The members of New England Wax occasionally challenge each other with projects. Sometimes they concern materials and the challenge of incorporating uncommon or previously unused materials into our vision and content as in our Material Matters—Wax, Metal, Fabric exhibition in Portland, Maine, in 2013. Sometimes the challenge is of a collaborative nature as in our two diptych projects. The Diptych Project in 2008, and Diptych Project II in 2014 challenged us to respond to a work in a similar size but by an artist from another part of the country in so to make a complete work.

This time, we are working with words. In Vision and Verse, which will be at the University of New England Art Gallery from July through October 2016, we have been charged to find a poem, or portion of a poem, that we can respond to, or that closely embodies the message of our work in the medium of encaustic. The work is not strictly limited to encaustic, which usually means molten wax fused to the previous layers, but can incorporate wax painted, sculpted, poured, cast, or mixed with oil and solvent, as in “cold wax”.

The search for a poem or stanza to work with is quite a challenge. Of course, life is simpler if the work is in the public domain, but permission will be sought if the chosen work is still under copyright.  Our plan is to have the portion of the poem set by letterpress and displayed alongside the visual art in a harmony and counterpoint of expression.

The Singing Tree

The Singing Tree

I went through all my favorite volumes of poetry in my office and studio, looked online, and followed many tenuous leads for new verses. I think, however, that I will fall back on a haiku by a much-loved Basho or Buson. The terse perfection of their words is always such a delight.

I have a small book of haiku, Cherry Blossoms* that was a gift from a long-departed uncle.  I have kept it with me through all my moves from studio to studio, childhood home to dorms to apartments, here to my home in the woods of New Hampshire.  I have used many of the pithy lines as themes for three- and four-part works. I try to find as many translations of the same haiku as I can (thank you, computer geeks, for the internet!), just to ponder the intricacies of reproducing nuances in another tongue.

Here’s a favorite:

Hear the humming
as honeysuckle petals fall…
disturbed mosquitos
—Yosa no Buson (1716-1783)

And another by Buson that I used as text in an encaustic and paper piece:

In the sudden burst
of summer rain…
wind-blown birds
clutching at grasses

One poem from this little book that seems perfect for this project is by Oshima Ryota (1718-87)

Someone is walking
over the wooden
the deep frog-silence.

This little delight conveys in a wonderfully mysterious way the sense of contemplative space I aim for in my paintings of foliage and plant forms.  I am fascinated with the fractal aspect of leaf edges—that they convey a defining of space that does not exist and is quite illusory. The shapes these illusions define are beautiful and the fact that I can create a melody and rhythm with their juxtaposition is why I paint. I am forever listening for the frog-silence.

*Cherry Blossoms, Japanese Haiku Series Three, The Peter Piper Press, Mount Vernon, NY 1960

Debra Claffey is a visual artist working with wax and mixed media in southern New Hampshire.