Poets and Painters

Image Essay by Donald Langosy 

 

 The Metaphysician and Monsignor

 

Muse Becomes Poet

 

 Boat Of Poets

 

Two poets meet in the Garden at night

 

dante and virgil

 

poet and transvestite muse

 


”The Painter May Call Poetry Blind Painting” — Da Vinci

Ever since I was a small child, I knew I would be a painter. But along the way, I cultured my inspiration in a creative petri dish, trying out different artistic practices. The one that still influences me most is poetry.

As a high school freshman, I read about Ezra Pound’s release from a Washington, D.C., mental hospital and his return to Europe. Intrigued, I began reading his poetry. Although I found the language indecipherable, I responded to the music in his words. I decided to become a poet then, and for the remainder of my teen years and into my early twenties, poetry and painting vied for my attention.

In 1970, at the age of 22, I arrived in Boston and met my first patron, who commissioned me to paint an enormous mural in his Victorian mansion in nearby Brookline. Creating the mural demanded that I dedicate myself to painting, yet I still felt torn between visual art and the poetry I enjoyed writing.

The Brookline mural took a year to paint. Then I went to Venice with my wife Elizabeth, determined to meet Ezra Pound. One late afternoon on the Zattere, as a light fog began to settle in, we started up a footbridge. Coming toward us from the opposite direction was the old poet. His gaze defiantly met mine. It felt as though his eyes were drilling two black holes through me.

His companion, Olga Rudge, stopped us at the top of the bridge and asked if I was the person leaving little watercolors outside their door. Yes, I was. We spoke quietly, while Pound flirted with Elizabeth. Olga invited us to their home, but when we arrived several days later, the poet was nowhere to be seen.

Pound on the Bridge

Although that meeting on the bridge with Pound was remarkable, several days later it dimmed when I walked into the Frari Church and saw Titian's 1518 painting “Assunta” (“Ascension of the Virgin”). It was a silent creation that presented its narration through a visual display of color and design. At once, I understood: I would never ascend to Pound's linguistic heights; my fluency was in the visual language of painting. My art was wordless, and inspiration would only come alive at the easel.

So, it was settled: I was a painter. But the poet/painter connection didn’t end for me there. Poets have always been eager to herald the gifts of the painter, and painters have always looked to poets for inspiration. Deep friendships between poets and painters have existed for centuries. Giotto was a lifelong friend of Dante. Thomas Eakins was close to Walt Whitman. Balthus was mentored by Rilke. Manet had Baudelaire. Salvador Dali had Federico Garcia Lorca.

Titian often considered his paintings to be visual poems. And one of his closest friends was the poet Pietro Aretino, who devoted himself to spreading praise for the painter throughout Europe. Aretino also produced sonnets to “express in the language of poetic style” the intent of the artist.

Pablo Picasso seemed to collect poets like a war hero collected medals. During his early years in Paris, for instance, Guillaume Apollinaire encouraged Picasso to leave behind his Blue period and enjoy the “vie en rose.” The poet suggested that the painter pay attention to Parisian circus performers, including the saltimbanques on street cornerswho were the subject of many of Apollinaire’s poems at the time. Picasso responded with the lively paintings, drawings, and etchings of his Rose period.

Rainer Maria Rilke, in turn, was inspired by Picasso’s 1905 painting “Family of Saltimbanques.” The fifth of Rilke’s 1922 Duino Elegies, which he wrote in the presence of the painting, opens this way:

But tell, me, who are they, these wanderers, even more
transient than we ourselves, who from their earliest days
are savagely wrung out
by a never-satisfied will (for whose sake)? Yet it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, swings them and flings them
and catches them again; and falling as if through oiled
slippery air, they land
on the threadbare carpet, worn constantly thinner
by their perpetual leaping, this carpet that is lost
in infinite space.

As an artist, I have never felt complete without poets in my life. While still in my twenties, following that fateful trip to Venice, I was fortunate that poets began visiting my studio. Their presence was very important to my creative well-being. I would often paint them interacting with their muses, as I did in “Muse Becomes Poet.”

My closest poet friend was Antonio Giarraputo. He earned his living as a language teacher in the Boston school system. The day he retired, he came to my studio. As he sat down, he said, “Now I am just a poet.” I set a fresh canvas on my easel, and I painted his portrait.

portrait of antonio

 

I met Antonio in the late ‘70s, and he remains the most vital poetic presence in my work. He had seen my paintings, he told me after we met, and longed to know who I was, although he didn’t know my name. And I, having heard of him from friends, had visualized him perfectly, even the sound of his voice. When we did finally meet, we already felt like close friends.

We both liked working through the night. Antonio would call me at 3 or 4 in the morning and read his current poem. I’d describe the picture I was working on. We admired each other’s work, although we didn’t understand each other’s craft. In that regard, we could have been aliens speaking on the phone from different planets.

In one of his notebooks, circa 1510, Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “And if you call painting dumb poetry, the painter may call poetry blind painting.” Da Vinci was arguing for painting and the eye as the truest “window of the soul”:

If you, historians, or poets, or mathematicians had not seen things with your eyes you could not report of them in writing. And if you, 0 poet, tell a story with your pen, the painter with his brush can tell it more easily….

