Visual Poetry: The endlessly contemplative work of Karl Hollinger.
Everyone’s heard the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Less known is what some say is the proverb’s second half: “A poem is worth a thousand pictures.” Both sayings speak to the impact of rigorously efficient art—the strength of a single image, the resonance of thoughtfully chosen words. But what of work that combines the two? How impactful is art that marries words and images in what might be considered an altogether new medium: visual poetry?
For those who’ve seen it, the work of Karl Hollinger answers that question in a most thought-provoking way. Composed of any number of 6-by-6-inch panels, each offering an image or pattern, word or phrase, at times all at once, the work often explores life’s most provocative themes—from race, wealth and environmentalism to inequality, patriotism and sex—but with a lightness, accessibility and even humor that deftly counters its topical heft.
Each piece comprises a multitude of layers. Individually, the panels present an amalgam of color, pattern, image and texture. Each is its own work of art. Together, they become a singular idea, rich with meaning and instantly resonant with the viewer. There’s a familiarity to Karl Hollinger’s work—images so timeless and iconic you swear you know them from somewhere, language pregnant with connotation—that connects to the viewer’s own perspective. The effect is a kind of parable in patchwork, a visual wisdom that’s been passed down through the years to zero in on your most baseline beliefs, reminding you how you think and who you are.
It’s fitting that the art of Karl Hollinger is a marriage of mediums, as the name itself represents a unique coalition of talents—the nom d’arte of Mindy Karl and Dale Hollinger. Each artist brings to the collaboration the experiential raw materials of her background: Dale grew up in Madrid, Mindy in a predominantly black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Both points of view merge into the work of Karl Hollinger, which can feel at once smartly global and intimately homespun.
Their process is labor-intensive. It starts with an idea—a story the pair has discussed, an old photo, a place they’ve been—that the two talk through until it is “mulched into a vision,” as Dale says. An exploration of colors and potential mediums comes next, followed by research: newspapers, old books, new books, the internet, hardware stores, art stores, conversations with others.
Then, they start.
They begin to mix paint. They draw. They use the computer, the copier, the scanner. They cut and collage. They sift through their seemingly endless collection of found objects and identify the need for more. Each 6-by-6 panel is treated as a complete canvas and is worked many times over by both artists. The work unfolds like a narrative, the artists looking for areas in which the story needs to contract or expand. They add; they edit. They position and reposition panels. And once the pieces are in place, once Mindy and Dale have agreed on their visual storyline, they mount the panels to a board and add the resin, essentially putting the binder on their latest story. The parts become a whole, another evocative and timeless tale that will exist not as a book, but something far more efficient, not needing translation, as accessible and instantly moving as a laugh or a cry.
In other words, another Karl Hollinger.