Paul Newman and Jill Harris

Paul Newman When the Wood Hears

when the wood hears
leaves burning –
smoke rising from the valley.

a wind sings high in the branches.

beneath the tree roots –
the ancestors’ bones
are whispering.

Jill Harris

Paul Newman – Artist in Ekphrastic Collaboration

Artist Paul Newman and Writer Jill Harris have worked collaboratively creating drawings and poems that have grown together. They have exhibited the works side by side at exhibition. I asked Paul about the Collaboration:

Q: How did the collaboration come about? (As many or few words as you like)

A: I’d had some writing lessons with Jill and realised that we had both visited or lived in some of the places I’d made the drawings about. I loved her writing style and ‘craft’- that was really important and I felt that she understood the places in the way that I felt when I was there making the work. I think we also felt similar about how nature effects us and where we are as a species in relation to issues surrounding the environment, ecology, what we’re doing to the earth etc. I’d always had the idea of showing my images with writing (for many years) and I then approached Jill to see how she felt about this. We’d already discussed the idea of a book and when offered a show by the Old Print Room Gallery the whole idea had a fixed point that we had to work to, which really focussed us.

Q: Briefly outline the collaborative process.

A: Jill and I would meet up and talk about these places, nature etc and it seemed to flow from there. Ideally we wanted to go and walk these places together and see what came of it but I knew from what Jill was saying that she felt these places intuitively enough for me to trust what she was going to do. I think as well that the creative or artistic part of the process was a given and we didn’t have to work on it so much, it was more about the presentation:- what form should the writing take, poetry, prose etc, how she it be displayed, things like that. When we met, there was a freedom to bounce ideas off each other and try things out. Most of my images were already created so Jill looked at them and responded in her own way. Some of the things she came up with hit the spot, or unearthed what was already there and I hadn’t quite realised what it was. And some of the things she came up with were new and surprising. Some of the images for the show were created after these discussions and I think you can see in them that I dared to go further.

Q: What benefits (if any) do you feel the collaboration has had for your creative practice?

A: It’s helped me express myself when talking about my work, understand what’s behind it and why I do it. It’s helped me find my voice as an artist, something I’d always struggled with. I think as well that it’s helped me go deeper with my work, look at things such as themes, stories, tone etc. It’s stretched my creative process- I always felt that my work was more illustrative or like a document (as opposed to being expressive) and sometimes that seemed like a bad thing but this has enabled me to see the strength and individual nature in what I do. I was always frustrated when deciding on titles but this seems to have resolved itself now. I feel that I can think more deeply and intuitively about what I do and why.

Paul Newman
March 2015

Questions were sent via email on 22/05/2015 at 9:45am / Responses from paul were received via email on 23/05/2015 at 11:34am


It’s helped me find my voice as an artist

I found Paul’s words have helped me to understand how word/art collaborations can benefit the practice of both artist and writer. In Paul’s case it has helped him to voice his ideas, it has given him more confidence in communicating about his work.  Artists don’t usually inhabit a world without language even thought creating art may ‘happen’ while in a different state of consciousness, outside of language; at some point and artist will have to talk to somebody about what it is they do. I’m not saying that the whole point of it is to help an artist with their pr but certainly a beneficial side-effect may be a structuring or defining of the artists ideas. Paul also said that “Some of the things she came up with hit the spot, or unearthed what was already there and I hadn’t quite realised”, suggesting that in addition to vocalising ideas the words enhanced Pauls vision, making him feel more deeply connected to the work and its meaning.

I have yet to talk to Jill about her experiences of this collaboration, but from my experience of writing in response to art, I often feel i “get, where the artist is coming from” or in other words there is a feeling of connection or resonance between my thoughts and the visual art, which represents the artist. The created works serving as intermediaries.

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