Art exhibit





Duality: Painting The Poet's Room

An Inside Interview

Nancy Watkins




Nancy Watkins  The Poet's Room

The Poet's Room Catalog



Watkins exhibit


Watkins exhibit


Watkins  drawings


Related books

Italian language translation with original English text.


Keats Shelley Amore e fama

John Keats  Percy B. Shelley

Book cover and drawings by Nancy Watkins

Amore e fama

Shelley  Alla notte

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Book cover and drawings by Nancy Watkins

Alla Notte e altre poesie


Nancy Watkins Visite notturne

Nancy Watkins

Visite notturne


Watkins Il fiore è un'idea

Il fiore è un'idea


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Il Labirinto

About the publisher



The Poet's Room

Nancy Watkins

Keats-Shelley Museum

Piazza di Spagna 26, Rome, Italy

7 March - 14 April 2007

Keat's Shelley Museum

from The Poet's Room exhibition catalogue

Duality: Painting The Poet’s Room
An Inside Interview

Nancy Watkins


Why The Poet’s Room? The Poet’s Room has long been a theme of mine—a painting in my first solo exhibition years ago was called The Poet’s Room—and I love the idea of exhibiting this series in the very rooms where Keats briefly resided and died. As Baudelaire says in his prose-poem of this name, the poet inhabits a ‘Two-fold Room’. It has been my special privilege to catch firsthand glimpses of the ordinary, everyday room in the act of its transformation into the extraordinary one of poetry. The most seemingly everyday circumstance—Keats walks outside and sits under a nearby tree—and off he is, on nightingale’s wings, near and far in pithy musings. Italian catches this dual room perfectly; the very word for room is ‘stanza’! Strangely enough, I recently read that in Shakespeare’s and even in Keats’s time, ‘Rome’ was pronounced ‘room’. So Keats had a room in Room...

But you are a painter, not a poet. Art and poetry are kin. At their best, I see them as a sort of intersection of two ideal lines. One of the lines is vertical—it points upward, uplifting the soul, feeding it with visions of beauty and the sublime. To quote Schumann and Kandinsky, the role of art is to ‘send light into the darkness of men’s hearts’. The other line is horizontal, our horizon if you will. It tests our perspective and limits by giving access to strong positive or negative experience. One can feel deep horror, emptiness, love or empathy, protected by distance, by glass. The art of every age has looked to other forms of art—music, poetry, literature, dance—not to incorporate them, but rather to establish a dialogue or a translation. For me painting must remain painting but enrich itself with the rhythm, the truths and, yes, the colour of poetry.

When these enchanted portals open wide,
And through the light the horsemen swiftly glide,
The Poet’s eye can reach those golden halls

John Keats, ‘To my Brother George’


Entrance I, Acrylic, 24 x 17 cm

© 2006 by Nancy Watkins

Nancy Watkins  Entrance

Speaking of the two intersecting lines, a central theme for you seems to be that of transformation. Being interested in a subject’s dual nature, I particularly want to catch the moment of transformation. Take, for example, the Entrance series. The door cracks open, and the first, tantalising glimpse of what lies beyond is revealed. The door creates separation, the entrance is an initial space, a connection between inside and outside, between two worlds. Furthermore, the word ‘entrance’ is both a noun and a verb. The verb ‘to entrance’, to enter into a trance, to be transported beyond the everyday, takes the simple noun ‘entrance’ to another level altogether. ‘To entrance’ is nothing less than the often overlooked, but true role of art and poetry. In his remarkable essay, Art as Mediator Between this World and the Other, Hector Murena, ‘el gran olvidado’, examines the central and sacred role which art was called to fill in antiquity—that of mediating between the two worlds—and how art’s role has changed over the ages, becoming ever more insignificant and marginalised. The tragic part is that the irredeemable melancholy and nostalgia, the ‘sacred wound’ if you will, from which poetry and art spring, are as present today as ever. What is hidden, denied, is the possible role of art to link the two worlds. Where even a fairly modern poet like Keats can write, ‘when these enchanted portals open wide ... the Poet’s eye can reach those golden halls’ (‘To my Brother George’), for me the Entrance represents an access, more or less forbidden, to these ‘golden halls’.

