Thursday, 17 March 2011

Trapped Memories, Invented Truths

When Melaneia Warwick recently invited me to collaborate with her on a limited edition book I was overjoyed. I had 'discovered' her and been following her as @Melaneia on Twitter for months, intrigued by her wonderful artwork.

Melaneia is a rapidly emerging visual artist who currently has a solo exhibition entitled 'Trapped Memories, Invented Truths' at the Butetown History & Arts Centre in Cardiff. Her artistic practice is concerned with the nature of oral history. She draws and paints in the way stories are told: there is a narrative, yet the characters are not figures but objects borrowed from friends’ houses – a top hat, an angel’s dress, a gourd.

These objects are not chosen for their formal properties but for the tales they could tell. Each bibelot (curio), whether a treasured or neglected possession, invites speculation about its history and, by association, our own: where does it come from? What has it endured? How will it be remembered?

Melaneia’s artistic process contains clues to her own history, one informed by her mother’s prowess as a storyteller, her dual nationality and her mastery of linguistics. In childhood she began painting with her fingers on woodchip paper. Now, she continues to forge a visceral connection with her subject. Rather than only drawing from observation, she uses her hands to explore its contours and its inner recesses and then draws from memory and sensation. It may take weeks to effect the object’s transition from a stranger spotted in a dusty store to a casual acquaintance to a much-loved friend.

Our collaboration, which we hope will come to fruition by the end of 2011, will focus on Melaneia’s 'Gloaming' series and include giclee prints, reflections, observations and word sketches: fairly brief interpretations of each of the four paintings in the series.

Although I have already written a number of preparatory haikus & senryus about each of the four paintings, I wanted to write a longer poem about a single painting that would afford me the space to word-paint my own invented truths. The painting I have chosen is called ‘Protective’: 

And here is my poetic interpretation, also called 'Protective', of Melaneia's painting:

You stood back at first, stunned by its opalescence
and nacreous pinks. Slowly, as if to spin out the thrill,
you raised it to your ear and gasped as Etesian winds
picked up those apple-scented murmurs of Eden.

It was when you peered inside and drew your finger
over its satin lamina that realisation began to dawn.
This was no discarded carapace. This was the creaking
frustration of compressed wings, a floundering Throne.

And then you saw her, the whole unfolding of her body
as she levitated in the gathering storm: a dithering angel
with coralline pinions, each laboured flap flinging droplets
of holy water, splashing a sacrament on your soft skin.

You smiled and held out your hands, invited her to stay,
said she could sleep in the room purged of all shadows.
That was when Truth raised her eyebrows in disbelief,
when the squall struck, sweeping her back to the sea.


  1. This is a wonderful piece! And what a beautiful collaboration it will be Peter :)

  2. I am struck dumb by this piece. Your use of language here is just stunning. "a dithering angle with coralline pinions", "she could sleep in a room purged of all shadows", how do you write like this? What a perfect kind of collaboration for your many talents. I already enjoyed Melaneia's work, and this interpretation of her art makes me want to cry it's so lovely. Well done Peter, well done.

  3. I think Heidi speaks for me too ~ I am just stunned! I don't know what to say other than you are a wonderful writer. I am always so compelled and moved by your poetry ~ you are such a talent. I can't wait for more collaborations!

  4. Thank you so much Diana. Really pleased you enjoyed it.

  5. Heidi ~ thank you for such a wonderful response. I am a little dumbstruck too after reading your comments. I'm just so pleased you felt able to connect with my poem at such a deep level. Melaneia's painting inspired me so much & I really wanted to write a poem that was worthy of her beautiful artwork. Once again, thanks ever so much Heidi.

  6. Hi Louise ~ thank you ever so much for your lovely comments. I really do feel so humbled by them. As I said earlier, I was so inspired by Melaneia's painting & the words were merely extensions of her brush/finger strokes. Sincere thanks Louise.

  7. Your poem is exquisitely beautiful! I felt myself floating in the painting. Your description of Melaneia, her world, her process, her nature, is so wonderful and beautiful. I find your insight into the emotional world so penetrating and comforting. Thank you so much. Q x

  8. Sincere thanks for such lovely comments Quirina. You know, I've floated around in that particular painting myself. Like you, I feel to cross over into the art & roam around within it. Yes, Melaneia's art is exceptional & the way she creates it is fascinating. Do have a wander around her website to see her other wonderful creations.

  9. Everytime I read this I am overwhelmed by the beauty of your words Peter. I feel very lucky to be working with such an instinctive writer. You have bought a new perspective to my own perception of my work and I think that is quite incredible. Thank you for your amazing words. Melaneia

  10. That is such a lovely, heart-warming comment to receive, Mel ... thank you so much. My words, yes, but all the inspiration gathered from your incredible work of art. It is such a privilege to be working with you in this way. Once again, sincere thanks.