~ Cheryl Gross ~

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann

Short collaborations can be either a godsend or a total bust. I myself have teamed up with Nicelle Davis on several projects. It is as if we can read each other’s minds. The best part of it all is that we don’t get in each other’s way. She writes and I illustrate. Being a professional illustrator and dealing with clients can be frustrating and mind-numbing at times. So when a collaboration falls into place, it’s well worth all the crazy clients one has to deal with.

Recently I came across another collaboration, between Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann. Actually, Mike found me through Vimeo and whatever publicity was going around. I read and viewed On a White Horse and found it intriguing. I asked him who the illustrator was, since the works fit so well together. It would be interesting if they could incorporate actual animation into this particular project. I think it would make a stunning video poem. But let’s face it, as it stands now it’s pretty beautiful. Here is what Mike has to say.

Mike Galsworthy: Inspiration for the poem: I had been reading old English ballads – those centuries-old magical poems that had been passed down as oral traditions with no known authors. I was cooking up one of my own about a rider riding through a dark forest grabbing at leaves when I suddenly thought of this as a metaphor for industry relentlessly destroying the environment and creating an apocalyptic world. The rest wrote itself very quickly. The rhythm mirrors the horse rhythm and the repetition is deliberately modeled on the dark poetry of Poe, whose work I love for its fluid lyricism.

I had always wanted to tackle climate change and environmental destruction, but addressing it directly left me bored and cold. This angle gave me a route to explore the morality and drivers of selfish destructive behaviour and delusions of safety within a different world. A modern caution in an old-world format.

The collaboration: I was contacted out of the blue by a Swiss artist living in Canada (Corinne Weidmann). She said she loved the poem and because it was so vivid in her mind, she’d love to do an illustration of it. I said “yes, of course”, of course! She was actually due to come to London to live, so we met up lots of times to discuss how we both visualised it. The overlap in mental imagery was strong, but we also both had little touches in our minds that came together well (she had the idea of the horse passing people/workers through its system and out its rear end, and the rider in stove-pipe hat and industrial revolution attire; I had the mental image of the “burning famine” people with hollowed-out stomachs with fire in their place, etc). Anyway, I took her ’round some poetry gigs over the months that she was working on it and the piece was developing. It was designed to be one poster based on Swiss folk art style, with the story told in overlapping/interlinked images. I suggested to her that when it was ready, I could turn it into a YouTube video. I thought we could scan it in, then take the story section-by-section as I narrated.

When it was done, that’s exactly what I did. Corinne sent me high-res scans and I just got busy digitally editing with the tools I had… Microsoft Paint and Windows Movie Maker. I had to make some visual edits so that I could get the 16:9 pictures clean (free of overlaps from different parts of the image). And there were also some bits missing for the sake of the narrative (rain, lightning and poisoned rivers running overland) so Corinne did some new, separate pics for those.

With the sound recording, I did it all myself, ripping horse hooves and spooky sounds off YouTube then mixing and looping them to suit.

Corinne Weidmann: The first time I came across Mike Galsworthy’s poem On a White Horse was on YouTube. I was not particularly interested in poetry at that time, but I liked how visual this poem was. Mike raised a topic that was not new, but the way he did it was slightly different to what I’d heard before.

I simply wanted to illustrate it – just for fun. There was no intention of publishing it, nor anything else, but I thought that at least I would let the author know. He liked the idea and a collaboration turned out of it. I guess it also helped that I moved to London from Switzerland at the time.

The majority of my artworks and illustrations are done manually. It is the process of trying new techniques and experiments that I love the most. I count myself very lucky that my clients are usually well up for that.

For On a White Horse I chose to work with scraperboard and a knife.

I wanted it to become an old folk tale, or even a myth. A legend that everyone has at the back of their minds – omnipresent, but only frightening in the dark.

The style is based on traditional Swiss paper cut. Folk art is humble and honest. It tells stories about the daily lives, beliefs and worries of mostly farmers – those whose lives directly depend on nature and who are already affected by the impact of climate change.

The whole artwork is cut into a big piece of black scraperboard. The idea to make a video out of it emerged much later on. I didn’t intend to go into moving poetry, but I have a curious mind and hardly ever say no to a new direction.

My creative universe is called Iuna, named after a black Amazonian bird – Tinta simply means ink. Iuna Tinta is a bridge between illustration and art, with a pinch of typography thrown in.

The work is inspired by ancient mysticism, indigenous art and sinister fairytales. Professionally I often work for board sports companies such as Quiksilver and Roxy Snowboarding. Apart from that I exhibit and indulge in many personal projects. One is collaboration with a group of scientists and artists, based in Brisbane, Australia. Our aim is to convert conservation science messages into art, make them more accessible and to raise awareness concerning this combination.

The goals I have as an illustrator/artist is to continue doing what I am doing right now. To be able to let this visual universe expand naturally and in a way that feels right.

Mike and I were thinking of doing more projects together, but so far these are merely loose ideas. We do have very matching minds, which is rare – but at the same time we also have busy lives.

Corinne Weidmann's illustration "On a White Horse"

Poet Nicelle Davis on motion graphics and videopoetry

cover of Becoming Judas by Nicelle DavisIn a wide-ranging interview with Nancy Chen Long for Poetry Matters, California-based poet Nicelle Davis waxes enthusiastic about the benefits of collaborating with artists, animators and filmmakers:

You’ve also done collaborations with Cheryl [Gross] and others on trailers/motion graphics for your books, including motion graphics for five poems in Becoming Judas, trailers for both Circe and your upcoming book The Circus of You, and a video poem “The First Hour of Being Buried Alive in the Walls of a Half-Built Cathedral.” The idea of video poetry and moving/motion poems is fascinating. What kind of responses have you been getting from those who “watch” your poetry? What has been the most surprising thing for you about making these?

ND: Motion Graphics are great! Great!

As the famous Shakespeare quote goes, The play’s the thing. I couldn’t agree more. The “play” of twenty-first century is the Motion Graphic; these films allow multiple artists to gather and return to their roots—to a place of performance. The Motion Graphics feel like pure art to me; they are so collaborative by nature that no one person is in control; in this way, such projects are as terrifying and exhilarating as live theatre. I feel so grateful to live in a time when artists from across the globe can virtually gather to create a very tangible performance of art, poetry, music, and dance.

The most surprising thing about making these films is how well people work together. Very serious artists are given a space to play, and they do play with diligence. This is a sort of work that adults rarely get to participate in—it approximates how, as children, we created imagined worlds together—it feels like falling in love, but without any of the complications.

I’m also surprise at how far the Motion Graphics travel: they have been shown in film festivals across the globe. My poems go places I’ve only dreamed of. I hope they are leading the way—teaching me how to be a resident of the world.

Read the rest.

On literary film-making: an evening with The Brooklyn Rail @ 7:00 pm on May 23rd

Visual Verse celebrates artists who use film and video to create work based on short stories and documentaries about writers or films which revolve around poetry. After presenting work by four leading literary filmmakers — Ram Devineni, John Scott, Cheryl Gross, and Immy Humes — a discussion will be moderated by Rachael Rakes, film editor for The Brooklyn Rail. That’s coming up this Thursday evening. The location is 52 Prince St, New York, New York. For more details, see the McNally Jackson bookstore website.