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Volume 40 Issue 3: Ink & White Space
A little over three years ago, I attended an ekphrastic workshop at the Smithsonian in
Washington DC. It was organized by Letras Latinas and inspired by the exhibit, “Our America:
The Latino Presence in American Art.” The exhibit and workshop traveled to other cities, letting
the poets study, view, and then write poems inspired by the art, which went on to be published in
several literary magazines. Fred Arroyo’s “Patio Dreams” is a product of this workshop and the
collaborative spirit that brought together different communities and writers across the country.
Ever since then, I have been noticing the way visual art and words influence each other, a
realization that this connection has been there all along. Inspiration emerges in those moments
when we slow down to appreciate our galleries, train cars tagged with vibrant graffiti, or
sculptures that eclipse us in size. Some works in this issue are direct ekphrastic poems inspired
by wonderful pieces of art, such as Danielle Beazer Dubrasky’s “What Is Visible” and Lisa
Mullenneaux’s “Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy”. I encourage you to do a quick search online to
find the art that inspired them as you read the poems.
The link to “Ink & White Space” does not begin or end with ekphrasis. Writers play on
the page and take on countless forms, where the words, stanzas, sentences, and paragraphs
occupy the page and how the remaining, the supposed “blank spaces,” serve the work. The shape of the writing is a field. It is the space occupied by someone riding in a Greyhound, the loss of
memory to Alzheimer's, objects crumbling to dust in obscurity, and growing up a tomboy and
struggling to figure what is expected from you.
The issue’s theme was inspired by the art by Dmitry Borshch, with admiration for the
deliberate lines and how strongly they contrast with white, displaying patterns and symmetry in
nature. His art lets us contemplate the beautiful world we do not always appreciate. In an artist
statement, he writes:
I distinguish between narrow and broad motivations, which may not always interact. The
second type of motivation is a desire to speak as an artist—silence, especially artistic, is
painful. The first involves being challenged by narrower, often technical problems—
arranging successfully a group or one-figure portrait, succeeding as a landscapist, still-
He preserves landscapes and still-life in the “precision of the ink line.” Like Borshch, we
celebrate experiments on the page. Our way of exploring includes poems and prose of all shapes,
the side-by- side translation of the poet Héctor Caretto by Octavio Quintanilla, poem diagrams by
Jessy Randall, and our first ever dramatic play with Idris Goodwin’s “Black Flag,” which hangs
the Confederate Flag in a dorm and stirring the tension of two college roommates.
We use ink and white space to guide us toward the future and in the ways we preserve our
histories as witnesses and contributors. It can be the clothes we wear during critical times, the
tattoos we use to celebrate our body, the pigment of our skin, or all else that goes deeper. Just as
crucial as ink and white space to communicate, we need to use them to find moments where our
ARTIST’S STATEMENT—Dmitry Borshch
Your drawings in Pilgrimage belong to a series. What is its title and why?
"Exiled from Truth: Nine Allegories by Dmitry Borshch" is the title under which some allegorical pictures are collected, possibly more than nine: the series continues to develop. They are united by color, style, and technique, so I view them as a homogeneous collection of drawings. Allegory, drawn or written, is a product of that mind which regards truth as existing-in-absence: it does exist yet is absent from our view. Allegories like mine would not be needed if truth were openly present.
What motivated you to make these works?
I distinguish between narrow and broad motivations, which may not always interact. The second type of motivation is a desire to speak as an artist – silence, especially artistic, is painful. The first involves being challenged by narrower, often technical problems – arranging successfully a group or one-figure portrait, succeeding as a landscapist, still-life painter.
Why do you label them narrow or broad?
Expression of one's artistic feeling is broader, more significant than technique.
What moves you as an artist?
I find moving whatever helps me to begin or finish a picture. It may cease to move me tomorrow, be totally unmoving to someone else today, but I am always willing to be moved by anything that contributes to the picture-making effort.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I was a student – at universities, never art schools – then became a self-taught printmaker, draughtsman, sculptor. No other jobs.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
I admire certain drawings of Michelangelo, Dürer, and Leonardo, but no contemporary artist should be compared to them. Among contemporaries, I find Semyon Faibisovich, Boris Mikhailov, Chuck Close admirable. Not being a photographer or photorealist, I doubt anyone would compare me to them. It would be pleasing if someone did.
How do you find a subject or theme to draw?
Good, timely themes for a picture are found everywhere – internet, newspapers, food bills. I make written notes regarding a possible theme on the back of those bills, and usually accompany them with a little sketch. After a period, which could last weeks or months, I go over what was sketched and all the writing. Whatever excites me the most then is developed into a fuller work.
Which of your pictures would you like to work on some more?
I continuously work on all of them, improving lines and background stippling.
Why are they blue and white?
Blue harmonizes with the very white paper I like to draw on better than other colors. But "Odalisque in Red Satin Pantaloons (after Matisse)" and some prints of mine are red. I have drawn with black ink on yellowish paper too.
Why is Odalisque red and white?
I tried to connect this picture not only with "Odalisque à la culotte de satin rouge", Matisse’s lithograph, but also his famous painting "L'Atelier Rouge", both in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Hopefully, the red I chose for this drawing will be seen as harmonious with the paper’s white.
What can you tell us about the text in Wildbirds?
The text in "Wildbirds Among Branches" is Matthew 6:26, "Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" or "See how the birds of the air never sow, or reap, or gather grain into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them; have you not an excellence beyond theirs?" From King James and Knox Bibles respectively. When this drawing was made, for about one year, I considered it my style to attach written statements to drawings. Now I avoid this but may return to the practice, having always loved calligraphy.
What made you decide on ink as a medium? What draws you towards this medium?
Precision of the ink line. I love precise lines and was able to show that even in my first independent works. They were abstract, probably influenced by Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Soviet Nonconformists, many of whom were abstractionists. I saw their work at various apartment exhibitions in Dnepropetrovsk and Moscow that I participated in.
The mood of the images, a certain wintry bleakness, is evocative of Soviet Russia. What role, if any, does your national background play in your work?
Dnepropetrovsk was certainly bleak, Soviet Moscow even bleaker and wintrier. My background plays every role in these pictures. Although I call myself an American or Russian-American artist, they are neither Russian nor American. If one calls them Soviet Nonconformist pictures, I would accept the label. USSR is no more but my art still lives there, "nonconforming" to the state’s cultural dictates and proscriptions.
Pilgrimage Magazine, published twice a year, emphasizes themes of
story, spirit, witness, and place in and beyond the American Southwest.
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