Your hills are on fire, why don’t you go downtown
see what all the fuss is about
you’ve been cutting firewood
living in a particle board tarpaper
bunkhouse hiding behind
an ancient white pine
when nature truly calls
worlds did collide where
you should have expected it
firewood wood fire
and there you stand
in disbelief despite a cigarette
dangling from your lips
a pack of matches
in your callused hand
we worried when you wobbled
backwards on the progress ladder
while stumbling out the door
embracing fresh air simplicity
solitude in unrefined resourcefulness
take it as a sign given seekers
in old books there is nothing
to be found
you are your own mountain
to climb conquer or quit on
nature will provide until
we finish poisoning it
so let’s just go downtown
have an expensive drink
About the Poet:
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, NB, Canada.
He is also a husband, father (to two kids, a black cat, and a Sheltie), beer-league softball player, art aficionado, and remote sensing analyst (by day).
About the Artist:
Marcel Herms is a self-taught artist. His work is primarily about freedom with a strong link to music. Just like music his art is about autonomy, licentiousness, passion, colour and rhythm.
He paints with any material he can get a hold of — acrylic paint, oil paint, ink, pencils, crayons, spray paints, etc. He sometimes mixes the paint with sand, sawdust or pieces of paper, painting on canvas and paper and other materials like wood.
His work has been printed in many (inter-)national publications (like Inside Artzine, Proper Gander, Bananafish and many more) and he has designed many records and CD-covers.
I was thrilled to receive this poetry submission together with this image – an abstract, child-like ghoulish painting by a Dutch artist Marcel Herms. The poem has been directly inspired by the image, entitled ‘Your Hills Are on Fire’ and fits in conceptually with the raison d’être of the Journal.
Trethewey tells me that he met Herms online and was immediately drawn to the artist’s stark and abstract style. Herms’s haunting images of stunted and grotesque characters shambling around his canvasses spoke to Trethewey visually.
“He seemed to be expressing, visually, what I try to express with words, the dark and repressed side of everyday existence,” Trethewey explains.
There’s also a desire in both Trethewey and Herms to not pander to the commercial aspects of literary and visual arts. They write and paint what they like and what they are inspired by, is my impression. So their works are eclectic, eccentric and unique.
Trethewey pens what comes to mind emotionally and automatically. Yes, writing can be crafted as we all know, but, the most authentic form of writing comes automatically. Trethewey allowed this image to first embed in his unconscious before using the technique of free-association, allowing his brain and fingers to latch on to a theme or a story he can tell which makes sense with the image and does it justice. He doesn’t worry about the re-writes and always goes with his guts. How images inspire us takes many forms. How images speak to us is also personal. A viewer’s response to an image’s voice, narrative, ellipses and backstory vary from one person to another.
Herms’s paintings are categorised as Art Brut, a French term meaning ‘raw art’. This way of painting was invented by the French artist, Jean Dubuffet. He used the term Art Brut to describe any artwork resembling graffiti or naïve/child-like art created beyond the strictures of traditional academic fine art. For Dubuffet, fine art which he called ‘art culturel’ was dominated by academic art. Artforms that stray away from academic art often go uncategorised and unseen. These could be works by prisoners, psychiatric patients, refugees and children who often paint untrammelled and instinctively from the soul raw and emotional depictions of their inner worlds. As an artist, Dubuffet started to incorporate these qualities into his own works.
In 1948, Dubuffet founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut to promote the study of such art. He created an outstandingly large body of work which is now housed in a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne – La Collection de l’Art Brut. The collection is worth a visit if you’re ever in Lausanne. Dubuffet’s works, disturbing and haunting, are also simultaneously calming and innocent. Cast your eye back to Herms’s untitled piece and let the innocence of its backstory speak to you. Look beyond the stunted grotesque depictions of the figures and their faces. Don’t all children’s paintings start this way?
Art Brut is also sometimes categorised as Outsider Art. Outsider artists are usually untrained and are unconventional when working. They use whatever techniques, materials and genres that inspire them. Outsider Art can be folklorish, abstract, surreal and most often express the emotions and the inner world of the artist. They can range from 2-dimensional pieces such as paintings to 3-dimensional works like sculptures. A very well-known Outsider Artist is African-American William Edmondson (1874-1951). Edmondson became the first African-American artist to have a solo at MoMA and his pieces have been placed on auction at Christie’s. Today, they are worth in the tens of thousands.
We write what we know is often something that writers would say. Writing comes from the depths of our souls, is what I often say. We write for many reasons and more often than not, we write to express what our inner-worlds have experienced or are experiencing. Writing is a form of catharsis and allowing images to inspire us is a doorway to finding release.