Scribbling And Poetry Come Together In New Exhibit

Nov 2, 2017

Kathy Jennings (left) reads her poem inspired by Michael Dunn's (right) drawing that he's holding
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

“I sit in waiting rooms of doctor’s offices and airports - and whenever normally you’re getting impatient or frustrated, I’m drawing,” says Kalamazoo architect and artist Michael Dunn.

Dunn’s drawings are layered with many images, popping out at you from a fog of scribbles. They’re part of a new exhibit at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center called “Drawing on Words” - which will have its opening reception during Friday's Art Hop.

Michael Dunn's drawing that inspired Kathy Jenning's poem
Credit Michael Dunn

Dunn finds himself drawing this way at least once a week. He starts by scribbling. As he goes along, he starts to see things in the marks.

“I see a face or I see a bird and I see the things start to appear and then I just sort of expand on it from that point," he says.

"But I try to stay as in my subconscious connections as I can, not try to force something on the image but let the image expand freely.”

In the exhibit, fifteen local poets - and Dunn himself - each wrote about one of Dunn’s pieces.

“Well I’ve always worked on broadsides - which are the combination of a poem, they give it to the artist and then the artist creates an image," says Dunn.

"My wife, Marsha, and I were talking about it - and we started going why not reverse the order?”

The more you look at Dunn’s pieces, the more you see. Poet Kathy Jennings says the first thing she saw in the drawing she had was a man holding a baby in the left-hand corner.

“I went with them being a grandfather and his granddaughter - and he raised her was the story I made up about them," she says.

Credit Michael Dunn

Jennings says she tried to incorporate a lot of the images she saw in the drawing. 

“Oh, I love Kathy’s poem," says Dunn. "It expands my drawing beyond what I thought possible and it takes on a whole different meaning now that I read her poem then look at the drawing.”

Dunn’s drawings have meaning all on their own, of course. But Dunn says sometimes it takes him a while to realize what he was thinking or feeling when he drew them.

A piece he made in Ireland, for example, shows a few faces overlaid with many keys and keyholes. Dunn says he went to Ireland to explore his heritage and find creative inspiration.

“Searching for the key to unlock my imagination and you know the sort of mysteries of Ireland and how I relate to that,” he explains.

Dunn puts many of these drawings on a Facebook page he calls “Accidental Marks.”

Dunn drew this on his trip in Ireland
Credit Michael Dunn

Surprisingly, he says 70 percent of his followers are from Spain. Dunn says some people see the drawings as dark and mysterious - perhaps a little like famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya.

“You know there’s something about the energy in my drawing and type of drawing I do that people in Spain respond to. So it’s opened another whole set of discussions with people from other cultures,” says Dunn.

But no matter who looks at his drawings, Dunn says people are always finding new meaning in his work.

You can see the exhibit “Drawing on Words” at the Book Arts Center through November 24th. Poets in the exhibit will also hold a reading there on November 11th at 7 p.m.