Interview with L.S. Bassen and Mike Stanko

Two Cities Review had the pleasure of publishing some cross-genre work we absolutely love in our first issue – poems by L. S. Bassen within artwork by Mike Stanko. These works are part of a collection called “Scene & Said” and are stunning in their visual quality and poignant words. To read them for yourself, see the image below or take a look back at our original issue.

We had the pleasure of interviewing both artists about their work together. We hope you enjoy hearing what they have to say.

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TC: How did you come into contact with each other initially and was it a good collaborative relationship right away?

LSB: We were friends for at least a decade before. Initially, Mike’s wife Karen and I were pals. Then Mike became more and more involved in artwork, displaying at galleries. The hybrid collection of 30+ ‘poem paintings’ grew organically in fertile cyberspace.

MS: One day I was reading Lois’s poetry for my own enjoyment when it occurred to me that this one particular poem would be a perfect fit for one of my paintings. I often thought of putting my work on note cards, or on a poster so, it just seemed right. Since we were both thrilled how well the poem did work with the painting, I sent Lois more images and it took off from there.

TC: After this initial contact, what was the process of working together like? Did you create separately and then see what fit together or did you build off each other’s work as inspiration?

MS: I believe both scenarios were the case. After the first “poem painting” worked so well for me, I got excited and looked for other paintings that I wanted Lois to write for. It was a selfish pleasure for me to try and inspire this great writer with pieces of my work.

LSB: For over a year, we worked together choosing his images that fit my poems or prompting altogether new ones. At the start, Mike chose the poems he wanted for several paintings. Then there was an image of a red cardinal that inspired me because I associated it with my mother. Another painting of blue irises also impacted me similarly, and I wrote poems for both of them. The idea was to create an affordable, portable collection of poems/paintings and to encourage people to find their own (well under) 1000 words that every picture is worth.

TC: Beyond this goal for your audience, what is your personal goal when writing/painting? Do you want to communicate a specific idea to your audience, or is it more of a personal expression of your own feelings?

LSB: At this point, I’m as keenly concerned with audience as I am with expression. Leaning too far toward audience can be insincere and too far toward bellybutton gazing, adolescent.

MS: The majority of my work is autobiographical. I paint many objects and scenes that come into my life, that inspire me. Many are just simple everyday things, such as my old sneakers, my garden, or my lunch (i.e. a grilled cheese sandwich). Many of my subjects are iconic to me personally and [therefore I hope they may be] iconic to other people as well.

TC: Do you see “Scene and Said” as a physical book or more as stand-alone pieces?

LSB: I see it as a physical book that invites page turning and reflecting back/forth, seeing recurrences and connections of sight, sound, and most of all, meaning.

MS: I agree. I would love to see our joint venture expand into a book, perhaps a large photo book which the pages could be taken out and framed for people’s walls.

TC: We would love to see that book as well – there are not many works out there that feature cross-genre work, although this area is definitely growing. Do you feel that this type of cross-genre work captures reality in a more accurate way? What can these two art forms say together that they can’t say separately?

LSB: Duets aren’t in competition with solos. Cross-genre is its own thing and encourages novelty and experiment. I think it surprises everyone, artists and audience. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were sensational together. Who would have guessed?

MS: It’s like taking a color – blue, for instance. Blue is beautiful by itself. But now add yellow. Wow! Cross-genre work brings each individual piece to another level, even though they are both wonderful by themselves.

TC: That’s true. Cross-genre work doesn’t replace work by individuals but can certainly bring out undertones that might otherwise be missed, and it seems like both of you work well in this medium. Does “Scene & Said” continue to evolve? Would you consider working on another collaborative project together? What might that look like?

LSB: That would be super. It would be great if a publisher would accept “Scene & Said” and ask for a sequel! Mike also works with a wonderful young ace who creates videos of Mike’s gallery shows. I’ve done several published recordings of some poems. It’s nice to imagine a video of the poems with music, perhaps, as the viewer would see a collage of Mike’s paintings. It’s nice to dream.

MS: Actually, we are also presently in the planning stage of putting together a live reading with the image projected over Lois or a guest reader. This could be real powerful to see and hear – or “Scene & Said!”

TC: Wow, those sound like some really interesting projects. We look forward to seeing them come to fruition in the future!