A work of art: Painter and poet collaborate on second book that reflects a long friendship
Painter Marley Kaul and poet Taiju Geri Wilimek have collaborated on a second book, even though they weren't planning it.
BEMIDJI -- The paintings of Marley Kaul and the poems of Taiju Geri Wilimek have unintended synergy. That was on full display in their 2018 book entitled “We Sit.”
A second book was not planned. Kaul just kept on painting, and Wilimek kept on writing poems.
And now, two years later, “For Now” came off the press this week. Like their first book, it pairs 20 egg tempera paintings with 20 short poems, and will be available for purchase at the Watermark Art Center Dec. 17-19 and Dec. 21-23.
“We didn’t intend to make another book,” Wilimek said. “We just kept doing what we were doing. Marley astounded me. When I saw the first painting after we finished ‘We Sit,’ I was amazed. I said I thought we were done. No, we’re not done.”
Kaul, 81, is a retired Bemidji State University art professor. Wilimek, 67, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and an ordained Buddhist monk; Taiju is her given Buddhist name.
They’ve known each other for about 30 years, and both agree that their ongoing lively conversations have enhanced their friendship and their ability to collaborate.
“We come from different places and we have different aesthetic sensibilities,” Wilimek said. “I think in words, he thinks in images. When we go off and do our work, and then bring it back together again, it becomes kind of visually obvious why we’ve had such a nice ongoing collaborative friendship over time.”
They also agree on the essence of “For Now.”
“We see it less of a book and more of a work of art,” Kaul said. “Geri sees her poetry as art, and of course I'm a painter, so I make art. So when you look at the book, I wanted it to be visually enticing, something that someone would be attracted to maybe because of its cover or its color and continue to be attracted to it as they page through it.”
“It’s not just a book of paintings about poems or poems about paintings,” Wilimek added. “It’s more an open invitation to use your mind and your sensibilities as a human being and get engaged. It’s like walking up to two people involved in a conversation and joining the conversation.”
An example of their synergy is on facing pages titled “Invitation to Listen.” On the left is Kaul’s painting of a piece of pie floating over two cups of coffee. It’s inspired by Marley’s memory of his first date with Sandy, his wife of 58 years. “We were both students studying art,” he said. “I got up the courage to ask her if she'd like to go out for coffee. We ended up going for coffee and having pie, and that started the conversation.”
Wilimek’s poem that’s on the adjacent page, titled “Two chairs,” also conjures up thoughts of conversation. “It’s a simple observation,” she said. “There was something friendly about the way the chairs were turned toward each other. Marley has a way of painting about things that are really familiar, but there’s always an irrational quality to the visual. It’s not just a picture of two cups of coffee and a pie. There’s this irrational way he puts it together, which I think reflects the sort of irrational way that we experience life.”
One of Kaul‘s favorite paintings in the book includes a pair of rabbits like the ones who are living under his porch.
“My work is narrative,” he said. “I make stories. Those two rabbits I watched for a whole year and finally said, ‘You know what, I'm going to get those in my painting. Then I was reading some Buddhist mythology and I came upon something called the Jade Moon, which is still celebrated in Asia. There was a long period of time where the moon did not have a man in the moon as Westerners call it. Those in the East said it was a rabbit in the moon.”
A favorite poem in the book, “Little ham buns,” was conceived after Wilimek attended a funeral.
“I didn’t grow up with little ham buns at funerals,” she said. “Everybody knows what they are. I just had this tender feeling about that at the funeral, and felt like I understood. I’ve experienced that comforting quality and come to really feel very tender about the fact that this really is a little pleasure, a little soft, sweet pleasure in the midst of sorrow.”
Even the two creators have been astounded by the synergy of their work in “For Now.”
“As Marley and I have read it,” Wilimek said, “it’s kind of like, ‘Oh that’s why we have these good conversations. It’s a snapshot of a very rich conversation and a wonderful friendship.”