Blog of Pulitzer Prize Nominated Author, Jory Sherman. Get the latest information on his books, appearances and his candid reflections on writing.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


The painting is in the poem. The poem is in the painting.

Is it the vision or the imagination that draws me into painting with words and into painting the sensations, the feelings and emotions that painting seems to capture, in oils, watercolors or acrylics?

The same compulsion seems to be at work whether I’m writing or painting. There is the desire to paint vivid pictures in prose and to capture the beauty of a landscape in a single composition.

There, in the painting, there is that one special moment that is bursting with energy and vitality, the sensation of being present at one moment in the vast and incomprehensible universe, a singularity that stops all movement and focuses on a small portrait of a scene on earth.

Before I begin writing a poem or in my quest for a landscape to paint in my own style, I seek and find one of the emotional memories stored in my brain. This is important because an emotional memory is what the artist takes to the task at hand. It is this which gives both the painting and the poem its energy and passion that will remain on the canvas or paper for the life of its existence.

These emotional memories are what Frank Sinatra used to give his songs that special phrasing and depth of meaning that made him such a unique singer. He talked of this many times with his friend, singer Vic Damone (nee’ Vito Farinola) when they both were appearing on stage in Las Vegas. Damone spoke of these conversations recently when he hosted a program on Siriux/Xm satellite radio’s Siriously Sinatra channel.

Sinatra’s approach to a song is the same approach I use when writing poetry or when painting. Each of us has so many of these emotional memories and this seems, also, to have been useful to the French Impressionist painters who were at least 20 years ahead of their time. They were looking for the sensation, that single moment when they could imbue the painting with their emotions.

So it is with me when I compose a poem or paint a sky. There is at least one emotional memory at the heart of every poem and in the dazzling sunset or blush of dawn when brushing in the acrylic tones. I am looking for that special light, that eternal glow, the feeling of wind in the grasses that can only come with some emotional memory.

If you listen carefully to the vocals of both Sinatra and Damone, you will hear the careful phrasing, the shading, and the coloring of their voices as they plumb the depths of emotional memories to imbue the lyrics and the music with feelings that go deep into the human heart. When we listen to these singers, we come away with our own emotional memories. These songs become part of our heritage, our memories and the Great American Songbook. Like good poems or good paintings, these songs never die.

Many years ago, an art Critic taught me a great deal about painting. His name was Sam Cherry. He was married to an artist, Clare, who taught me to paint with a palette knife. His daughter, Lynn Tanya, was a painter, as well, and his son, Neeli, was a young poet. Sam died a few weeks ago. He was in his 90s. What he taught me about a good painting was that you could take any part of it, as if you were dissecting a holographic image, and that, too, was a painting. He told me and showed me how the art blended the colors and used something akin to reflections within the painting to impart the sensation and the emotion of a painting.

So it is that I love to paint mountains and lakes, rivers and streams, oceans and ponds. I look for paintings where I can find reflections. In a reflection I find that emotion that the snowcapped mountain gives me, the faint music of an autumn tree with its brilliant colors reflected in a still pond.

There is where I find the music, in a poem or a painting, that phrasing and feeling that language can convey just as the colors on a canvas seem to murmur their own special music so soft you can just barely hear it. But, it’s there, it’s always there, in the poem or in the painting, the flow and lyricism of emotional memory, the subtle reminder of all human experience, the tenderness and the fury, the anger and the compassion, the loves and the lovers, the singer and the song.

There is not only a strong connection between paintings and poetry, there is a connection between life and all forms of art. It is that connection I seek in all my work. My reward is finding and portraying the host of emotional memories garnered by quiet moments when I just sit and listen. That is when I discover the magic and the emotion in my work.

And, behind each poem and each painting, there remains the mystery.

It is the mystery that calls me to continue on the path of emotional memory and the discovery of that indefinable and unfathomable essence that exists in all things not only here on earth, but in the universe itself.



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