Robert Perkins' stunning artworks inspired by 20th century poetry legends

in Inspiration / Art

What is art if not visual poetry? It's a connection that artist and filmmaker Robert Perkins has articulated more keenly than most, creating a body of work including paintings, collages and prints in collaboration with some of the most renowned poets of the past 50 years.

Perkins' images are the result of his working with the likes of Seamus Heaney, Allen Ginsberg, Octavio Paz and Robert Lowell, though the idea for the series originated with Elizabeth Bishop (if you haven’t read her works, get on it, pronto.) Perkins was part of Bishop’s creative writing seminar at Harvard in the 1970s, and in a meeting with the poet she said to him, "You’re not a poet. What are you?" He replied: "I want to be a painter", and just like that was commissioned to illustrate her brilliantly vivid poem The Fish.

Following on from that joining of linguistic and visual forces, Perkins asked other teachers including Paz and Lowell to work with him, and he continued his poet collaborations for the next 45 years. Many of these pieces are soon to be going on show at an exhibition entitled The Written Image at London’s Benjamin Spademan Rare Books

"The poem itself, the physicality of the letters and words – split open, obscured, fragmented – provides the constant architecture upon which Perkins crafts his thoughtful visual vocabulary,” says the gallery. “The images follow poetry’s intrinsic grace and compression, and Perkins’s sensitivity to materials – rich pigments and the almost sculptural quality of paper – contributes to a sophisticated balance of word and image."

Robert Perkins, Seamus Heaney, St. Kevin and the Blackbird, 1989 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Seamus Heaney, St. Kevin and the Blackbird, 1989 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

 Robert Perkins, Seamus Heaney, From the Haw Lantern, 1989 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Seamus Heaney, From the Haw Lantern, 1989 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Allen Ginsberg, What's to be done, 1998 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Allen Ginsberg, What's to be done, 1998 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

 Robert Perkins, Basil Bunting, Fragment, 1980 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Basil Bunting, Fragment, 1980 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Robert Lowell, Man and Wife, 1972 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Robert Lowell, Man and Wife, 1972 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Claire Clube, Loon, 2010 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Claire Clube, Loon, 2010 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Octavio Paz, fragment from Towbridge Street, 1972 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Octavio Paz, fragment from Towbridge Street, 1972 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, David Whyte, The Well of Grief, 2016 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, David Whyte, The Well of Grief, 2016 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, John Ashberry, fragment from Daffy Duck in Hollywood, 1973 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, John Ashberry, fragment from Daffy Duck in Hollywood, 1973 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, John Montague, Dying Salmon, 1973 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, John Montague, Dying Salmon, 1973 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Jon Galassi, Knot, 2000 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Jon Galassi, Knot, 2000 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Robert Pinsky, Rider, 1980 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Robert Pinsky, Rider, 1980 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Mark Strand, My son and Another Place, 1979 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

Robert Perkins, Mark Strand, My son and Another Place, 1979 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books. Photo by Louie Fasciolo

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