'Boy Returning Water to the Sea'

Art inspires a poet to paint with words

'Boy Returning Water to the Sea'

Artist Kelly Fearing has racked up some sweet honors in his 90 years: the E. William Doty Award from the University of Texas' College of Fine Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art, induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, selection as the 2009 Texas Biennial Tribute Artist. But a new one may be the sweetest yet: a book of poems inspired by his work. Boy Returning Water to the Sea: Koans for Kelly Fearing features 13 works by North Carolina poet Andrea Selch, each responding to a painting, drawing, or collage by Fearing.

So how did a writer in North Carolina connect with a member of the Fort Worth Circle? Through a catalog for the 60-year retrospective of Fearing's work that was assembled by Creative Research Laboratory and Flatbed Press in 2002. Selch's partner, Anita Mills, had acquired a copy because she'd studied under Fearing as a grad student in the Seventies, and Selch found herself captivated by the artist's sometimes mystical, sometimes fanciful depictions of the natural world and by the mystery and lyricism of his artworks' titles: Holy Shell Waiting for the Return of the Soul, Owl With the Secret of the Enneagram, Large Bird Listening to the Sounds of Purple. Those words inspired Selch to use her own art to express her appreciation of his. The poems typically run fewer than a dozen lines, but in them Selch shows a keen eye for detail: in Fearing's figures, his colors, his compositions. Her comments pry open his works and take us deeper inside them. Art that enriches another's art – what's sweeter?

Selch was just in town to celebrate the release of her book in conjunction with Fearing's selection as the 2009 Texas Biennial Tribute Artist. At Women & Their Work, the site of a Biennial group exhibition, the poet got to present her "koans for Kelly Fearing" to the man himself. Before some 60 people – mostly friends of the artist, collectors of his work, and friends of Selch and Mills – Selch read all 13 poems with images of the artwork projected behind her, then signed copies of the book with Fearing. Being on a "stage" with him was, she says, "a once-in-a-lifetime event." Copies of Boy Returning Water to the Sea: Koans for Kelly Fearing may be ordered from Cockeyed Press through Carolina Wren Press at www.carolinawrenpress.org.

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Boy Returning Water to the Sea, Kelly Fearing, Andrea Selch, Anita Mills, Texas Biennial, Women & Their Work

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