Abby Shahn and Mark Melnicove — Dialogue

Abby Shahn, Grudge-Holding Ghosts Have Traveled

 

Grudge-holding ghosts have traveled 

Grudge-holding ghosts have traveled great distances

to your funeral, but you were cremated years ago.

Why are they still obsessed with marking your death,

rubbing it in as if you were sand underfoot?

Have they no other grains to harvest?

They dress in red shifts to reinforce

their message that blood is meant to be drained,

and fire does not warm.

It burns.

Those clothes you left behind, which they weave

in and out of like moths, contain none of your wisdom,

none of our loss.

 

Abby Shahn, Wall Hangings Are Streaked

 

Wall hangings are streaked

 

Wall hangings are streaked with spirits not stuck

to threads so much as they are threads themselves.

Immune to spot removers, the pneumas

need not be scrubbed nor feared.

Without them life would untether from earth,

become just another fallen star.

With them in the warp and woof,

quintessence is grounded, not betrayed.

See their visions in every seam;

no need to doubt if they are true—

art reveals spirits on the move.

 

Abby Shahn, If Not For Time

 

If not for time

 

If not for time, everything would make sense.

We could speak into the void and not wait to hear

what we meant, nail down where we are and not be

flushed into oblivion, but fulfill our dreams and not want.

But that is not how it is.

Unfulfilled ghosts think we are lucky because we get

to experience impermanence, while they never pass away.

Dexterous inside black holes and the empty

spaces of atoms, those ghosts can never be destroyed.

They always are who they were, not knowing what it is like

to live in the present, cherish a swim, hear the call of the loon,

touch the side of a loved one as it is happening.

From their perspective, whatever was always is; they wish

it were not so; there is no relief from their suffering about this.

Not even the end of time would save them.

 

Statement by Abby Shahn (painter)

These 3 painting/poem collaborations come from a book of 31 paintings and poems to be published this fall in book form. The poems were written in response to the images. The word “ghost” is so loaded with multiple meanings for people. Each viewer adds his own meaning, his own ghosts. Mark’s poems add whole histories and layers of meaning to the pictures.

 

Statement by Mark Melnicove (poet)

When I first saw Abby Shahn’s paintings of ghosts, they seemed familiar, as if I had seen them before, or had always known them, both as images and spirits. As I sat with the paintings, words and narratives began forming in my mind, not through having to think them, but through the act of listening and recording. While the poems gestated, I happened to visit Native American pictograph sites and saw ghosts emerge from the eroded shapes in rock walls that bore uncanny resemblances to Abby’s paintings. No doubt ghosts are what they are without interpretation needed, but they also carry many meanings, some inherent, some that we project onto them. Ultimately, these meanings resolve themselves into contradictions, for as Whitman wrote of his poems, they contain multitudes.

 

Abby Shahn — Thoughts on Dialogue

I wonder if there is a common language among artists. I don’t mean a spoken or verbal language, but a purely visual one.

If I look at a painting and know that there is need for a certain mark, in a certain place, in a certain color, will another visual artist know just why I feel that need? For me, the impulse to collaborate is partly born of the desire to find a way to converse in that nonverbal realm and to see if we do indeed have a common visual language.

Abby Shahn and Gretchen Lucchesi, Book Collaboration
Abby Shahn, David Brooks Mask

Sitting in my studio thinking of all the collaborations in which I’ve partaken. A long time ago…The Ping Pong  … show. Lots of UMVA folks. I remember David Brooks and I were finding masks and sending them to each other. A couple are still attached to my studio walls. Fang and I were working on one of my folding books. It was all about cowboys and Indians as seen in the movies. I think Natasha and Mark did a funny serious dialogue which ended with Natasha sending some of her father’s ashes.
That was just one of many collaborative ventures.