‘Ready for the Stars’ Michael Longley on the Paradiso exhibition

Michael Longley, poet in residence at Trinity College Dublin, opened Pamela Hardesty’s exhibition ‘Dante’s Paradiso’at the Pantheon Gallery, Dublin, 7 April 1993. The exhibition was part of Festa Italiana.

Click here to see images of the work

One of the reasons great works of art survive, or, rather, persist, is because they are quarries for other works of art. A great work brims with possibilities for the artists who come after it. Think of the thousands of poems and pictures inspired over the centuries by Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. My own most recent collection of poems ended up as a belated lament for my parents. But my emotions had found no embodiment until I re-read in the Odyssey Homer’s account of Odysseus’ re-union with his failing father Laertes and, in Hades, with his dead mother Anticleia. Words many hundreds of years old illuminated my sorrow.

I get the feeling from this lovely exhibition that Dante’s vision lit up Pamela’s mind at just the right time in her life. A sense of blessed coincidence radiates from these works. At a certain stage in her own spiritual search – her own inner adventure – she seems to have realised for herself what Dante is about. I sense shadows lifting and a working-through to a state of mind that is joyful and positive.

Dante’s astronomy was Ptolemaic. He believed that the universe was geocentric; that the earth was at the centre of the universe – with the planets and the stars revolving around it. But it’s one of the wonderful facts of modern astronomy that, for me, defines the lasting value of his poetic vision and its reflection in Pamela’s art. Dante is like one of those stars whose light set out on its long journey centuries – aeons – ago to brighten the sky above our heads this very night. Out of the several passages she has responded to, a key moment emerges so far as this exhibition is concerned – in Canto XXIX:

As in crystal or in amber or in glass
A shaft of light diffuses though the whole,
Its ray reflected instantaneously…

This fine show shakes out of our minds all the lovely words that describe how light behaves: flash, dazzle, shine, glitter, glimmer, gleam. And it gives them an appropriate setting: emerald, diamond, sapphire, ruby. Pamela tells me that her mother was a seamstress and her father a television repairman, obsessed with complicated circuitry. I sense that those skills contribute a gleam or two to this exhibition’s burst of light. With her rainbow shards Pamela has worked out a way of drawing light, of sewing together “the heavens’ embroidered cloths”. She has brought indoors one of those brilliant starry nights when there’s a halo round the moon.

Dante ends Purgatory with four lines which I shall use to salute the achievement of this exhibition and the light of Dante’s vision, a light which set out from Italy – as from a star – long before we were born:

From those holiest waters I returned
To her reborn, a tree renewed, in bloom
With newborn foliage, immaculate,
Eager to rise, now ready for the stars…

Pamela Hardesty’s work makes us “ready for the stars”. I am very happy to open this exhibition.

Click here to see images of the work

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