A sprig of basil innocently pushes up in a terracotta pot, next to a partially buried human head. Rather than a case for Metro to solve, the painting by Casey Southern captures the essential point of “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil,” a morbid 18th-century love poem by John Keats.
Honoring the long-standing tradition of literature inspiring art and vice versa, the Historic Fifth Street School and Nevada Humanities are each presenting exhibitions of visual works paired with poems and novels. Southern’s piece is one of several text-inspired works on display this month as part of Fifth Street’s exhibition, titled It Happened Like This.
All the visual works of It Happened hang alongside the cover of the book that inspired them. Shelbi Schroeder’s vibrant kaleidoscopic typography printed on silk represents Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Artist Sam Davis proposes a tranquil parallel to A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.
Viewing works displayed alongside text excerpts adds layers of meaning. After reading, the experience of viewing the art is altered, colored and enhanced by the text. Southern’s basil pot is suddenly imbued with the tragic love of Isabella. The poem’s heroine finds Lorenzo’s murdered corpse, removes the head, “and for its tomb did choose / a garden-pot … Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.” The sensual tones of Ovid’s Metamorphoses filter into C. A. Traen’s beautifully sculpted Grecian urn portraying the tale of Europa carried away by the bull. The delicate skeletal graphite of Bobby Anne Howell’s “Missing, She is Missing” contemplates bones as text, deprived of the spirit of the body.
The exhibition at Nevada Humanities, A Nevada Collection: Poetry and Art, encourages visitors to incorporate poetry and art into their lives by way of a print-maker’s tradition: Using rocker stamps, both paintings and poems are stamped onto thick cardstock and given away as souvenirs. Perhaps more importantly, these fine art collectibles initiate visitors into the practice of art collecting, by providing them with a starter collection to begin their portfolio.
It Happened Like This
Through Nov. 25, Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St., 702-229-3515, ArtsLasVegas.org/Venues/HFSS.htm.
A Nevada Collection: Poetry and Art
Through Nov. 25, Nevada Humanities, 1017 S. First St. Unit 190, 702-800-4670, NevadaHumanites.org.