I have worked in the office for Winnipeg’s singer/songwriter Steve Bell since the year 2007. I’ve met and been inspired to paint by many people through my job.
Many years ago, Steve met Malcolm Guite at a C.S. Lewis Summer institute in Cambridge, England. Steve was a guest performer, and was immediately drawn to Malcolm, a lecturer at Girton College who was also a poet/vicar/songwriter who rode a Harley.
The two became fast friends and collaborators. Malcolm’s sonnets were popular in the U.K. and Steve was inspired to use some of them as lyrics for songs on his 2012 Christmas CD, Keening for the Dawn. Malcolm’s voice, speaking some of the lyrics was included on the album.
When Steve told me the story of himself and Malcolm, I went online to find some photos of him. One photo in particular inspired me to pick up my paintbrush. It was part of a set taken by writer/photographer Lancia E. Smith, a friend of Malcolm’s who was writing an interview series featuring the poet.
I approached Lancia for permission to use her work in a series of paintings. While hesitant at first, one of the things that deeply struck her about this rare opportunity was the chance to “see what I see through someone else’s eye and heart and skill – depicted with nuanced observation. There are unique qualities that painting can capture and interpret, that can’t be done the same way through photography.”
I will always be grateful to Lancia for taking this chance and allowing me to interpret her photographic art into a new form.
A trilogy of paintings developed, through a collaboration of photographer, poet and painter. In later years, several others were created.
THE JOURNEY was the first of three character portraits.
MOZART AT GREENBELT was the second painting, of him in the setting of his writing hut. Of this painting, Malcolm commented, “I especially like the glow in the bowl of my pipe on this one. I bought that pipe as my ‘Tolkien’ pipe with money from a lecture on JRR Tolkien whilst I was in Oxford. It came from the shop where he bought his pipes!”
SAYING THE NAMES, part 3 of the trilogy was created using Malcolm’s own handwriting which he had emailed. I named it after one of his poems, and the original painting now resides in Guite’s home in England.
TOGETHER AT THE SOURCE was inspired by the very first ‘Song & Sonnet’ concert by Bell and Guite in September 2013. It took place at Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre. The painting is of Guite sitting and listening beside Bell onstage during the concert.
IN COLERIDGE’S WAKE was painted after I saw a photo of him on social media taken by fellow poet Grevel Lindop in a rowboat on the waters of Derwent, U.K. I discovered that at the time the photo was taken, Malcolm was revelling in his admiration of the poet, philosopher and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER was painting from a photo by Steve Bell who was sailing in a boat with Malcolm while they were on a trip to California. Malcolm was reciting poetry to Steve as they sailed. This painting resides in the office of Signpost Music, Steve’s independent record label.
POET is the result of a photo that Malcolm had a passerby take of him as he stood by a receptacle that had the word “Poet” written on it in graffiti.
THE BARD is inspired by a photo taken by photographer Daniel Melvill Jones. It seemed impossible to stop painting Guite’s charismatic face!
Portions of this narrative are in Faye Hall’s book, “Art Begets Art”, one artist’s narrative about her inspiration through other kinds of artists.
The Shop page of Faye Hall’s website includes the art book collaboration called “Seven Whole Days”, based on Guite’s poetry. Each line of his poem about the Genesis story is illustrated by a painting by Hall.
The “Song & Sonnet” concert between Guite and Bell was video taped by Andrew Wall of Refuge 31 Films. “Live at the West End” is available to view on Steve’s new media channel.
More info about Malcolm Guite’s poetry and books at malcolmguite.wordpress.com