Contributed by Sharon Butler / Brian Dupont’s paintings, on view at Adah Rose Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland, through December 31, are uniquely transfixing for several reasons. One is their lean, industrial look – they’re oil on metal. Another is the sense, owing to the stenciled letters and numbers present, that they reveal something randomly profound in the workaday. But these elements have long been signature qualities of his work. Recently, and for the first time, Dupont began working with poetry fragments supplied by his wife, poet Rachael Lynn Nevins. This innovation has graced the paintings for his present exhibition with an intensely personal dimension.
Via email, Nevins sent me the full text for each fragment:
I wanted to be finished
like a poem laid out on a clean, white page
I wanted every decision to be made and remade
until made right
I wanted to make something out of wanting
so I could handle wanting
Like a vase
in which I could arrange
whatever flowers I
… From morning
until my father came
home, the radio
spoke of love. I asked
Fragment #4, she told me, is actually based on two different poems:
I don’t remember the lines in Fragment #4 breaking as they break in what I wrote above, but that’s how I found the text in Brian’s notebook. What is strange to me about this experience is that after giving Brian whatever lines I gave him, I forgot about them. In fact, until Brian showed me the text he had in his notebook for Fragment #4, I had no idea at all what it might be. I don’t usually let go so easily of lines that I’m hoping to make into a poem.
In the paintings, the text fragments, layered over and under veils of scraped paint, function as drawn elements. Individual letters become a focal point as the original meaning of the words and phrases is buried, conjuring the memory of long lost conversations, or ideas that might be on the tip of the tongue, just beyond reach. In interpreting the paintings, the viewer segues from deciphering the text to focusing on the image. The process, as well as the surfaces, color, and composition all begin to tell a new, but linked, story.
In older work, Dupont did use his own writing, and also borrowed passages from other authors: Beckett’s plays, Richard Prince’s court testimony regarding the Canal Zone paintings (published in an artist’s book by Greg Allen), H.L. Hix’s poetry, and (more recently) the periodic table of elements. In the press release for the show, Nevins suggests that she transforms her suffering through poetry, and enlisted Dupont as a fortifying collaborator. “My longing to be perfect is a kind of suffering. I once tried to write a poem about it. It failed. I gave lines from the poem to Brian, so that he could destroy them, and together we could make something beautiful.” So they did.
“Brian Dupont: Made and Remade Until Made Right,” Adah Rose Gallery, Bethesda, Maryland. Through December 31, 2018.
Here is “Housekeeping,” one of Nevins’ completed poems:
Well, kiddo, we’re the only parents you’ll ever have, I’m sorry
to say: your father, the artist, and me, the poet
and oft-enraged student of Zen, sitting up in bed and yelling
at your father, “Nirvana is not somewhere else!”
An hour later you were conceived. And now, just look
at the mess we’ve gotten you into!
Clumps of cat fur drift along the edges
of the hallway, and drippings from last month’s tomato sauce
turn black on top of the stove. Again, your father
has left the dish towel on the kitchen counter, and again
I am picking it up, throwing it at him, and wondering,
Who am I? What do I think I am doing?
Mice scurry in the walls, and last week
a chunk of the living room ceiling fell
onto the living room floor. I tell you,
things fall apart, and then they fall apart
some more, and there are days
when the very thought of the boxes still unpacked
a year and a half after our move is enough
to get my tears going. But I’m not talking only about our apartment,
your father’s bad back and bum knee, how all my new hair
is growing in gray, the boarded-up shops around the corner,
or the plastic bags blowing down Ocean Avenue and out
to the Texas-sized pile of junk
collecting in the middle of the sea. We are all
heading toward a future of white dwarves and black holes,
and goodness knows even your cells
have plans of their own. I’m sorry, kiddo,
we’ve got nothing else to give you.
Just this cold and falling-apart universe, this cat
sleeping with his face tucked in my sneaker, and your disheveled
father and me, sitting on the bedroom floor and trying to sort
the laundry in heaps all around us, while merrily
you pick up your socks and toss them
onto the wrong pile.
About the poet: Rachael Lynn Nevins’ poetry has appeared in Rattle, Literary Mama, the Comstock Review, Kindred and elsewhere, and her book reviews have appeared in such publications as Publishers Weekly. She teaches Online Intermediate Poetry with the Writers Studio and, with Brian Dupont, is raising two boys in Brooklyn.