Illumination: Who Are Poets

 

We are constantly looking at still and video images through compressed formats, on smaller screens, on shrinking devices. I invert the approach to current media, by enlarging the minuscule detail of compressed imagery to a point of beautiful abstract distortion.

By breaking the image elements into enlarged color tiles, I strive to create two levels of viewing. I experiment pulling the eye of the viewer back and forth between the sterile smoothness of tiles and the composed depth of a lit portrait. It is a mediation of human emotion and experience contained from the perspective of the digital age. My subjects, who are poets – parse the human experience into measures of words, sounds, images.

The portraits are large in scale, evoking sacred items to be viewed with a sense of awe and wonder. One thinks of stained glass windows in cathedrals; upon close examination, the exquisite tiles break the image into astounding squares of colored glass. The abstract color tiles invite the viewer to explore the surface texture of the image. When you take a step back, the image becomes whole, the work illuminated, shining light on the subjects – poetry itself.

I make a statement on the nature of a poet – we can see these faces at a distance, but tiles prevent us from recognizing the subjects at a closer range. the sum of their work and voices touches us, but they are, as all people are, ultimately unknowable.

Steven Sebring

 

 

It was in 1995 when the photographer Steven Sebring met Patti Smith while on a shoot for Spin Magazine. Many years later they collaborated on a film Patti Smith: Dream of Life, a book, and an exhibition. And they collaborated again. to celebrate the opening of Sebring’s exhibition Illumination: Who Are Poets at the Milk Gallery in Chelsea (2011).

The exhibit featured a series of portraits Sebring did of Patti, Jim Carroll, Joey Ramone, Michael Stipe, Neil Young, Philip Glass and Richard Hell. To honor the subjects, Patti and Stipe sang and played. Patti shared with the public few lectures stories and songs about all of them. Her passion and devotion to poetry made her the perfect voice for a special New York night. She shared the stage with her long time guitarist Lenny Kaye and her daughter Jesse (magic on piano).

 

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To Reach the Unknown

“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet…”

Arthur Rimbaud

 

Front cover for Patti Smith’s Peace and Noise. Photo by Oliver Ray, 1997

At the Age of Seventeen

Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, taken by Étienne Carjat, c. 1872.

 

“When I was seventeen, I fell in love with a sodomite.
His eyes were a dazzling blue, and he had the face of an angel. His hands were large and awkward, with dirty nails: a peasant’s hands. He was a poet, and I thought – and I still think, in my middle age – that he was one of the most brilliant poets the human race has ever seen. He belongs in the company of Callimachus, and Sappho, and Horace.

No, not Horace, who was shrewd and successful, at ease with his rich and powerful friends, the Seamus Heaney of his age – no; he was more like Catullus, the spoilt kid from the north whose frank and erotic poems scandalised Rome: odi et amo, Catullus had written. I hate you, and I love you. That says it all.

I fell in love with a ghost, an illusion, one I’ve been trying to shake off ever since. By the time I came under the spell of his beautiful lies, his body – minus the amputated right leg – had been rotting in a lead-lined coffin in the damp earth of northern France for seventy years. World War One had rolled over him, with its terrible thunder, and then World War Two. He’s been dead, now, for over a century.”

Charles Nicholl

Arthur Rimbaud in Africa