Changing Things

A selection of A.R. Ammons's watercolors.
A.R. Ammons created the untitled watercolors in this slide show between 1977 and 1979. As he writes in “Changing Things,” a brief analysis of the power of painting in his life, he had resumed painting watercolors during the 1976 Christmas vacation. The outpouring of art following that decision remains as astonishing as the variety of paintings themselves. The twelve images here comprise a small selection from the entire collection now owned by Emily Herring Wilson.

Moving from painting what he called “real pictures,” or literal representations, to abstract images, Ammons immersed himself in the combined possibility and restriction of the medium itself. He stroked and spattered Pelican inks and water on Arches paper, interacting with the colors, patterns, and textures until the combinations of separate materials and physical forces emerged as revelatory events. Painting daily, with speed and concentration, Ammons created images that allowed him to transform unconscious, but nevertheless “blistering” emotion “into the brilliance, the sweep and curve, the dash and astonishment (along with the cool definition, judgment, and knowledge) of still completed things.”

Paintings from this period embody experimental motions corresponding to those in the poems from the mid-to-late 1970s, when he composed works such as “Easter Morning,” written in 1978, published first in Poetry in 1979 and central to A Coast of Trees (1981). Lines, straight and curved, opening to the edge of the paper or turning back on themselves; bits and pieces, suggestive but nonrepresentational; striking primary colors or paler washes; every detail at once singular yet part of the larger composition: these are characteristics of Ammons’s paintings and his poems. Thus the paintings, while exhibiting their own creative energy, also provide visual representation of the poems’ patterns and themes, not only through their process but also as finished works of art.
Originally Published: August 14th, 2008

Elizabeth Mills is chair of the English Department at Davidson College.

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  1. September 5, 2008

    Don't be too quick to cut off your political e-mails. This personal grassroots correspondence is fodder for thought. How about the simplicity of #7?

    thanks much