This post is an experiment. Some of my recent abstract watercolors, landscape sketches, and doodles have been randomly interspersed between the lines of Arthur Rimbaud’s synesthetic 1872 sonnet “Voyelles”. The original French poem and English translation by Oliver Bernard were copied from this site (where the fourteen-line sonnet is followed by a four-line “envoi” which is not included here below or in most versions of this poem I could find online). Oliver Bernard’s version is a prose translation, striving for the clearest expression of the sense of the original while sacrificing meter and musicality. If this version is too flat for you, check out Canadian poet Christian Bök’s fascinating version of “Voyelles”, translated five different ways.
These paintings were not inspired by this poem, and they have been sequenced randomly to avoid any specific reference to the colors or images mentioned in Rimbaud’s verses. When I draw or paint abstractly, I disengage my mind as much as possible from discursive thought and allow subconscious impulses to express themselves in the movement of the brush and the liquid medium. Imagery never drives the painting – any images are projections of the imagination, like the forms seen in Rorschach blots. I am trying to allow impulses of movement to arise from below the surface of awareness, as in my practice of Authentic Movement, described in this post. Perhaps this way of going fishing in the unconscious has something in common with the methods of a proto-surrealist poet like Rimbaud. Perhaps some accidental resonances may arise from the interleaving of sketches and lines of verse. If not, please enjoy my humble doodles and Rimbaud’s delirious words separately!
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,
Which buzz around cruel smells,
Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,
Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;
Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;
In anger or in the raptures of penitence;
U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides
The peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;
Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;
O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:
Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!
O the Omega, the violet ray of Her Eyes!
I recently discovered the work of the comics artist Julian Peters. One of his specialites is illustrating poetry, including work by Poe, Keats and Eliot. He has a really beautiful comic of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”/”The Drunken Boat” – click on the appropriate title to see it in either English or French.
Color pieces in my post are watercolor paintings except “Green and Blue”, which is drawn with aquarelle crayons and blended with water. Black and white pieces are drawn with Tombow brush markers. “Mane” and “Tracks” are 11″ x 14″ (28 x 35.6 cm), “Ego” is 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6 x 28 cm), and all others are 5.5″ x 8.5″ (14 x 21.6 cm).