Artists turn to literature for inspiration in ‘Word Play’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 15, 2011

 Nobuko Yamasaki of Grosse Pointe Woods is seen here with several of her signature woodcut prints, which are part of the “2010 Best of Show” exhibition at the Grosse Pointe Art Center. Yamasaki also has a work in the “Circus” show on display at the GPAC.

Nobuko Yamasaki of Grosse Pointe Woods is seen here with several of her signature woodcut prints, which are part of the “2010 Best of Show” exhibition at the Grosse Pointe Art Center. Yamasaki also has a work in the “Circus” show on display at the GPAC.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran


GROSSE POINTE CITY — Poets have been drawing inspiration from fine art for years, so it’s only logical that fine artists might draw inspiration from the written word.

That’s the basis of “Word Play,” a new exhibit at the Grosse Pointe Art Center featuring art motivated by literature or art that incorporates words themselves. Juried by Michigan fiber artist Carole Harris — who has a couple of quilts on display at the GPAC — “Word Play” opened with a public reception June 10 and runs through July 9.

Almost 60 of the 105 works submitted were chosen for “Word Play,” which is why visitors will find pieces hanging in front of windows and in other spots art usually isn’t placed.

“The juror selected so much, we were having difficulty hanging (the show),” acknowledged GPAC Director Amy DeBrunner.

All the same, she said she’s pleased with the “nice sampling” they received for this first-time theme.

“The response was very, very positive,” DeBrunner said.

For artists like Lori Zurvalec of Grosse Pointe City, “Word Play” was a perfect fit.

“I’ve been writing poems my whole life, but I think of myself as a painter,” she said.

One such piece, “I Want to Draw a Poem” — written between December 2010 and May 2011 — became the inspiration for her mixed media entry, “A Painting About a Poem.” The emotionally expressive abstract work incorporates drafts of the poem, portions of which are somewhat visible under the paint. The poem was itself inspired by something that upset Zurvalec. She said she didn’t feel comfortable sharing the written work with the public, but using it as a springboard to visual works has proven successful. “A Painting About a Poem” is a departure from her usual style, and Zurvalec said she hopes to create additional paintings based on the five stanzas of “I Want to Draw a Poem.”

“Each stanza’s like starting a sketch,” she explained.

Although this is the first time Zurvalec said she has integrated her art and poetry together, the classical music buff — who paints to Bach — said she created an earlier series of watercolors called “Poems Without Words,” based on a series of works by the composer.

Also incorporating actual poetry into her art was Charmaine Kaptur of Grosse Pointe Park. Kaptur used poems by her former college classmate, Nancy Henk, in the mixed media work “Cinquains/ Haiku,” which are featured on paper made by Kaptur. The artist said she then illustrated the nature-inspired poems.

Larry Zdeb of Troy took a very different approach with his two works — the mixed media painting “Emotions,” which earned an honorable mention, and the mixed media box “Popular Leaders,” which won Best of Show. “Popular Leaders,” which is lit from within, uses old engraver mats from a newspaper, along with historic images of big band-leader Jimmy Dorsey juxtaposed with poor children from Jamaica. The artist said he “loves contradictions,” and they figure heavily in his work.

“It’s just the way it is,” he said of “Popular Leaders,” which Zdeb doesn’t see as having a political message. “There’s always going to be rich, and there’s always going to be poor.”

Zdeb said he likes using actual artifacts from the 1930s and 1940s in his work — including photographs — as well as box constructions with lighting features.

“If this piece was in a dark room, you would see more shadows,” he said. “You could look at it in the daylight and get a totally different feeling.”

“Emotions” — created on masonite with a wax encaustic finish — includes how-to images of a man in a suit demonstrating self-defense techniques from a 1920s book, a tabloid photo of Gene Autry, part of an old piano and black-and-white blueprints along the side. A list of contrasting words is included in the body of the painting, in which blues, grays and shadowy earth tones predominate, lending a mysterious quality.

“I wanted (to create) a real dark, moody painting,” Zdeb said of “Emotions.”

Other “Word Play” award-winners include Amy Wolfe of Grosse Pointe Park, who received second place for her clay/mixed media piece “Real Men”; Michael Calligan of Grosse Pointe Farms, who won third place for the acrylic “Stand Up”; and honorable mention winners Mary Aro of Grosse Pointe Park, Loralei R. Blyatt of Detroit and Gail Sina of Rochester.

“Word Play” isn’t the only new exhibit gracing the walls of the GPAC. The gallery is also hosting work by “2010 Best of Show” winners — Jeff Cancelosi, Alonzo Edwards, Janet Hamrick, Kevin Martin, Hilarie Robie and Nobuko Yamasaki — as well as the “Circus Show” — circus-themed art by Yamasaki, Zena Carnaghi, Barbara Carr, Isabell Goosen, Charmaine Kaptur, Carol LaChiusa, Joyce Anne Manke and Lori Zurvalec — and new abstracts by Peruvian artist Juan Carlos Zeballos Mascairo.

Yamasaki of Grosse Pointe Woods is featured in the “Best of” and “Circus” shows; she has three woodblock prints in the former and one of a Japanese tightrope walker in an old-fashioned firefighter’s uniform in the latter. She added texture to “Winter Morning Glow” in the “Best of Show” by using some burned acetone. The peaceful image is of the snow-covered driveway to her home, she said. Another work features the Belle Isle Zoo canopy, with a couple of visitors Yamasaki added; she said the people are from a photo taken in Kyoto, and their addition was the perfect finishing touch to the piece.

Kaptur is likewise in two shows now at the GPAC. Besides “Word Play,” she has a painting in “Circus” called “Tattooed Fat Lady” — a playful image of a woman who embraces her full figure.

“I had fun doing it,” Kaptur said of the “Circus” show, which was organized by a friend in South Haven.

Zurvalec has a similarly playful piece in “Circus” — a painting of her cat, Emily, dreaming that she’s a powerful circus lion tamer.

“Emily’s my ‘m-e-w-s,’” joked Zurvalec.

At press time, Harris was slated to give a talk at 7 p.m. July 8 at the gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

The Grosse Pointe Art Center is located at 16900 Kercheval in the Village. The gallery is open noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. For more information, call (313) 821-1848, email or visit