Nance Van Winckel

An Interview with Nance Van Winkel

Mary Kathryn Jablonski: Nance, you are a well-known and revered poet in addition to making many kinds of visual poetry. The Nance Van Winckel website shares it all with us, from your erasure poems, altered book pages, to maps and more. Now we get to preview these wonderful new pieces that you call “illustrated poem-stories.” I’m sure people always ask you, which came first for you, the art, or the poetry?

Nance Van Winckel: Definitely the poetry. I rather like the expression “you gotta dance with the one who brung ya,” and that’s how I feel about moving ever so gradually over the years into the visual realm. Poetry’s brought me along all these years; I gotta keep dancing with it. 

MKJ: When it comes to visual works that involve words, the audience is always interested in process. Tell us which is the inspiration, the words, or the images? Or do they evolve together? Does the process change with each new project for you?

NVW: It totally changes with each project, and that’s something I like: this discovering how to conjoin the text with the imagery.

MKJ: You use all your own photographs for these works, right? Do you work in layers and alter the images with computer programs as well, adding illustrations?

NVW: I learned Photoshop before it was even called Photoshop, back in its early stages as Adobe Pagemaker, software I used as magazine editor to lay out our literary journal, Willow Springs. I loved that part of the job! Finding cover art. Manipulating text. So, over the next couple of decades, I just stayed with it as it evolved into Photoshop, which is now all in the wonderous cloud.

MKJ: I’ve had the privilege to view some up-and-coming projects of yours in color, which are very different and remarkable in their own way. However, LONG STORY SHORT seems perfect in black & white, and I wonder what prompted you to make this creative decision?

NVW: I like the crispness of the black and white. Also, it seemed to me that paring the imagery down to greyscale didn’t overpower the text quite as much as full color might.

MKJ: What captivated you about the graffiti in LONG STORY SHORT? Did it offer an opportunity for additional text? Do you find it aggressive? And how did this contrast with the historical images and story line for you? How do you make art (written word) about art (images)?

NVW: Writing photo captions and cutlines for a newspaper was an early job of mine, and I’ve been revisiting that work on my own photos, but with a different sort of torque on what’s usually expected of a caption. As a newspaper person, I had to use words with a specific mission: to describe exactly the facts the photograph presented. Now I allow my text to do what was not allowed back then: reflect, suggest a peripheral narrative, and press against the edges of the purely visual. My hope is that the photographs lend the caption-poem-story an unexpected context and physicality, and that together the pieces in the series may help create what Gertrude Stein called “empathic receptivity.” I want to reinvigorate the act of reading, allowing the text to be bolstered but not overpowered by images. Images! I love to dance between them, to belong to them, to torque, freeze, nibble, and blast ’em to smithereens. 

MKJ: Fabulous! I see these images as the “slam poetry” of the visual world!


Nance Van Winckel’s Artist Statement on LONG STORY SHORT:

I’m an urban walker, and I love to take photographs as I walk. I especially like the conversations on the walls between graffiti artist (or graffer) and passersby. It’s an ancient practice. Graffiti has been found on the walls of Pompeii. My text-art pieces, primarily digital photo-collages, draw from the traditions of urban landscape photography, collage, mural, and graffiti art. I usually begin with a photo I’ve taken. Then I digitally add other images I’ve generated, e.g., black & white images photo-copied out of 1930’s sixth-grade textbooks. I’m interested in the urban landscape as a kind of frontier and the graffer as pioneer. The graffer stakes claims to boarded-up buildings that others perceive as wastelands.