The exhibit on the walls at Provenance Center in New London this summer is called "Stoimen Revisited," but that title only tells half the story. Actually, only one-third of the story.
It is an exhibit of the work of Bulgarian painter and printmaker Stoimen Stoilov, who had a show at New London's Lyman Allyn Art Museum in 2004. But it also is a showcase for the poetry of William Meredith, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate who died in New London in 2007, as well as poetry by Meredith's lifetime companion, the poet Richard Harteis, who lives in Uncasville.
"Stoimen's work aren't actually illustrations of the poems, but 'reactions' to them," said Harteis, who refers to the exhibit as "a dialog of inquiry and celebration." Harteis is the exhibit's curator, as well as president of The William Meredith Foundation. The show features seven poems by Meredith, and five by Harteis, all illustrated by Stoilov with prints, plus three oils-on-canvas.
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The two show-stopping works, the monumental faux frescos "Orpheus" and "Pandora," don't illustrate poems, but stand on their own. Stoilov painted with yellow tones of oil and drew with graphite on top of the paint. He surrounds his mythologically inspired images — unicorns, fish, masks, birds, donkeys, classic human figures and a recurring theme of pomegranates — with a stubbly plasterish texture, giving the paintings the look of having been torn whole off the side of a building.
A third oil, the vertical blue-tone "Window on the Black Sea," hangs in the corner, repeating Stoilov's elaborate mythological themes.
The heart of the show, however, is Meredith and Harteis' poetry and Stoilov's "reactions," smaller-scale prints, mostly in black and white, but some accented with color to emphasize the subjects of the poems. The most notable is Meredith's "The Wreck of the Thresher (Lost at Sea April 10, 1963)," an homage to the historic submarine disaster that killed 129 men.
"The sea schools us with terrible water. The noise of a boat breaking up and its men is in our ears. The bottom here is too far down for our sounding; The ocean was salt before we crawled into tears." Stoilov illustrated this with three prints, featuring sailors and the female "guardian of the sea" gathering up their spirits, shot through with the blue of sea water.
Bulgaria was one of Meredith's passions. He and Harteis were frequent visitors to the Eastern European country and helped many Bulgarian artists get international recognition. Another of Meredith's poems — "Two Masks Unearthed in Bulgaria" — pays homage the world's oldest pieces of worked gold, which were found in an ancient tomb in Bulgaria and now are housed in a museum in Varna, where Stoilov lives.
"When God was learning to draw the human face," Meredith wrote, "I think he may have made a few like these." Stoilov illustrated the poem with a mask surrounded by ghostly figures.
Meredith's "What I Remember the Writers Telling Me When I Was Young" — "To see the extraordinary data, you have to distance yourself a little, utterly" — Stoilov illustrates with a man sitting alone on a mountain.
The most moving of Harteis' poems is "Tempus Fugit," his homage to Meredith, who was a Navy flier before embarking on his literary career. "At half my age sixty years ago he flew among the stars alone in a black sky. Perhaps he heard the crack of radio communication, perhaps not, he kept himself entertained, on course, and finally, home." Stoilov illustrates this with an image of a man who has melded with an airplane.
"STOIMEN REVISITED'' is at Provenance Center, 165 State St., Suite 102 in New London, until Aug. 31. Details: www.provenancecenter.com.