blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


PIVOT POINTS  |  Richard Roth

The Painters: Introduction

The important thing is that an inward movement is thereby initiated. The teacher pursues it, and, without influencing its course with further instructions which would merely disturb it, helps the pupil in the most secret and intimate way he knows: by direct transference of the spirit, as it is called in Buddhist circles. "Just as one uses a burning candle to light others with," so the teacher transfers the spirit of the right art from heart to heart, that it may be illumined. If such should be granted to the pupil, he remembers that more important than all outward works, however attractive, is the inward work which he has to accomplish if he is to fulfill his vocation as an artist.
—Eugene Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery

Pivot Points is an exhibition about painting and poetry, teaching and mentoring. It addresses important questions concerning influence across the wide realm of creative practice. Pivot Points is a smart show that is full of insight. It reveals networks of intertextuallity, references, and resemblances, as well as stylistic echoes and cross-generational sensibilities. Pivot Points is also a beautiful show that can be enjoyed, quite simply, as a group exhibition of the work of twelve extremely gifted artists and poets—Victor Kord, Richard Lazzaro, Reni Gower, Sally Bowring, Beth Weisgerber, and Valerie Bogdan (painters), Larry Levis, Dave Smith, Greg Donovan, Elizabeth Morgan, Joshua Poteat, and Laura-Gray Street (poets).

The paintings on paper in this exhibition are juxtaposed with other works that consist of marks on paper—poems. The paintings and poems seem comfortable in each other's presence, up to a point—poetry is made with words and these paintings appear to shun words, figurative images, and narrative. Pivot Points problematizes the fact that word and image share a common heritage. Early Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, reveal a moment in the past when words and pictures were one.

Many contemporary theorists believe that we are caught in language's web and can neither see nor understand the world directly, but only through the constraints of "language"—narratives that mediate every aspect of our lives. Nevertheless, many visual artists have long sought direct unmediated experience. Pivot Points raises the question, "Can abstract paintings exist beyond language?"

No matter the differences, the poems and paintings exhibited here have a great deal in common—crafted with great sensitivity and tenderness. Both paintings and poems are creative acts filled with nuance, beauty, and finely tuned personal sensibilities. These works "make good" on Josef Albers' dictum that art is not an object, but an experience.

Pivot Points eloquently underscores the notion that deep understanding can only be passed directly from individual to individual, as one lights a candle with another candle. What I remember most about the teachers who influenced me is not just the specific lessons, the critical insights, and the encouragement—it is their love of things—the light on a crumpled piece of paper, the edge shared by two colors, or the poignant objects in a five and dime store. Those who love many things deeply teach us how to pursue our passions.

This little gem of a show is a lasting tribute to those who inspire by example—those who show us the way.   

Richard Roth is an artist, professor, and Chair of the Painting and Printmaking Department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

  The Painters:
   Discerning Voices    The Poets:
   Talking with
 Both Hands
 Richard Roth    Steven L. Jones    Mary Flinn    J. Randy Marshall

   Notes and Acknowledgements
   Levis Reading Loop