It’s a cold February night in New Paltz, and snow has begun to fall outside of Roost Studios on Main Street. Up the narrow stairs and through a glass-paned door, a couple dozen Hudson Valley artists have gathered for a collaborative art event, “Ekphrasis 2020,” a collaboration between Calling All Poets (CAPS) and Roost Studios artist members. The wooden floors are creaky and the lighting is warm in the Roost showroom, where the work of 14 artists and 14 poets adorn the walls. There’s wine, cheese, crackers and the audience settles in to begin the night of poetry readings and ekphrastic paintings.
Now, allow us to fill you in on what “ekphrasis” is. If you’re not an artist or a poet, you may be unfamiliar with the term, which means “a literary description of, or commentary on a visual work of art,” according to Merriam Webster. One famous ekphrastic poem you may know is “The Starry Night” by confessional American Poet Anne Sexton. It reads “The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars. / Oh starry starry night! This is how / I want to die.” This emotional and vivid description of a famous painting creates a conversation between the poet and artist; it is the creative meeting of two spirits, whether or not they have met in reality.
At the Roost, artists took an inverse approach to ekphrasis: the poems included in the gallery were written first, and used as inspiration for the pieces of visual art that were created in response. The visual artists’ responses were created not only through painting, but with photography and the pieces were surprising and inventive when placed alongside the CAPS poets’ works.
“This is not a script,” visual artist Matt Maley said. “It’s poetry, which has a precision to it.”
Throughout the night, many impactful works were presented, but none were as moving as Greg Correll’s work about his late daughter, Molly. He not only wrote a poem about losing her, but created a visual work in response to it; the piece depicted a subject holding the hands of a sick young woman, a reference to his daughter’s last days. Correll has movement disorders, but he didn’t waver one bit while presenting.
“[Molly] had a wicked sense of humor,” Correll said after his reading. “She would only sort of appreciate what I just did.”
The Roost exhibition was also lucky to host Dutchess County poet laureate, Raphael Kosek, who presented her poetry as source material for ekphrastic writing.
“Everyone putting a brush to canvas or word on paper is asking to relate to someone,” Kosek said.
Overall, the “Ekphrasis 2020” project was a great way to bring Hudson Valley artists of different disciplines together into one gallery. Poems with abstract descriptions were turned into something more solid, and poems with more specific descriptive writing gave a perfect basis for realistic paintings to be created. The audience was receptive and participatory, asking questions about technique, intention and execution of the works.
“The art scene in the Hudson Valley is diverse and thriving!” Bernstein said. “Sometimes it feels like there are more artists than viewers and patrons. So many creative and energetic people come into Roost on a regular basis. It has been a privilege and an honor to help facilitate events, shows, classes, talks, dance, poetry, theatre and more.”
Upcoming events at Roost Studios include $5 figure drawing classes for students on Mondays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. This year, they will be awarding $1,000 in scholarships to local New Paltz student artists who stand out among their peers in the Roost Studios 2020 art competition. Another opportunity for local students is available by way of the SUNY Ulster Molly Lilly Correll Scholarship, founded by artist Greg Correll and Molly’s stepmother, Deborah Kaufman.