Whistler Hits the Motherlode
Well before Motherwell
After painting The White Girl,
the artist began calling his works
As music is the poetry of sound,
so is painting the poetry of sight.
Focused on tone and surface, he laid down
a touch-pad for particular textures,
dry-brushed the front of his mistress’s dress
to let the white underneath show through
and render the material gauzy.
Her red hair offered perfect contrast
to the subtly of the background.
Bear-skin rug, blue of the carpet
and color of the flowers all offset
the woman in white.
Her impassive face and limp arms
complemented white on white, highlighting
color harmony as his only real subject.
Is Whistler just whistling Dixie?
This is not the painting we created:
Start with a full-scale society portrait
that’s a Victorian lesson in morality.
White tones and the lily imply purity,
but the lily is broken and Joanna’s dress
and disheveled hair whisper impropriety.
Her chastity suppresses the fierce bear
whose head is thrust menacingly toward us.
Portrait of a bride on the morning after,
Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, or the Virgin Mary
come to save us from eternal explication.
Lee Marc Stein
Lee Marc Stein lives in East Setauket, New York. His poems have appeared in Blast Furnace, Blue Lake Review, Message in a Bottle, Miller’s Pond Poetry, Slow Trains Journal, Still Crazy, Subliminal Interiors, Write Place at the Write Time and The Write Room. His first book of poetry, Whispers in the Galleries, features ekphrastic poems. Lee has had short stories published in Bartleby Snopes, nicollsroad, Write Place at the Write Time, and Down in the Dirt. He led workshops at Stony Brook University’s Lifelong Learning program on modern masters of the novel. A poor golfer, he excels at creating excuses for not playing well.
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