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Cynthia J. Lee
Immersion, 20" x 16", oil, cold wax, sand on wood panel, Cynthia J. Lee
Artists Using Cold Wax Medium

Art and Poetry

by Cynthia J. Lee

Cynthia J. Lee
Immersion, 20" x 16", oil, cold wax, sand on wood panel, Cynthia J. Lee

Many visual artists I know have multiple talents---in music, dance, writing, ceramics, photography. Recently I discovered that an active and conscious “cross-fertilization” of different art forms can invigorate the creative process.

I was inspired to do a new series in oil and cold wax after a winter trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast. I felt the need to “dig deeper“ and turned to another art form I love: poetry. Both paintings and poetry began in Rebecca Crowell’s studio where a friend and I had a three-day private workshop with this wonderful artist and teacher.

While I’ve written and published poetry over the years, I’ve not found a good way to incorporate it into my visual art. Full poems overwhelm the painting and fragments used here and there don’t satisfy me. Plus, there is the danger of poem and painting merely explaining or illustrating each other.

So the pull to write poetry as an integral part of the painting process came as a rewarding surprise. I began three poems, each focused on a different sense memory. In the days that followed, I moved back and forth between writing and studio sessions, revising the poems and adding new layers to the eight paintings in progress. I found that writing brought a heightened intention to my painting. As the poems evolved, so did the series.

A few paintings were rooted in a wonderful memory of a kayak ride into a tunnel of mangrove trees. I wanted to explore this experience more deeply. What, exactly, resonated with me? I had been fully in the moment, and profoundly connected to the ocean vegetation around me. Time seemed to disappear in this primal, sensual place. The poem, “Navigation,” helped me capture the sense memory. And the painting, “Immersion,” is one abstract interpretation of the same creative impulse which inspired the poem.

I’ve learned that writing helps clarify the emotional truth I’m after in a painting. I’m then freer to forget my interfering left brain and just paint. The process becomes more spontaneous because I trust that the essential truth is just under the surface, guiding my work. I feel less of a pull to introduce narrative into the abstract since I’ve already said it with pen and paper. And, the impulse behind the art is deeper, allowing for various interpretations in a series. By giving poetry an active role in the process, I am enriched by a dynamic synergy between image and metaphor. Creative insights and spontaneity come more easily. With poetry and painting in partnership, I find that my voice is clearer in both art forms.


by Cynthia J. Lee

My kayak weaves the shallow waters
of a barrier island on Old Tampa Bay.
Delirious mullet fish leap beside me.
Egrets and cranes sentinel the edge
of a mangrove tunnel as I steer into
its narrow entrance. A porous green
canopy pixilates the sunlight, and
an open eye at the tunnel’s far end
pulls me inward on a diagonal current.

My oars bump fallen logs and crawling
vines. Clumps of young oysters cling
to roots near the water line, their
terra firma attachment vital to a future
on the ocean’s floor. I am on guard
for draping snakes and tree spiders,
push past the ancient fears they inspire.
I glide, my rhythm left to right
through the warm moist air…

And I am Eve, primordial,
in a jungled womb.
There is only now. There is only always.
Thirsty pores gulp, pulsing green
and brown. Atoms of my flesh
become mangrove, become salted
water, root and vine. The tunnel
opens. I am here, saturated in Eden,
traveling the arc of time.