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Art exhibit, book celebrate collaboration spanning centuries

October 22, 2008

The stars lean down from open space, and the moon comes running up the river.

It's a moment of inspiration that ripples through time and across nations.

It started when Chinese poet Du Fu wrote those words in the 8th century, and evolved into a modern work of art involving nationally recognized Arizona artist Beth Ames Swartz, four poets from Arizona State University and a delegation from Sichuan University in Chengdu, China.

The creative results will be on display in "The Word in Paint," an exhibition celebrating the collaboration between the visual artist and the poet, that opens Nov. 21. A public reception kicks off the opening from 7 to 9 that night at ASU's University Center, 411 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.

The free exhibition will run through mid-February, in conjunction with the publication by ASU of a book with the same name.

"This whole project is a celebration of cross-cultural understanding and the use of creativity as links between universities," says Jewell Parker Rhodes, Piper Endowed Chair and artistic director for Piper global engagement at ASU's Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. "It's a long-lasting work of art with a history that is entangled at its core with creativity and global engagement."

Rhodes introduced the Chinese delegation to Swartz's series of paintings, titled "The Thirteenth Moon." They were dazzled by Swartz's paintings based on ancient poems by Du Fu and Li Bai.

With support from Debra Friedman, university vice president and dean of ASU's College of Public Programs, and Scott P. Muir, director of the Information Commons Library, Rhodes involved poets from the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program in ASU's Department of English who would be teaching on-campus and distance learning courses for Sichuan University faculty and students as part of the Piper Center's Program for Global Engagement.

This program provides full funded international opportunities for MFA Creative Writing students. It offers teaching opportunities around the world, as well as support for students to do creative work at artist colonies and participate in international conferences.

ASU Professor Beckian Fritz Goldberg, graduate students Iliana Rocha and Leah Soderberg, and visiting doctoral student John Sparrow from Royal Holloway College in England, viewed an exhibit of Swartz's paintings in Scottsdale. In response, the poets wrote original poems based on particular works. "The Word in Paint" reproduces eight of these poems among artwork from the past three years.

The collaboration spanning centuries "shows us that when a heart beats in China or Russia or Iraq or anywhere in the world, it's the same kind of heartbeat that we all have," says Swartz. "The poetry is all about the challenges that we face as humans in trying to get along with each other. It constantly amazes me how poignant and applicable it is today."

Swartz's 50-year career includes a 2002 retrospective at Phoenix Art Museum and a solo exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York. She is a recipient of the Arizona Governor's Arts Award, the highest award for an artist in the state.

The book also includes essays on Swartz's artwork by internationally known art critic Donald Kuspit, professor of art history and philosophy at the State University of New York, and John Rothschild, an author and poet. It is jointly published by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the College of Public Programs.

The book will be available for purchase at the event, and beginning Nov. 22 through Swartz's Web site at

For information, call (602) 496-0406.