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Facets, moments, in a crystal

Joachim Uhlmann is both a poet and a painter, and his work in the two mediums strikingly exemplifies that rarer aspect of modern life: the art of contemplation. A German, Uhlmann is one of the few poets in that language to master the haiku (or hokku) form. The haiku, as we know it, has generally remained one of the most elusive imports from Japan. Its rigorous syllabic structure, limited to three lines, requires a language (and perhaps even a world view) that is compact, disciplined, and proportionately self-contained; too compact, too self-contained, on the whole, to lend itself easily to the more sprawling Western sensibility. And yet for Uhlmann the haiku form has proved to be ideal.

his poems, like his drawings, use the haiky as a snapshot, or a quick, capsulated impression of an event. Probably more than any other form, the haiku captures the poignancy of life in time -- the fleeting changes of light during the day, changes of season and places -- like in perpetual movement and growth.

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Uhlmann's ink drawings are clearly related to his practice as a poet. But here, his position as a responsive observer is transmuted by the sheer impulse of his pen. Again, as in his poems, the actual inspiration for his drawings can be traced to Oriental, rather than European, tradition. The fine art of calligraphy -- an art notably practiced by Oriental poets -- is a stylized, highly wrought rendering of the written language of poetry. Uhlmann's drawings are obviously amplifications of this, and stand midway between the ancient art form of calligraphy in the East and the modern expressionist abstracts of American and European painters.

The drawings pictured here have all the markings of spontaneity; but a poem is not far behind. It can still be seen in the vertical flow of the lines, the condensed latticework centered on the page with "margins" on the side. It is as though the artist stepped back and re-examined his poem as an object, from a visual point of view -- how the poem literally lies on the page, as a trajectory of the poet's idea. Reproduced here in their original size, they duplicate even the length of a poem.

One of a number of German writers who call themselves "Maler-Poeten"m (painter-poets) in Berlin (the official name of a group that includes Gunter Grass, Friedrich Schroder-Sonnestern, and Gunter Bruno Fuchs), Uhlmann, in his work echoes the comments of another poet-painter, Wolfgang Goethe, who explained to Eckermann: "I've always seen my work and efforts symbolically -- it's never mattered to me whether I've made pots or whether i've made pans." A winsome remark with Mt. Olympus, indeed -- one with which Uhlmann would no doubt agree.

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