Post Road Magazine #1

Robert Creeley’s Collaborations

by Susan Breen

I don’t know of any writer who has collaborated with as many artists, and published his collaborations as prolifically as Robert Creeley. Yet, as if to circumvent the sheer weight of this frequency and variety, Creeley’s work with various visual artists is often maddeningly unavailable, as much of it is currently out-of-print, or restricted to fantastically limited editions or print portfolios.

Enter In Company: Robert Creeley’s Collaborations, which gathers for the first time a survey of the collaborations of this poet with visual artists such as Francesco Clemente, Robert Indiana, Susan Rothenberg, Robert Therrien, Donald Sultan, Georg Baselitz, Marisol, Jim Dine, Alex Katz, and many others. The travelling exhibition includes bound books, print portfolios, text pages, drawings, mixed-media works, letters and photographs, and serves to document Creeley’s active and ongoing poetic dialogue with art and artists. Currently on view at Stanford University’s Green Library (until January 7, 2001), the exhibit travels to the University of New Mexico Art Museum where it shows from February 6th through early June.

For those not fortunate enough to have seen it in New York or elsewhere along its trip South and then West the catalog alone is a decent slice of what the poetry and art do together. Both book and its accompanying cd-rom contain reproductions of diverse works, an essay by show curator Elizabeth Licata, an outline of the history of the various collaborations, an essay by poet John Yau, and even audio excerpts of interviews with some of the artists.

The collaborative projects span over 40 years, beginning with his first, The Immoral Proposition, with the French painter René Laubiès in 1953 and continuing to present (in 1999 alone, Creeley worked with Archie Rand, Sultan, and Baselitz). It was Laubiès who first introduced Creeley to the paintings of Jackson Pollock. In Pollock’s action painting and the work of the abstract expressionists Creeley seemed to find something that struck a chord, and became a critical impetus for a shift in his own work. In a 1998 interview, Creeley says of Pollock:

I was attracted to the fact that this painting was not verbal, that it’s a whole way of apprehending or stating the so-called world without using words as an initiation. However one feels about it is either prior to words or contingent with words. It’s a way of stating what one feels without describing it.

This seemed to launch a kind of dynamo between Creeley’s words, meaning, and their often mercurial ability to shift, accommodate, or parallel (in turns by page, in others from volume to volume) this ‘contingency’ between visual and verbal. One which has sustained him and those lucky enough to see this work for years.

In Company: Robert Creeley’s Collaborations, edited by Amy Cappellazzo and Elizabeth Licata, was published in 1999 by the Castellani Art Musuem of Niagara University and the Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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