Literature and the visual arts birth one another, the intersection between the two is commonly inclusive. They sometimes meet between the hands of some of the world’s most renowned. With these artists, it all comes from the same urge, the same expression, the same message. Most days they come out in words, other times they come out graphically. Many writers and poets decided to delve into the realm of painting, while others went on to fuse both mediums.  

Sylvia Plath:

Triple-Face Portrait by Sylvia Plath. Courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, © Estate of Sylvia Plath

For Sylvia Plath, writing and painting served as springboards for one other. Her poems would inspire art and her art would give birth to poems. The confessional poet depicted themes of self-identity throughout her visual art, much like her poetry. Plath drew, painted, and sketched, constantly expressing herself during her childhood. Collections of watercolors and abstract paintings offer a rare glimpse into the iconic author’s personal life. Her extensive imagination and self-reflexive complexity came alive not only in personification and vivid language, but on canvases as well.

William Blake:

William Blake, Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, Watercolour Painting, 48x68cm, 1786

One of the world’s most celebrated Romantic artists, William Blake, was known for his integration of writing and painting. The radical poet merged the mediums into a single creative process and was highly distinguished for his visual output. Blake‘s illuminated books are now ranked amongst the greatest achievements of Romantic art. His use of vibrant color and intensity and fluidity of his lines attest to his equal mastery of both poetry and art. His works all embodied and emitted aspects of human nature and reason. The visionary’s philosophical and distinctive ideas inspired many creatives throughout history to the present day.

Khalil Gibran:

Khalil Gibran, Let Us Rise Together, Oil on Canvas, 1914

Khalil Gibran was very outspoken on the universal messages of peace and harmony not only in his writing but his art as well. The Lebanese writer drew inspiration for his paintings from his own literary work. Gibran was highly influenced by William Blake and William Turner, whose imagery evoked him to express the true desires of his soul. He became known for his figurative depictions of exile, oppression, and loneliness that spoke to the experiences of immigrants.

Charles Bukowski:

Charles Bukowski, Untitiled, Mixed Media on Paper, 15×23, undated.

Charles Bukowski found his way to painting through his novels. He first tackled this medium in order to create special hardcover first editions of his books, then later stopped. Bukowski created many other paintings that weren’t intended for books and went on to produce over one thousand works. His preference of acrylic paint gave his pieces the same depth found in his literary work. While he was compiling poetry he began attending art courses in hopes of becoming a commercial artist but instead, it became just an outlet.

Emily Brontë:

Emily Bronte, Nero, Body of a Merlin, Watercolour, 27 October, 1841.

When it came to art, Emily Brontë found a source of inspiration from her pet Merlin the hawk. Its naturally wild ways evoked her eccentric use of watercolors while creating a portrait of it. She had a skill for close observation that we discovered from her writing but witness throughout her art too. Some believed that her art may suggest clues to the mysteries of her works. Brontë was known for her enigmatic and elusive literary style that widely extended into other mediums.

E. E. Cummings:

E.E. Cummings, Apocalyptic Sunset, Oil on Canvasboard, 40x30cm, undated.

Why do you paint? For exactly the same reason I breathe.”
E.E. Cummings shared a duel avidity for both the typewriter and the brush which he considered his ‘twin passion’. The poet applied the same enthusiasm for experimentation to everything he did.  He was immensely inspired by the city of Paris at the beginning of his artistic endeavors. In the first half of his painting career he created large-scale abstracts, then the second half mostly consisted of landscapes and portraits of the love of his life.

Hermann Hesse:

Hermann Hesse, Untitled, Watercolour on Paper, 24x31cm, 1922.

Hermann Hesse discovered his ardor for art after a series of traumatic events that shaped his life. Painting became his personal therapeutic past time during his WWI recovery. The veteran, on his road to self-revelation, adopted both impressionistic and expressionistic styles. He created thousands of pieces all influenced by nature and its warmth. Painting for Hesse started off as a hobby that later began inspiring him to create more literary work.

Shen Zhou:

Shen Zhou, Poet On A Mountaintop, Ink on Paper, 1496 (wiki.org)

The combination of poetry and art has been around for centuries and can even be traced back to ancient times. Shen Zhou, one Master of the Ming Dynasty, was known for his Literati paintings, which were blends of both poetry and paintings. He presented the two to accompanying one another to strengthen the art. Allowing full sentiments to be understood and more expression to be felt. Not only does the integration enhance understanding of the art but also introduces a new form. The Chinese letters give the whole piece a whole new visual outcome. 

William S. Burroughs:

William S. Burroughs, Mink Mutiny, Gun shots, collage and paint on plywood, 1987

For William S. Burroughs, painting became another form of expression he explored a bit later in life. He developed his own method of splatter painting and was heavily influenced by fellow artist Brion Gysin. Burroughs grew very fond of acrylics and spray paint and ended up creating thousands of visual pieces. He explored unorthodox tools for his painting such as guns, mushrooms, toilet plungers, and many other objects at his disposal. Even in his writing, he was known for his unconventional techniques.

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Amanee Hasan
Amanee Hasan

I am an aspiring writer and stencil graffiti artist in Amman, Jordan. Currently, I am studying English literature at Petra University.

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