of these imagined paintings have been envisaged in exhaustive detail, she said. “They informed the texture of the novels and provided background details, while others play a pivotal role in plot or character development.”
Authors such as Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, and Marcel Proust have placed paintings into their fictitious worlds. However, while the descriptions of these paintings may be vivid, they remain open to interpretation in their physical forms by the artists.
“Painting Between the Lines” will present each painting paired with the respective text as well as a copy of the first edition of the book. As with reading, the visitor can witness the painting while reading the writer's description of the art and see a copy of the book in which the text was first published. WCMA will also have a small lending library available where visitors can check out the books that inspired the artists in the exhibition.
West Coast origins
The show is a transcontinental collaboration, and organized by the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts at the California College of the Arts, in San Francisco. The curator, Jens Hoffman, was traveling and not available for comment.
Elizabeth Glass, the Wattis' assistant curator, said Hoffman's original concept began with shows on three iconic American novels: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Moby Dick,” and “Huckleberry Finn.”
“Each of these exhibitions turned to literature as a basis to develop certain themes that resonate through the practices of contemporary artists,” Glass said from her Bay Area office. “'Painting Between the Lines' also deals with literature and its intersection with visual art, re-introducing it as a subject matter of painting, though it does it with a twist.”
Glass added the link between the written word and the visual image is two-fold. The authors describe real visual objects (either real or imaginary), yet in the novels they aren't seen. In turn, the artists in “Painting Between the Lines” take the author's words and manifest a visual object in the form of a painting.
The exhibition, therefore, will be presented in such a way as build a connection between a story and a corresponding visual link.
“To highlight the connections between art and literature that the exhibition turns to, its design mimics the pages of a book,” Glass said. “Each painting was made in direct response to a quotation from a well-known literary source that describes a painting. Those passages are displayed alongside the paintings themselves, as are early edition copies of the novels themselves. These pairings can be read across from left to right, so that visitors first encounter the words that describe an image, and then the image itself that has been brought to life by the artist.”
In all, Glass said “Painting Between the Lines” is an exploration into the connections between painting and literature. Though they are approached as and divided into separate disciplines, there are deep connections between them.
“Writing and reading are, to an extent, visual experiences, and paintings, though static, also tell a story,” she said. “This exhibition offered the artists an interesting opportunity to render visually something that was expressed by another. For the viewers, we hope that they can be engaged by the various layers of written and visual representation.”
“Painting Between the Lines” will run from Feb. 16 to June 9 at the Williams College Museum of Art. Info: (413) 597-2429 or visit www.wcma.williams.edu