How Many Loves: Three Artists at Work (in progress)

How Many Loves takes an arch-historical approach to the problem of creative labour. In three formally distinct pieces, the conditions and networks underpinning the cosy careers of three late-nineteenth-century painters are read as harbingers for the rise of the so-called ‘creative industries’. Across these poetical case studies, the project explores ways in which creative work is shaped by physical spaces, communities, and material resources.

The opening mock-essay, The Arrangement, considers the gendered labour that haunts creative workspaces. The writer and critic Elizabeth Robins Pennell, with her unwavering dedication to James McNeill Whistler and his posthumous legacy, becomes a guiding spirit through studios, galleries, and modern ‘shared workspaces’, where the ghosts of his wife, sister-in-law, and famous mother linger. The sequence Catalogue highlights the hidden dynamics of creative coteries, recreating an exhibition of John Singer Sargent’s portraits, and reimagining the relationship with his sister and lifelong companion, Emily Sargent, in visual texts scaled to the proportions of paintings they overwrite. Finally, the patch-written lyrics of Twelve Tables turn to the familial interiors of the Norwegian painter, Harriet Backer. As physical and philosophical commodities, and as sites of creative and domestic labour, Backer’s shadowed but sturdy tables stage further micro-dramas of the bourgeois household.

Together, the sequences of How Many Loves return artistic work to its bodily and economic contingencies, extending the book’s concern with the gender and class dimensions of that labour.

Versions of some poems have appeared in the following places:

Others poems from the book have appeared in VLAK, Vield the Pole, and Poetry Wales.