Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Beaching It at Hermitage Artist Retreat

The Hermitage Artist Retreat provides grants that allow mid-career artists of all disciplines to spend time at the beach retreat working on their craft. In exchange, participants are asked only to share their work at an event that's free and open to the public. Weather permitting, all or a portion of the presentations take place on the beach. It's quite magical, and I was happy to finally make it to an event on a lovely late May evening .

The gathering began in the Palm House with an introduction to Rob Tarbell's smoke art. About ten years ago, Tarbell came up with the idea of using the smoke created by burning his own credit and reward cards to "paint" an image. (In an interview with Sarasota Herald Tribune reporter Marty Fugate, Tarbell said the concept came to him while thinking about the smoky residue cleaned away from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.) Over time, his debris of choice has expanded to include other everyday household items such as 9 mm slides and old photos.
From Tarbell's"Smoke Rings" series

Even having heard Tarbell speak about his process, I don't begin to understand how it actually works. Here are the basics, though.Tarbell's first step is to design the subject to be depicted and consider how best to achieve the desired effect. An outline of the image is drawn on a piece of paper which is hoisted up so that it hovers horizontally just below the ceiling. The items to be burned are attached to forceps at the end of a wand.  Tarbell dons fire retardant gloves and a mask, turns on the air filtration system, and starts the fire. He then "paints" with the smoke. The closer the wand is to the paper, the darker the residue. Three works from Tarbell's "Smoke Rings" series were on display, and they are whimsical, mysterious and creative beyond belief. (Ironically, the "Smoke Rings" series, which features circus animals and their human companions engaging in tricks, was completed before Tarbell moved to John Ringling's Sarasota.) To read an interview with Tarbell in "My Modern Met," click here. To watch a video of Tarbell at work, click here.

Carmen Gimenez Smith and Kiki Petrosino

From there we moved to the beach to listen to poets Carmen Gimenez Smith and Kiki Petrosino read some of their work.  Their styles could not have been more different.

While Gimenez Smith captures a range of emotion in her poetry, it was her work inspired by her mother, who suffers from early onset Alzheimers, that hit me the hardest. Referring to the poems as "living elegies," Gimenez Smith said these poems are about "a very specific kind of loss." I was torn between listening and writing down phrases that broke my heart, like "the center of her is only depiction."  Her "Beasts" begins:

"My siblings and I archive the blanks in my mother's memory,
diagnose her in text messages. And so it begins, I write although

her disease has no true beginning, only a gradual peeling away
until she was left a live wire of disquiet....."

To read the poem in its entirety, click here. To hear Gimenez Smith read her poem inspired by the death of Robin Gibb (yes, the Bee Gee) that she wrote on the spot for NPR's NewsPoet, click here.

Audience members
Kiki Petrosino's work is more difficult to characterize, and excerpts don't capture the uniqueness of her voice. The cadence of Petrosino's poems was entirely different from that of Giminez Smith's work. Where Giminez Smith's words were lyrical and quiet, Petroino's felt urban and a bit angry. Her poems were harder to grasp after a single reading, but I could tell they would be worth the work required to consider their meaning.

Several of Petrosino's poems have been inspired by the work of poet Anne Sexton, with whom I am not familiar.  Here is an excerpt from her "Young," which she calls "after Anne Sexton."

"A thousand pilot lights ago
when I'm a teenager half-gone to flab
in a low ranch house crammed
with ribboned handicrafts in January
I go pulling all the false candy canes
from the stale mulch out front
clown-sun blinking whitely over me
my bedroom window an ear
painted shut to keep the calliope of dreams
from sounding....."

Unfortunately, you have to google "Petrosino" and "a thousand pilot lights" to find the rest of the poem online. To hear Petrosino read one of her own poems on PBS' Newshour, click here.

If the Hermitage sounds like a place you want to check out, the next beach reading is slated for July 8, at 7:30.  If you can't make it then, add a tickler to your calendar to check out the schedule during the season. It's a wonderful way to be introduced to talented artists while enjoying a sunset Southwest Florida style.

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