It seems extraordinary that Walt Whitman was writing in the mid-19c, he could almost be writing today. I imagine him as the green man of poetry. My first thought was how to represent his overwheening narcissism, so I decided to do his face (a selfie? – he would be huge on Facebook if alive today), and added his hat because he was often photographed wearing a hat. He also wore dungarees, to identify himself with the working man.
His example helped me to use myself as my source material. He started off by self-publishing his “Leaves of Grass”, wrote all the reviews himself, then continued to write and revise this volume of poems for 33 years.
This exhibition stems directly from his influence. It’s not about my “heroes” or about celebrated writers and artists, it is about my relationship to them. The pieces I have made are biased, partial, not meant to be an objective summing up of their work or lives. I have picked out only the aspects of them that are interesting to me. Walt Whitman was fascinated by himself, using himself as a microcosm of the world. The Feminist slogan “the personal is political” could have been invented by Walt. His writing shows the world he lived in, and the world of being human. The danglers of the globe and mirror represent this. There is a miniature facsimile of his early “Leaves of Grass”, a stretcher with a wounded soldier to pay tribute to his work as a medical orderly in the American Civil War, the lilacs are from another of his poems, and I have made his beard in the shape of ‘leaves’, tagua beads.
Most artists’ life’s work is a journey around themselves, even if not overt, but Walt Whitman is liberating in his celebration of it.
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you.”
Linked poem: I Am A Field