Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Language of Memories and Dreams

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Language of Memories and Dreams

Article excerpt

SOME ideas are inexpressible in words.

Poet Wes Hempel discovered this, and a new degree of expressive freedom, when he turned to visual art some 10 years ago. First he made small assemblages using found objects. Then he started adding his own painted backgrounds. Finally, he turned to painting six years ago with the encouragement of artist Jack Balas, who taught him various techniques and asked him pertinent questions about composition - questions that helped him think visually.

"I didn't take myself seriously as an artist at first," says Mr. Hempel, who holds degrees in creative writing and teaches writing at the University of Colorado. "When I first started doing more serious work in art, it was astonishing to me what could be expressed."

He spent a year in the art and architecture library at the university studying the history of art. Eventually, he came to the French academic painters of the 19th century and discovered an affinity for the slightly unreal or extra-real look many of them created. Landscapes ordered by the imagination rather than by nature itself partake of memory, myth, and perhaps even dream.

Dream imagery plays an important role in Hempel's own work. "In my painting, I am able to touch emotions that I don't touch with my writing," he says. "I would use that term `dream realism' because those feelings do exist somewhere inside ... but are not easily expressed in a waking world.... In dream, there are odd juxtapositions that make perfect sense when you are dreaming and only seem odd when you wake up. When my paintings succeed, you look at one element and it makes perfect sense. But then there is a puzzle involved with it. As a whole, it becomes something else."

In one of his paintings on view at Robischon Gallery in Denver, a portrait of a racehorse with two grooms, he captures the figures in precise detail - except that the racehorse and one of the grooms float above the ground. …

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