A wonderful word of greek origin, Ekphrasis might be derived from the words ‘out’ and ‘spoken’, but now has definitions that are closer to ‘Poetic Description’. In theory this could be the description of any object or scene or situation. However poems that are regarded as particularly ‘ekphrastic’ are ones which use the creative description of works of art to develop imaginative and poetic meanings. The US based Poetry Foundation’s website definition of ekphrasis uses Keat’s Ode to a Grecian Urn as an example of a poet expanding poetic meanings from the figures carved into the ancient ceramic.
What are the examples of this from a more visual starting point? When artist’s collaborate with poets, or respond to existing poetic texts, then the result can sometimes be defined as illustration. The objectification of the text used in Concrete Poetry gets closer to a fuller hybrid form, balancing the visual and the poetic. But visual poetry based on pattern or form only, tends to have a necessary over-simplification that leads, at its most basic, to child like words jammed into the shapes of leaves to celebrate the coming of autumn. The Brazilian artists and brothers de Campos and more recently Ian Hamilton Finlay are familiar examples where work involving text and form harmonise and are more clearly as one. The former create works that would be recognised by my graphic students who would spot the links to designers like Paula Sher.
Recent work in this area either prioritise the academic such as the research website Poetry beyond text or the collaboration of distinct poets and artists responding to each others very distinct works in different mediums, such as the photographic based practice featured in the light ekphrastic web based journal. Visual artists have tended towards the concrete poetry, where the heavy handed fact of the physical letters and words created often very large in white gallery spaces makes only creative signage, Laurence Weiner, Tracey Emin, Martin Creed are perhaps examples. Mark Titchener’s work is the apotheosis of this tendency where words lose meaning in the demandingly emphatic pattern making.
John Kippin’s work that uses a single text line or word to engage a poetic response to his photographic work, particularly works like hidden and nostalgia for the future, are particularly successful in terms of a ‘visual ekphrasis’, if that term can be used.
I think that this is what I would like to aim for in the next group of works – a blend of text and image that is neither: ‘Graphics’ nor ‘illustration’ nor ‘poetry’ (concrete or visual) but instead a self defined ‘visual ekphrasis’.