Artist Abbey Ryan’s “the light / the shade” Series, Inspired by Robert Lax

Painter Abbey Ryan has long been inspired by the writings of Robert Lax, who was a friend of her father.  Last year, she traveled to Patmos, the island Lax lived on, as well as Lipsi, a smaller island he loved, and painted scenes in both places.  This past spring, her “the light / the shade” series, which takes its name from a Lax poem, was featured in a solo exhibition at the Harrison Gallery at Arcadia University.  To see some of her paintings from Greece and her lovely still lifes based on the Lax-inspired theme, go to her website.

To read about Abbey’s “the light / the shade” series and how Lax inspired it, click here.

Here’s Abbey’s bio, from her website:

“Inspired by the ‘A Painting a Day’ movement, I started making daily paintings for my blog on 9/23/07.

Ten years later, my blog has had over a million visitors from over 100 countries. My paintings have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine‘s “Live Your Best Life—Women Who Make Beautiful Things,” Seth Godin’s bestseller, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, and FOX’s Good Day Philadelphia, among many others. I was recently named #5 on the list of 49 Creative Geniuses by Boost Blog Traffic.

“More importantly, painting has become my meditative time and the best part of my day. Attempting to paint every day speaks to my interest in ritual, practice, classical still life and trompe l’oeil painting. In sharing my work on my blog, I explore the nuances and complexities of ever-changing internet globalization. My paintings are usually sold by eBay auctions, and are in over eight hundred private and public collections around the globe.”

The Circus of Creation: Composer Gwyneth Walker’s Tribute to Robert Lax’s Circus of the Sun

Marcia Kelly, Robert Lax’s niece and literary executor, told me an interesting story recently.  A few years ago, she and her husband Jack (who live in NY) received a message from a composer named Gwyneth Walker, telling them the composition she had written based on Lax’s Circus of the Sun would be performed in Sarasota, FL, in five days.  She had forgotten to let them know…but they happened to be in Florida and had plans to be in Sarasota that weekend already.  When they went to the concert, who should walk in but several members of the Cristiani family who lived nearby!  (Sarasota has long been the winter home for many circus people.)

The concert was fabulous, Marcia says, with a local celebrity dressed as a master of ceremonies reading the spoken parts and a sold-out crowd.

For more about the concert, including a review, Walker’s thoughts on her composition (called “The Circus of Creation”) and PDFs of both the orchestration and the spoken parts, go to Walker’s website.

Reviewer Calls Concert with Lax’s Words and Music by Composer Kile Smith a “Masterpiece”

A few months ago, I poste about a then-upcoming concert in Philadelphia called “The Arc in the Sky,” with music by composer Kile Smith and words (chosen by Smith) by Robert Lax.  By all accounts, the concert was a huge success, with standing ovations and people in tears (really!).  You can read the reviews and a full description of the program, including complete text of the Lax works used, on Smith’s website.

One reviewer called the concert “a masterpiece of emotional expressivity and spiritual revelation” while another called the final section “a bright-as-sunshine shout of ecstasy that looks to the horizon and suggests a broad spiritual quest.”

Happily, a CD is in production.  I’ll be sure to announce how to obtain a copy when it is available.

Patmos Poet–a poem by Chris McDonnell

The following poem came in the mail the other day.  According to its author, Chris McDonnell, a retired headteacher in the UK, a slightly different version of it was published in the Merton Journal in the UK shortly after Robert Lax’s death in 2000.  It’s language and rhythms capture the feeling of the “anti-letters” Lax and Merton sent to each other over several decades.  (Chauncey was one of the playful names they used to address each other.)


Patmos Poet


O Chauncey

Its sorrows


for everyone

My letters

from islands


your letters

from pine

tree bottoms

paper voices

through whole




or there


The sorrows

is now

done plenty


these other



the story

friends, faces

we knew

or just


who read

the books


is just


to them

but us


to us

much more

than that.

A Photograph of the Portrait of Lax Painted by Harry Jackson is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum

In 1961, artist Harry Jackson, who would become known as one of the major sculptors of the American West, painted the life-size painting of Lax shown here.  As mentioned on page 238 of my book Pure Act, the painting, titled “Portrait of the Poet Robert Lax,” appeared in an exhibition called The Continuing Tradition of Realism in American Art.  I don’t know what became of the painting but this photograph of it is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  It was taken by the wonderful photographer Walter Rosenblum, a sampling of whose work appears here.

For more about Harry Jackson and his work in bronze, go to the home page for the Harry Jackson Studios.  Here’s one of his bronze sculptures from the Smithsonian’s collection–Trail Boss, cast in 1958:


Luminous Paintings Inspired by Lax’s “the light — the shade”

A few days ago, I received an email from a young painter named Abbey Ryan, who embarked several years ago on a series of paintings inspired by Robert Lax’s poem “the light — the shade.” Among the things Abbey told me were that her father, a Merton scholar, once corresponded with Lax, her middle name is Merton, and her childhood drawings might have been part of the mosaic on Lax’s wall on Patmos.

Abbey’s light/shade series is marvelous, with a simplicity and luminosity that make these paintings a lovely and fitting homage to Lax.  You can view them–and even bid for them–on her website.

You can read her original post about the series (from December 2012) here

 And if you’re interested in taking online painting classes from Abbey, you’ll find more information here.

A 53-Minute Film Featuring Lax’s World on Patmos, Poetry Readings and His Thoughts on Life

For what may be a limited time, the Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich, has a link to an interesting film showing Lax in his later years on Patmos: Nicolas Humbert & Werner Penzel’s “Why should I buy a bed when all that I want is sleep?: A chamber film with Robert Lax.”  It’s a 53-minute look into Lax’s world, with him reading his writings and talking about his thought and life.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see Lax as those of us who were fortunate enough to visit him on Patmos knew him.