—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
Art and poetry belong together in an almost “elemental or alchemical” way, according to local visual artist Max Dowdle. Indeed, for husband-and-wife team Max and Morrow Dowdle, there is a powerful resonance between the two forms of media and it’s this synergy that inspired their upcoming, jointly curated exhibit, Coalesce. On Friday, January 6, 2023, they will celebrate the opening night of Coalesce at the Eno Arts Mill Gallery; the exhibit will pair ten Orange County visual artist with ten Orange County poets.
Max and Morrow themselves are artists and will be two of twenty featured in the show. Max is the Eno Arts Mill Gallery Coordinator and a visual artist and Morrow is a poet. For the exhibit, the Dowdles paired poets and artists together and each poet created a poem based on a visual work by their partner; each visual artist created a work based on a poem, resulting in 20 works of visual art paired with 20 poems. Max said, “The cross-pollination and the intermingling of the arts is something that Morrow and I both feel very strongly about and being able to create hybrid forms of things is very valuable creatively, socially, and societally.”
For the exhibit, the visual artists were not limited by medium and could submit paintings, photographs, graphic art, or other visual art; one of the artists submitted a sculptural work. The poems were limited to a page, but there were no other restrictions.
Max noted that they initially considered opening the call for submission to other counties, but were heartened by the robust response from so many talented Orange County artists—“far too many to include in the show unfortunately.”
In 2009, the Dowdles had previously curated a similar show, titled Influence, in Charleston, South Carolina, which also paired visual artists with poets. For that exhibit, the poets and visual artists were randomly paired and had to work together to create new pieces. Ever since that show, the Dowdles had been looking for another opportunity to combine the two artistic forms.
For Coalesce, the Dowdles allowed the twenty artists to meet and then provide a ranked list of who they wanted to work with. “Then from there, we sat up one night and just sort of played matchmaker and it was really fun. Because this is ultimately the building blocks of the show. It’s really based upon the pairings of the people and their partnership there. [I]f we paired people differently, it would be a completely different show.” Max highlighted how diverse the artists are, not only racially, but generationally (featuring younger and older artists), and in terms of career progression (from emerging to more established artists). “This is a great cross section of Orange County and of what Orange County has to offer,” Max said.
According to Morrow, poetry and visual art are uniquely well suited for collaboration because they “have the particular power to connect the personal with the universal…Ideas and imagery can flow easily from the work of art into the poem, from the poem into the art, without either artist or poet [necessarily] needing to be aware of each other’s original thought process.”
Both Dowdles hope that the exhibit will help to make visual art and poetry feel more accessible and engaging. Of poetry, Morrow said, “[m]ost people I know see poetry as something rather academic and staid…The poets who have graciously participated in Coalesce all bring personal authenticity, social awareness, and lyrical energy to their work.”
In addition to making art feel more accessible, the Dowdles emphasized how important community is to the artistic process. “As artists and poets, we typically spend a lot of time working alone. We wanted to create an opportunity in which folks could come together and encourage each other to create something new,” Morrow said. Ultimately, in Coalesce, she concluded, “The dream of one mind becomes a new dream in the other.”
The exhibit will be on view at the Eno Arts Mill Gallery through Saturday, January 28. The public is invited to visit the exhibit Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5pm. Learn more about the exhibit here.