Zuihitsu, a Japanese word that translates roughly into “following the brush,” is a genre of poetry that emerged sometime during the ninth century. Sensuality and nature are predominant themes, with a specific focus on romance. A clearer translation of zuihitsu might be “random jottings” or “occasional writings,” but the poetry-paintings of Barry Spacks are not intended so literally.
Spacks, onetime Santa Barbara poet laureate, is greatly influenced by Nyingma Buddhism, and both his poetry and paintings convey feelings that are simultaneously hopeful, mysterious, ecstatic, and pensive; emotions fill in where meaning is not apparent. Ranging in color from electric vibrancies to shadowy oblivions, slipping between semi-literal portrayals and abstract interpretations, dancing with optimism or standing cynically, his current paintings produce a synergistic dissonance of creative energy. Layered cutouts of thin, color-saturated cardboard seem to be a favorite medium, and are used in works such as “Awe,” in which sound waves appear to emanate from a square-shaped human face. The bright spots and lines that cover these cutouts give some relief to the squares and right angles. More fluid works, anomalous in their abandonment of the cutout technique, provide intriguing variation. The sunburst orange-and-pink backdrop of “Escaping Herd” allows the chaotic black swirls in the foreground to have a dominating effect-these swooping lines amount to visual poetry.
There is an undeniably comic undertone in Spacks’s work. Overt instances of his humor can be found in the stoic figure of “Aroused Bird” and in the bizarre, blue-and-green hued “Madonna Training a Little Dog-Man,” but beneath this lightheartedness is a continuous pulse of loneliness. His “Young Poet #3” is inscribed with a short story that tells of the loss of the original version, “Young Poet,” and the subsequent painting of “Young Poet #2,” which Spacks later sold. The inscription on the third version includes the blithe remark, “Hey I found [“Young Poet”] again so for some reason only I’m likely ever to understand I did this one.” The theme of personal investment and loss recurs in “Bird,” which includes a human hair stuck into place with paint. It is unmistakably a hair from the artist’s head: long, black, and graying. For Spacks, loss-whether of a painting or of a hair-inspires creation. Whether on purpose or by chance, Spacks leaves a part of himself, both literally and figuratively, in his work.
As part of Zuihitsu 2: “Following the Brush,” the artist will hold a poetry reading at Art Resources on Thursday, December 13, from 7-8 p.m. For more information, call 966-6923.