At ‘First Blush’
Kevin Nance’s photos and poems at UK HealthCare are a homecoming
BY KAKIE URCH, WITH KRISTINA ROSEN
The poet, photographer and arts writer Kevin Nance is back in Lexington and back in stride with a new show “Even If: Photographs and Haiku,” now on display as part of the UK Arts in HealthCare program.
UK Healthcare has acquired the show, now on display in Pavilion A, for its permanent collection.
“It’s really about my return from the ultimate autumn,” Nance said about show, which cycles through through winter, spring, summer, autumn, and back to a frozen Chicago winter.
The “Even If” show, which presents 20 of Nance’s landscape and nature abstract photography works paired with an aligned haiku he wrote, also has a chapbook which includes a few more pairs. The chapbook was designed by (former Ace art director) James Shambhu, who is now with UK Arts In HealthCare.
Nance, well known as a Herald-Leader writer and editor in the 90s, went on to be the Theatre/Dance reporter at the Tennessean in Nashville, then did five years as the Chicago Sun Times Art and Architecture critic, leaving to do PR for a major architecture firm in 2008. He later built his freelance career writing about books for the Washington Post and USA Today, visual arts for the Wall Street Journal and poetry features for Poets & Writers Magazines.
Nance first took up photography seriously eight years ago. The 20 pieces at UK illustrate that despite what Nance describes as initial frustration until he understood that great photography was not taking pictures of objects, but taking pictures of light falling on its object.
Nance says he returned to Lexington from Chicago — one year ago on March 1 — because after a severe medical issue with his knee that left him unable to walk for three months and increasingly isolated, he realized that “the best friends I ever made in my life were right here in Lexington.”
Nance, who had written poetry all his life and had won the 2003 Robert Penn Warren Poetry Prize, said he had a community of poets in Lexington when he was first here. And, he had a community of poets in Nashville. But in Chicago, he did not have that community. And that led to a slide of his poetic production — into nothing.
He credits a return to the Lexington community and his community of poets here with enabling his return to poetry writing that led to this show of pairings.
He credits a return to Lexington and his community of poets here with enabling his return to writing that begat “Even If.” Linda Bryant, Kimberly Miller, Laverne Zabielski, Larry Vogt, Joe Anthony and Coleman Davis are key members of his current circle.
He appears as a regular responder on Laverne’s Writing Workshop from 8-9 p.m. Wednesdays on RadioLEX WLXU 93.9 FM. He has also been a featured guest on “Lexington Art Throb,” Kate Savage’s show on RadioLEX and will be on “Accents,” Katarina Stoykova’s show on WRFL-FM. He is grateful to Jason Akhtarekhavari, manager of UK’s Arts in HealthCare project, for embracing the idea of the visual art with poetry.
“Our mission is to create an environment of care and to focus on the spiritual, emotional and physicalwell-being of our patients, family, caregivers and staff,” says Akhtarekhavari. “UK’s Arts in HealthCare recognizes the arts and the artists as powerful and positive forces in the healing process.”
Akhtarekhavari explains that over the past few years, the National Organization for Arts in Health has spearheaded significant advancements in the field of arts in health. As someone who believes that the arts are essential to human health and wellness, Akhtarekhavari understands the power of art to symbolize hope and healing as well as a respite from the grief, anxiety and pain of an experience.
“Most of our exhibits in The Chapel Gallery feature artists with strong ties to the Lexington community and display works by artists that believe in the value of the arts in a healthcare setting. Kevin believes in the importance of utilizing the arts to positively impact patients, family, visitors and staff. Given the contemplative nature of Kevin’s photographs, particularly in combination with the accompanying haiku poetry, it seemed a perfect fit in the gallery near the chapel.”
In the year he has been back in Lexington, Nance has returned to poetry and taken up haiku as a form.
“Every one of these poems I wrote since last April,” he said, in the Sunday sunshine spilling in on Pavilion A, as a man in the chapel beyond the photographs recited a kaddish.
From a tree standing alone in the 9-below cold with Lake Michigan in front and Nance’s North Lake Shore Drive apartment behind to a pink-tinted redbud tree at Linda Bryant’s Big Hill, Kentucky artist retreat, Nance exposes the year and puts the words to the season.
“The best friends I ever made in my life were right here in Lexington.”
— Kevin Nance
Two things are key in haiku, Nance said. “Compression and focus — but it also needs to feel easy — [it] has to feel like a natural utterance,” he said. It is the interplay between these tight yet easy tercets set on detail plates designed by Shambhu next to the photographs that lets the light in. That’s pretty much what Nance set out to do. He wanted to reflect on nature, on the seasons, on healing through interaction with nature — all common haiku themes — but also didn’t want to be “Polly Anna-ish” about it.
“We do get old. We do get sick. We do die,” Nance said. “And yet, in between our birth and our death, if we’re lucky we get to see things like those depicted in the photographs and enjoy them.”
Go see Kevin Nance’s show and read it. Spring is coming.
‘Even if’ is now on display near the Myra Leigh Tobin Chapel in Pavilion at UK Healthcare and has been acquired for UK’s permanent collection. Nance’s photography exhibit, Noir, will open at the Lexington Public Library East Side branch on March 1 (through April 30). He will do a reading at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning this spring.
Kakie Urch is a journalist and editor. She is Associate Professor of Multimedia in the UK School of Journalism and Media.
This article also appears on page 8 & 9 of the March 2020 print edition of Ace Weekly.
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