Parthenon Frieze

Rocks, Paper, Memory

Wendy Artin’s Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures

Stone from Delphi

Gallery view

In 2012, the Arion Press in San Francisco published a limited-edition volume of poems with classical themes by 1995 Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. The poems were selected by Helen Vendler, A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard, and Wendy Artin was commissioned to produce a series of pictures to accompany the book. In fulfillment of this commission, she chose to make watercolor paintings of ancient sculptures of gods and heroes featured in Heaney’s poems. Sixteen of her paintings were eventually reproduced at 1:1 scale in the book; eighteen of the original paintings in the series are included in this exhibition and catalogue, including several that also appear in the book, and several that have not been previously published.

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Wendy Artin and Christopher Ratté in Dialogue

Stone from Delphi

CR: The relationship between word and image has long been a subject of both artistic practice, as in medieval illuminated manuscripts, and art-historical analysis; there is even a scholarly journal explicitly called Word and Image. Your work for Stone from Delphi was the first time, I believe, that you created a series of paintings specifically designed to be paired with texts. Is that the kind of project you would enjoy repeating?

WA: Stone from Delphi was a wonderful experience. It was an honor for me to be chosen to make the pictures to accompany the classically themed poems by Seamus Heaney and a great challenge to make pictures that would stand in relation to the words and complement the experience of the poetry. I did not seek to translate the poetry into images: my sources were the statues of antiquity, whose sources were the myths themselves. Reading Heaney’s poems opened up new perspectives on classical statues I had painted all my life. Researching the mythological characters Heaney evoked, I discovered many other statues to paint pictures of as well. I would be happy to do another project of this sort.

More of the dialogue