Yet, in my experience, poets react the most intensely to paintings and seem to have more understanding than anyone else of a painter's vision. The poet and painter comprehend the same moment from different viewpoints. As a young painter, I seemed to spend as much time explaining my pictures as I did painting them. Now, in my sixties, I no longer care to explain my intent. I’d rather turn the task of depicting emotions through words over to a poet, to explain with his or her own optical magic.

 

Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne

 

In 2001, Elizabeth and I visited our daughters in London. We went to the National Gallery to see my favorite painting, Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne. I’d only seen it before in reproductions and was immediately mesmerized. Elizabeth left me there so that she could view the other galleries. I’m not sure how long I looked at Bacchus and Ariadne, but eventually I became aware of somebody else next to me who seemed just as fixated.

We introduced ourselves. We’d both traveled a great distance to see Titian's masterpiece. We’d both arrived in front of it at the same time. I was a painter from Boston; he was a poet from Brooklyn.

Antonio had been dead for a decade, but at that moment, he recited one of his poems in my mind:

                                  Album Leaf

                                                 after Ma Yuan
             before the temple gate
             of Yin, the Moon-son,
              two burdened strangers met
      and bowed in cognizance—
      and silently departed
             together,
                          burdenless—

 


Publishing Information

mural at high st. main wall 

  • Titian's Portraits Through Aretino's Lens by Luba Freedman (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).
  • A Life of Picasso, Volume I, by John Richardson (Random House, 1991); the quote from and story about Rilke’s Duino Elegies appears here.
  • The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Volume I, by Leonardo da Vinci and Jean Paul Richter (London: Sampson Low, Marton, Searle & Rivington, 1883).
  • “Album Leaf” by Antonio Alfredo Giaraputto. Courtesy of the Antonio Giaraputto Literary Estate.
  • The Long Conversation Between Painting and Poetry,” annotated timeline by Gregg and Kent Chadwick on Ars Poetica.

 

  


Donald Langosy

Donald Langosy was born in Manhattan. He is the husband and partner in creative crime of TW Executive Editor Elizabeth Langosy.

He's also a painter, poet, and creator of the Bertie Puddlepoop Puppet Troupe.

Of the impact he's had on his two daughters, Hadley Langosy, TW's production editor, says he "helped us with a steady diet of Fellini films, pilgrimages to see Picasso's Guernica, Edgar Bergen, Shakespeare's Hamlet recited over dinner, and constant support while we learned how to create our own art."

You can learn more about his work at The Art of Donald Langosy.


 

Comments

I had the priveledge of watching Donald create this masterpiece on the 18 foot walls of my father's house. It was completed with the use of staging and scaffolding which I helped him setup. Although Donald was not entirely comfortable being that high above the ground he performed as if he had grown up within a circus family, perhaps channeling Apollinaire's subjects.
Alas the mural, while it survived a succsession of homeowners, was covered up by it's present owner (some people have no soul). I will, however, always hear and see the images that spoke to me and others as you walked by it. Vivid too, in my mind, will be the look of pure delight and amazement on the face of my father, Dr.Edward Merrick. Donald became a son and a brother to us that year and for always. Peace

Your painting is even better than I remember (which is saying something) and your essay very moving. I was saddened to here the mural is no more but I can still find it in memory. As I recall it was a pain thing but truly magnificent. The times in Brookline were truly magical and I am glad I got to share a small part of it with you. You are in deed a poet/painter and a treasure to all who know you or knew you.

Edmund... for months now I have had a feeling it was gone.... but then those magical days at High Street in the 70's are Camelot to me... and my first patron Dr. Edward M. Merrick a legend..... the most charismatic man i have ever known... he put his faith in a somewhat derelict 22 year old artist, allowing me to turn his mansion sized main staircase into the projected camera obscura of my creative mind.... i will always be grateful to Ned and is wife Jane for their belief in me..... oh well... I guess the mural is a thing of legend now... for me anyway...... by the way the new owners have created a 'magic lantern' museum in the old stable behind the main house.... this only adds more intrigue to me.....

Thanks Ron.... it's been so many years from our youth...but you were the first poet in my life and no matter where you exist now...you always will be that presence....

I love this essay, so rich and it goes into so much, yes, poets and painters, they are mostly the same people in the ancient Chinese tradition. A poet has to learn how to paint and he/she would write a poem or two next to his painting. I'm still waiting for someone to show me the mural in that mansion in Brookline, some day!! Keep dreaming at night with your paints and paintings!!

Brilliant. Who else can speak with such authority about Leonardo, Titian, Pound and Picasso and become a poet painter?

Donald I was so saddened by the obliteration of the mural that I could not respond with anything less than profanity driven by outrage. Now it remains one of those irreversible inexplicable destructive acts that removed a thing of beauty.
And what could the motive be for someone to do that? Power, money? It's my wall I'll paint it if I wish? I can get more money for a property that looks just like every other property. I have no idea what the motive could have been.
Hans Urs von Balthasar on beauty-
“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”

Pop... It took me a long time to read your article in the chaos of my Winter. Finally, this morning, I did. I loved what you wrote, and it left me in tears. As we watch time move, and some of the things we love most disappear (the mural, Antonio, "the wall" we shared in London), we understand more and more the value of our memory. And articles like yours are so critical as they imprint those memories in history - like a painting. Like a poem. Blessed am I to be your daughter, to be living a life beside you, and to have shared so much poetry, so much art, and so many memories with you... Xoxo Pippo

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