The last, whom I love more, the more of blame
    Is heap’d upon her, maiden most unmeek,—
        I knew to be my demon Poesy

John Keats, ‘Ode on Indolence’


Guardian Demons III, Conté, 25 x 18 cm

© 1993 by Nancy Watkins

Nancy Watkins  Guardina Demon III

The Guardian Demons series? Often my titles play off a verse. In this case it was Keats’s ‘my demon, Poesy’ (‘Ode on Indolence’) that sparked the idea of titling the series Guardian Demons. What a threesome he creates with Love, Ambition, Poesy! Guardian Demons, it goes without saying, echoes Guardian Angel. The word ‘demon’ is fascinating for its radical change in meaning over the centuries: from its Greek root daimon ‘deity, genius’, to the darker Latin daemonium, meaning ‘lesser of evil spirit’, on to the rather generic and still familiar century-long use, ‘an evil spirit or devil’, and that other parallel modern usage, trivialised, certainly, but in some ways closer to the ancient Greek root, where we can fondly say about an energetic child, ‘what a little demon!’ or even compliment someone on being a ‘demon cook’! Poets often call back the root meanings of words, and I like how the original Greek meaning of ‘demon’ works for the series in one way and also the energy that the other meanings of ‘demon’ give to ‘guardian’. Finally, think of Keats being driven by his beloved demon Poesy!

The mysterious Hyerusch Mirror? Ah the Hyerusch! Long has it captured my imagination with its unexplained presence in the half-forgotten house, and the strange flames rising from its cold mirrored surface. Here again the image comes from a poet, in this case a short prose piece by Gianfranco Palmery. Does the Hyerusch really exist? Is it an image from the other world, the one of dreams? A metaphor of creative passion? All of these things together?

Many of your works have double names, Window-Mirror, the Fire-Flower series, etc. Duality, as I’ve said, is a central theme, but sometimes arrives on its own accord. In Window-Mirror, I was interested in the view from a high rise window and set out to do a simple exterior view. When I finished, I looked at the work and was surprised to see an interior with a sort of chair in front of a mirror emerge. And how symbolic to have the window coincide with the mirror! Aren’t windows and mirrors really the two main paths of knowledge? One needs the window, needs to interact with the outside world, but just as important is to look deep inside oneself, in the mirror if you will. True knowledge could be thought of as an intersection of these two moments.
I see you have illustrated many books of poetry. It is true, I’ve done many books, and book covers, most of them for poetry, but illustration isn’t exactly the right word. Rather, as in this exhibit, it is more finding a common spirit, points of contact. In fact, while I have long known Keats’s poetry, even assisted in translating it, all the works were done independently. However, often a few lines, like those of Keats that I’ve used for this show, resound in my mind, so there are also connections of which I am not consciously aware.

What are the points of contact for your Flower series published in Amore e fama, translations of Keats’s poems? Here we return in a literal sense to The Poet’s Room. As Keats lay dying, among his few comforts were the large white flowers with golden centers painted on his bedroom’s sky-blue ceiling and his thought of the violets in the cemetery that he already seemed to feel growing over him—unforgettable. Keats’s poetry, of course, has many images of nature and flowers and the forget-me-not, that together with the blue bell and the violet, is in the famous sonnet in defense of blue, certainly has some relation to the flower that blooms on the cover of Amore e fama.

Sprite of Fire, I follow thee
Wheresoever it may be,
To the torrid spouts and fountains,
Underneath earth-quaked mountains

John Keats, ‘Song of Four Fairies’


Fire I, Acrylic, 30 x 31 cm

© 1998 by Nancy Watkins

Nancy Watkins  Fire

The last series of paintings in the exhibit is the one of Fires. Talk about transformation... I love to follow the alchemy of heat with its corresponding gradations of intensity and hue, and mutation almost complete—the deep red-trimmed black suddenly mellowing into a shimmering, and, an instant later, dull, grey ash—but still retaining for a moment more, that shadow memory of the original object. I have painted various series of Fires in their different moods: raging hot or slow burn, sparking with flashes of light, vertical or horizontal flames, fires as if from nature, from human-made objects, theatrical fires. I was delighted how precisely Keats’s ‘Sprite of Fire’ (‘Song of Four Fairies’) reflects their blazing light.


Nancy Watkins
The Poet's Room
Text by Giuseppe Appella, Gianfranco Palmery, Nancy Watkins
2007 Pages 48, Euro 10,00


Nancy Watkins  The Poet's Room

The Poet's Room exhibition

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