Among the many accomplishments that are represented in Wendy Mark's monotypes, there is one that strikes me as being particularly important. And I believe it provides one of the most fruitful approaches to appreciating her art.
Ever since the celebrated Roman poet Horace coined the phrase "ut pictura poesis"-a poem is like a picture-some 2,000 years ago, writers, artists, and critics have continuously debated the commonalítíes shared by these two forms of human expression. Painters as widely divergent in their style and epoch as Leonardo and Picasso shared a belief in Horace's formulation, the first writing that "Painting is a poetry that ís seen and not heard and poetry is a painting which is heard and not seen."In a similar vein, Picasso mused, some 500 years later, that "Painting is poetry and is always written in verse with plastic rhymes." 1
It is precisely this approach to picture making, this conviction that visual images can convey the expansive feeling of great poetic metaphors, that makes Wendy Mark one of our generation's most interesting artists.
A painter who reads poetry daily, Wendy Mark feels most at home in the textual and metaphoríc worlds of a special group of poets. Among them are Baudelaire, Vaughan, Donne, Mal1armé, Whitman, and Ashbery. Mark's vision operates in ways similar to those of the writers she admíres most, moving, as do their metaphors, from the specific to the universal, from the real to the imagined, and from the closed condition to the open. And though she bases her work on a visual, rather than verbal, vocabulary deriving from the observable world, her images - of clouds, of arboreal landscapes, of moonscapes - convey highly poeticized representations of these phenomena.
One finds, I think, in nearly all of her work something akin to Baudelaire's "Invitation to the Voyage", where Mark invites us to join her in venturing into new, seductive, and mysterious landscapes, filled with the arresting colors of Turner or the nuanced palate of Stieglitz's "Equivalents".
Baudelaire, in his celebrated poem, created the promise of a place of order and beauty of "luxe, calme, et volupté". And he created simultaneously in his readers the longing for such a place. For Wendy Mark, the promise is similar: her cloudscapes, moonscapes, and landscpes, whether bathed in etherous lights or embracing the dark densities of forests, are seductive but reassuring in their allure. In her hands, we can become what Baudelaire called "true travellers":
Those whose desires have the shape of clouds, Who dream, like a recruit of the canon, Of boundless, changing, unknown pleasures Whose name the human mind has never known! 2
But if the metaphorical nature of poetry inspires the content of Mark's images, what of their form? The answer to this question, I believe, is less to be found in the miniaturists of the Middle Ages or the work of a Joseph Cornell; rather, it also comes from the world of poetry, where the rigid constraints of form have helped, rather than hindered, the production of great masterpieces.
Instead of seeing the diminutive images of Mark as some sort of late 20th-century equivalent of an illuminated medieval initial, I prefer to view them as works that succeed in the same way that Shakespeare's sonnets do.
The physical compression of an expansive metaphoric message into a límited- and at times exceedingly limited- space gives Mark's monotypes a power that would be lost in a larger scale. It also gives them their defining character: poetic images that inspire wonder, that elicit engagement, and that Win their creator our admiration.
Paul LeClerc President, The New York Public Library
1. Both citations are taken from Franklin R.Rogers, Painting and Poetry, 1985, pp.41-42.
2. "Le Voyage", translated by Barbara Gibbs, in An Anthology of French Poetry from Nerval to Valéry in English Translation, ed. Angel Flores, 1958, p.45.