Prior to collaborating on a piece for “We Go Together Like,” a new group show , Soumi Dey and Lucie Shearer had never met.
The two were paired by curator Signe Damron and introduced via email late summer 2022, first getting together in person at Roosevelt Coffeehouse on Long Street, where Dey, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and Shearer, an artist, talked for nearly two hours, sharing their backstories and gradually delving into deeper conversation centered on emotions and issues of mental health – concepts that helped form the backbone of the pair’s contribution to the exhibit.
For "We Go Together Like," Damron paired an array of artists and writers, exploring how the written word can shape visual art, and also vice versa. In the case of Dey and Shearer, the two described the creative process as one of “ping-ponging” ideas back and forth, with Shearer sending a sketch to Dey, which inspired her initial verses, which then shaped edits Shearer made to subsequent drafts of the painting.
With each exchange, the finished product shifted in sometimes subtle ways. Shearer said she refrained from using the dark outlines common to her work as a means of echoing the softness in Dey’s language, utilizing pencil rather than ink pen. Dey, in turn, adjusted the language in her text to more explicitly capture some of the ideas of “outer” space that resonated in Shearer’s painting, which centers on the idea that finding and maintaining an internal balance can allow for greater outward generosity.
“Within my piece, there’s water dripping into her head, and that’s this idea of filling your own cup, of taking the time and space you need to recharge,” Shearer said of the figure central to the painting. “And then she’s got these two vessels of liquids that are floating over her hands, and it’s this idea that as you fill your own cup, you are actually capable of filling vessels to give to others.”
These ideas are echoed in Dey’s work, titled “Introspection,” which includes lines such as, “With Me/Balance is initiated.”
“They’re different pieces, but I think there’s just enough overlap,” Dey said. “And there’s a lot the [viewer] can still fill in on their own, which is something we wanted.”
“A person approaching these works for the first time, they’re actually pulling pieces from both sides and then building their own story,” said Shearer, whose contribution is titled “Creating Space for Balance. “I very purposely did not write a description for my piece in the tag. … I wanted her [writing] to be the verbal storytelling that goes with it.”
Author and publisher Damron said the concept for the show initially hatched in conversations with Blockfort founder and artist Adam Brouillette in October 2021, when the two met at an exhibit that featured an artist who had designed the cover for one of Damron’s books. “And Adam gave me a tour of [Blockfort], and we started talking, and I asked him if he ever does events or pairs with writers,” Damron said. “And after talking for a while, we sort of organically came up with this idea.”
Damron started by brainstorming a list of writers across disciplines, not wanting to limit the show to creative writers or poets. Dey, for one, is more experienced in medical writing, and the show features songwriters (rapper Joey Aich) and audio storytellers (Drew Klopfer), alongside more traditional forms. At one point, Damron even tried to find a technical writer, interested in the way an artist might approach interpreting the dryer, more mechanical text.
With assistance from Brouillette, interested writers were then paired with individual artists – a dozen pairings in all – the two occasionally matching like-minded collaborators (Madison Gibbs and Sarah Hout both have activist roots, Damron said) and sometimes pairing opposites in the hopes of drawing something unexpected out in both.
“Juli Ocean and AJ Vanderelli are very completely opposite, but they ended up flowing so well together,” Damron said. “A lot of it was intuitive, with Adam and I looking at people and their personalities and being like, ‘Well, I think they could go well together.’”
For Shearer and Dey, this bond was apparent from the jump, with the two sharing how it was clear from their first conversation that they operated on a similar wavelength, this immediate sense of comfort and the openness it inspired helping to shape the direction of the collaboration.
“I think there can be a hesitation to be vulnerable with somebody new, but we were instantly comfortable,” Shearer said.
“We were both so sure about our own thing and our own thoughts,” Dey said. “It was like, okay, I feel safe telling you what I’m actually feeling.”