• Ed Blackburn, (American, born 1940), Cain and Abel, 1988,oil on canvas, 72¾ x 93¾ inches.
    Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection,
    Museum purchase, Enid and Crosby Kemper and William T. Kemper Acquisition Fund, 2004.11.01. © Ed Blackburn.

    Ed Blackburn, (American, born 1940), Cain and Abel, 1988,oil on canvas, 72¾ x 93¾ inches.
    Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection,
    Museum purchase, Enid and Crosby Kemper and William T. Kemper Acquisition Fund, 2004.11.01. © Ed Blackburn.

Well-Read: Artists Inspired by Literature

Wednesday, May 12, 2021 to Sunday, August 22, 2021
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Well-Read: Artists Inspired by Literature highlights works of art in Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection with a notable literary influence. American artists Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988) and Ed Blackburn (American, born 1940) both find inspiration from the first book in the Bible: Genesis. Bearden’s collage Noah, The Third Day/Prevalence of Ritual (1974) illuminates the story of Noah, who created a vessel to preserve the world’s animals and his own family from a devastating flood. Blackburn’s Cain and Abel (1988) depicts the moment when a jealous Cain, shown with a club in hand, decides to kill his brother. Jacques Lipchitz (French, 1891–1973) draws from Greek mythology for his sculpture Sketch for Bellerophon Taming Pegasus IV (1964), depicting the young hero riding the mythical divine winged horse, preparing to defeat the fire-breathing Chimera. 

Lesley Dill (American, born 1950) and Jim Sajovic (American, born 1943) are both inspired by poetry. Dill’s Poem Spill (1995) presents the poem “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted,” by Emily Dickinson (American, 1830–1886), which posits that haunting thoughts are more terrifying than physical ghosts. Sajovic’s The Fire and the Rose (2011) includes the last stanza of “Little Gidding” (1942) by T. S. Eliot (American, 1888–1965). In the fourth in a series of poems about the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—“Little Gidding” suggests that human salvation depends on recognizing the unity of the past, present, and future.   

American writer Herman Melville (American, 1819–1891) wrote books about adventure, two of which—Moby-Dick (1851) and Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849)—inspired artist Frank Stella (American, born 1936). In his screenprint Ahab (1985–88) Stella refers to the sea captain in Moby-Dick, a tale of vengeance and quest for a large whale (note the abstracted engulfing waves). Stella’s Ohonoo (1994) was inspired by the waves and joyful surfers described in Mardi, and a Voyage Thither. Finding motivation from another body of work about adventure, Greg Miller (American, born 1951) created Silver Surfer in Disguise (2005), a large Pop art panel made to resemble a comic book cover about the life of a hero, Silver Surfer, who defeats powerful cosmic beings and defends Earth. 


The works in this exhibition showcase how artists use their preferred media to bring to life novels, poems, comic books, mythology and folklore texts. Well-Read: Artists Inspired by Literature is curated by Jade Powers, assistant curator at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.