Pivot Points: Painted Poetry

When I was first asked to review Pivot Points, I thought I was assigned to write about the tree houses that Susan Zhou ’06 wrote about two weeks ago. Well, I was mistaken—the Gelb gallery is not the same place it was two weeks ago. Though many student pieces are still on display, the gallery, adjacent to the Tang Theatre, is now “a whole new world” of beautiful colors and words. Pivot Points is an exhibition which combines art and poetry in a examination of the links between three generations of artists and writers while celebrates the idea of mentorship. It displays, side by side, works from two distinct disciplines— painting and poetry— and allows the viewer to compare and contrast sophisticated, contemporary examples of each. Every work in the exhibit is the unique expression of an individual artist or writer, but is also part of an ongoing story of teachers teaching students and students teaching teachers. The exhibit brings together three generations of painters in a mentorship system: Victor Kord and Richard Lazzaro, the first generation, mentored two painters of the second generation, Sally Bowring and Reni Gower, who in turn mentored Valerie Bogdan and Beth Weisgerber, representing the third generation. All are abstract painters whose vibrant, colorful works explore the elusive and ephemeral nature of mood, intuition, and non-verbal ideas. To tell you the truth, I had never enjoyed abstract art before, mainly because it did not make sense to me, and, was often displeasing to my eye. Pivot Points, however, is different. The many colors and their combination truly struck me as beautiful. Some paintings even reminded me of paintings from my home, China, perhaps because of their similar watercolor techniques. It turned out I was right. Richard Lazzaro, at whose painting I was staring, was inspired by Chinese brush painting and the Rationalist Neo- Confucian philosophy of li, the unifying force connecting all things, which gives them reason, and chi (as in tai-chi), a substance which differentiates and individualizes things. Lazzaro’s “Thoughts of Engagement,” through its exploration of the world, the calm revelry of its tranquility, love, and peace, proves to be an ideally well-ordered system governed by the harmonious interaction of li and chi. Sally Bowring, who thinks art takes its form from the lines of life itself, uses heavy, course, blunt colors to symbolize a life that twists, extends, and accumulates in her work. The paint on her works spits and drips to create a mystical scene which transcends any single meaning to provide an absorbing, intriguing, and non-verbal experience unique to each to each viewer. Pivot Points also brings together six poets, organized in a similar generational student-mentor structure: Larry Levis and Dave Smith mentored Greg Donovan and Buffy Morgan, who mentored Josh Poteat and Laura-Gray Street. Each poet’s unique voice is used to bring a visionary and often unsettling inner world to life on the printed page. Larry Levis, whose poem “Wrecking Crew” won the United States award from the International Poetry Forum in 1972, expressed that the joy of poetry lies in the sweet electrical moment in which a fresh poem occurs after a long walk in the dark, though it may be the same poem that has occurred through the ages: “It may even be the same moment,” he said, which I greatly admire. As a writer myself, his positive attitude in creating poetry is enlightening. At this point, you are probably wondering, understandably, “Why is the exhibit called Pivot Points?” Mary Flinn, the Executive Director of New Virginia Review, Inc, offers one explanation: “all art arises at the fixed point that is the poet or painter; its connection is made as it moves out.” She continued, “Similarly, teachers stand as a fixed point in one’s explorations, and what they impart moves out with the student and the work.” Flinn’s analogy eloquently illustrates the impact any mentor has on his or her student; that in passing on his or her knowledge, he or she makes it travel further. The official prospectus, on the other hand, interprets the name a little bit differently: “The second generation of artists/teachers represents the pivot points, which constructs the connecting bridge between the first and third generations.” When I ruminated over the phrase “connecting bridge,” I thought of us, students at Phillips Academy, absorbing information and learning to think. One day, we also will act as a “connecting bridge” between our mentors and the world in which we have grown up, to our students and to the world that is coming.