I came to painting from poetry. Poetry was my first love. Arranging words, writing music in verse, unleashing power in metaphor, and finding structures of transcendence in patterns of words. I realized in poetry that the most powerful leverage an artist can have comes from point of view, and this realization — in retrospect — was a great liberation.
The other thing poetry teaches you is that a poem is easy to write if you don’t know how. Call it beginner’s mind or phenomenology or whatever, what makes a poet is an enchantment with language and life, an ability to be surprised and create surprises, and to live with innocent ears and eyes.
Many artists have shared this observation. Baudelaire spoke of “genius being nothing more than childhood regained at will. ” Walter Benjamin remarked “children are not ashamed, since they do not reflect, but only see. ” The poet Rumi advised “sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. ” This paradox of acquiring skill while cultivating naïve simplicity guided my pursuit, making a deep impression on my life and work.
Painting found me at Pratt Institute, where I worked as a writer after graduating from college. Immersion in Pratt’s visual art environment impacted how I was using words. To me, the correlation between poetry’s use of patterned ideas, images, and sounds — to communicate something about the patterns — and a painting’s use of texture, line, and color to do the same, was immediate.
Yet painting, abstract painting in particular, offered something more. In painting, color is an element that is directly appreciated by sensation, without any intervening act of intellect. This getting beyond the intellect (where words reside) and finding a more immediate connection with pure sensation had an irresistible pull on me — an attraction that continues to this day.
Regarding my paintings, they should speak for themselves and not require explanation from me. Like a poem or a joke, one either “gets it” or one doesn’t. My hope is that you find them buoyant and optimistic as I do. I paint to discover myself. These paintings are improvisations and inventions that led me to new findings… back to the mystery of things, to be doubted and believed as you choose.
I’m not one for art resumes. Suffice it to say, I’ve exhibited extensively in New York and elsewhere, and have been blessed to share gallery walls with many of my favorite painters, including Motherwell, Frankenthaler, Francis, Gottlieb, Olitiski, and others.
– Jonathan Willard