When the distinguished art critic Meyer Schapiro said that Elizabeth Bishop “writes poems with a painter’s eye,” Bishop was “very flattered: I’d love to be a painter.” The fact is—though not many knew it—she painted throughout her life, as this handsome book, reproducing in full color forty of her works, demonstrates. The paintings were tracked down, identified, and collected by the poet and art writer William Benton, who arranged the first exhibit of Bishop’s artwork (twenty-seven pieces) in January 1993 at the East Martello Tower Museum as part of the Key West Literary Seminar on Bishop’s writing.
Probably the best-known paintings are the three or four that decorated the dust jackets of earlier editions of her books, but most of her artwork has never been reproduced. Some, like E. Bishop’s Patented Slot-Machine, come as a total surprise.
William Benton gives the provenance, dimensions, and (where possible) the date of each work. In the second half of the book, he also cites many painterly passages from Bishop’s writing. Typically, after admitting that occasionally she painted “a small gouache or watercolor,” Bishop asserted: “They are Not Art—NOT AT ALL.” William Benton concludes, “They are, though.” In paperback for the first time since its publication, this edition of Exchanging Hats is sure to generate a renewed appreciation for this multi-talented artist.
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Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
William Benton is the author of eight books of poetry and a novel, Madly (2005). He curated the first exhibition of Elizabeth Bishop’s artwork at the East Martello Tower Museum in Key West in 1993. He lives in New York.
Elizabeth BishopWilliam Benton