Book review: Alchemy, Wendy Sharpe and Kate Forsyth

A creatively brilliant amalgamation of poetry and art.

Kate Forsyth and Wendy Sharpe, both highly acclaimed in their respective fields, have collaborated to create Alchemy. Their beautifully formatted book presents a tangible trebling of concepts – past/present/future, beginning/middle/end, birth/life/death – figuratively reflecting a progression through life.

Personal yet archetypal, the composite woman at the heart of this book bleeds Sharpe’s blood and breathes Forsyth’s air. The end result of their creative process is a visually stunning collagesque dialogue/diary/depiction of the meaning hidden in words, and the power of pictorial narrative.

Images and words move each other forward, thematically connected by echoes of women’s experience spanning the palpable void of pain, the difficulty of writing about love, and the unique intensity of female friendships. 

On some pages, Sharpe inspires Forsyth’s writing. On others, she responds to it. For example, Forsyth’s sonnet Owl was inspired by a dream of Sharpe’s. ‘No story was just a story… it was a suitcase stuffed with secrets,’ is a line from Forsyth’s novel The Wild Girl, which appears solitarily in pencil on the page of an antique diary, surrounded by photographs, coffee rings, maps, and a painting heavy with mystery and longing. The next page contains Forsyth’s contextualisation of the line, evoking metaphor and archetype, accompanied by a photograph from Sharpe’s 2020/21 exhibition Ghosts.

From the monochromatic Midnight Garden, to the daring vulva imprint accompanying Poppies, it is clear that Sharpe and Forsyth are kindred spirits collaborating with harmonious magic. The artwork approximate to Ghost haunting my darkness is at once playful and foreboding, subverting the usual imagery of hauntings.

Blessed Crone reclaims the word, pulling it away from the pejorative in the form of a cinquain chain. Labyrinth is mythological concrete poetry, playing with spirals, triangles, and the number seven. You Who Have Betrayed Us So is a terza rima curse accompanied by The Witches, a large-scale oil-on-linen work. Alongside the emotional mother-love of Joy and Letter to my Daughter, Forsyth’s acrostic poem Menopause speaks to mythologies of feminine power, as do Sharpe’s artworks; brave, raw, and captivating. 

Sharpe’s work intuitively addresses phenomenological experience through imaginative expression. Combining the romantic with the figurative, her eclectic mix of mediums includes pencil, pastel, gouache, ink, and oil. Photographs of Sharpe’s artworks are combined with found and altered objects to create the overall aesthetic of this magical scrapbook of fairy tales for adults in the form of art and poetry.

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Beautiful, original, and synergistic in the purest sense, these pages are deserving of second, third, and thousandth glances. This book will resonate with maidens/mothers/crones, and witches of every age.

Alchemy Art by Wendy Sharpe, Words by Kate Forsyth
Publisher: Upswell
ISBN: 9780645248012
Pages: 200 pp
Publication date: Date: 5 October 2022
RRP: $49.99

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.