Can you develop two creative talents side by side?
Do they mutually nourish or detract from each other?
The work of Spanish poet and artist, Rafael Alberti offers some clues.
If you've heard of Rafael Alberti at all, it will likely be as a poet.
If you are a Spain buff, you will recognise him as a member of the Generation of '27 along with the likes of poet/playwright Ferderico García Lorca, Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí and film director Luis Bunuel.
But what is too often forgotten about Alberti is that he was an adept and prolific artist.
"Nineteen seventeen. / My adolescence: the madness / for a box of paints, / a blank canvas, an easel."
In fact, Alberti's primary vocation was that of painter. Even as a child in El Puerto de Santa María, on the Cádiz coast of southern Spain, he drew the boats coming into the port, but in 1917 when he moved to Madrid and first visited the Prado Museum, he fell head over heels in love with art.
Rafael Alberti’s Artistic Career
Alberti took part in his first collective exhibition in 1920 in Madrid where he would exhibit again two years later. (This early abstract work is reminiscent of Kandinsky.) but after the death of his father shortly after, Alberti began to flourish as a poet. Rather than abandon his visual work, he began to combine it with his poetry - illustrating his anthologies or literally interweaving his poems into illustrations in what he called ‘liricografías’ (lyrical graphics). Alberti’s twin passions continually exerted a stylistic influence on each other: His poems are themselves painterly, full of colour and luminosity, and his paintings are lyrical and rhythmical.
Alberti - Artist in Exile
During his exile in Argentina - fleeing Franco's regime - Alberti continued to exhibit his paintings as well as decorate all sorts of objects such as fans, mirrors, boxes and doors.
It was when he moved to Italy in 1963, however, that his career really took flight - perhaps because of the linguistic barrier. There he associated more with artists and print-makers than with other poets.
Always inquisitive and exploratory, he experimented with all sorts of techniques - tempera, watercolour, dry point, collage - and his prints were exhibited in many of the most prestigious Italian galleries even winning a prize for his etchings and lead engravings in the 5th Rasegna d´Arte Figurativo di Roma, en 1966.
Alberti continued to produce wonderful sets of prints throughout the 60s and 70s including Los Ojos de Picasso (Picasso's eyes) - a set of lead engravings and original drawings to celebrate Picasso's 85th birthday.
His enjoyment of graphic design, led Alberti to design many posters which appeared throughout Italy and Spain and his signature designs also appeared on silk scarves, blouses and dresses.
Throughout his extraordinarily long life (he died jast short of his 100th birthday), Alberti never stopped writing poems and he never stopped making art. To him they were part and parcel of the same unstoppable creative impulse, the expression of his love for life despite its hardships as well his passion for art and literature.
A Hymn To Painting
In his poetry anthology, A la Pintura (1948) Alberti pays homage to his early exposure to great paintings in the Prado Museum cleverly using his extensive knowledge of art to 'paint' with verse.
The book interweaves three groups of poems: one dedicated to great painters (Pre-Renaissance to contemporary), in which Alberti adapts his poetic meter to the style of each artist he portrays; the second a series of sonnets centred on artist's media and tools - eye, hand, palette, brush, canvas, perspective, composition etc; and a third focussing on colours which 'speak for themselves' in free verse.
A la Pintura is a hymn to art without boundaries or barriers in which the written word and the drawn line are merged. For Alberti the painter's brushwork is the same as the flourish of the poet's pen - not surprising then, that his visual work is characterised by free-flowing lines full of expression. Not surprising either that the strapline of A la Pintura is Poem of Colour and Line.
Do you have more than one creative passion?
Do they feed each other or are they mutually exclusive?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Images from Diez Liricografias from: The Cervantes Institute
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