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  • By Carol Taylor-Kearney

Glimpses of the Night

September is the start of the exhibition year for most galleries. Atlantic Gallery at 548 W. 28th Street, Suite 540 is beginning its season on the heels of Labor Day with an extraordinary exhibition, Night Vision(s): Recent Work By Melissa Rubin. An interesting title as “night vision” can suggest so much: devices that allow one to see in low-light conditions, the eye’s adaptive ability (or disability) to see at night, and even the mystical or dream scenarios that occur to our imagination in the dark. It also relates to how we see—that is “scotopic” where only the rods of our eye are stimulated, “photopic” where only the cones of our eye are used, and “mesopic” meaning that both the rods and cones work together. Generally, at night and other low-light times we see scotopic, basically in black and white. But Rubin has presented us with more than just these selections. Pairing her paintings with poems by English poet Polly Walshe, this is an immersive experience.

Gallery installation view from door of Night Vision:  Recent Work by Melissa Rubin at Atlantic Gallery

Collaboration between painters and poets seems to me to be natural. Both trade in “illusion”, meaning a trick to make you sense something, and “allusion”, artistic devices for making references to worldly experiences. Combining the two, as Rubin and Walshe have done, creates a synergy and new windows for interpreting each of their works. For example, the poem Night Vision posted at the center of the exhibited works is surrounded by all the iterations of the paintings related to this theme. And the printing of this poem in white on a black background sets the eye for the slight but dramatic differences as I move from piece to piece. Although contrast in each piece is often high, the slight color variations give eevery one of them their own light. Just from the doorway I am plunged into a world of shifting visions, but these visions remain consistent in their quietude, their solitude without being empty or despairing. Instead, they reach out to meet each other, the pictures and the words as in this opening poem that describes the whole.

Night Vision

Is nothing to be found behind day light

Or are bright splintersscattered in the air?

In the pocket of night a dead field meets the eye

At first, but then you sense a luminosity,

A flickering, and glimpse a wild trail, a flare—

But soon Nothing returns. The death of light

Makes certainty impossible, much as you try.

The something that is hidden here

Inside the pocket of the night baffles the eye—

Is it a residue, a ghost of light,

Or spontaneity of mind born out of fear

To soften nothingness? Or does the death of light

Allow the beings who are always by

Your side to glitter at you? Is it their prayers

Born from the pocket of the night that greet your eye

And touch your soul like rain? Reality

Is deeper than a well, deeper than years;

The Nothing that persists below the light

Glides from the pocket of the night to meet the I.

-- Polly Walshe, Oxford, UK

Parasomnia by Melissa Rubin

That Rubin’s artworks are cold wax and other materials on paper conveys the fuzziness, the haloed shiftiness of looking into our surroundings on a sleepless night. The play between the black and the cool colors that she introduces keeps everything low-key and shadowy and even off-kilter. While the contrast with whites and creams, which usually take the form of broken lines or sporadic pops as in Parasomnia, remind me of the passing lights that momentarily highlight our environment— long enough to notice, too short to force disruption and make for clarity. By necessity of the materials used these pieces need to be under glass. But this is also fortunate in reading them. I am reminded of looking out windows and also of the way I feel at night whether in a dream state yet slightly awake or awake but wishing to find that dream state—disconnected except to myself and the thoughts that roll over in my mind. The poem and artwork, Night, are great illustrations.

Night by Melissa Rubin


Between the lines of what we said

I heard another dialogue

That ended differently

And during which I had not wept.

-- Polly Walshe, Oxford, UK

That there is a surprise shift in the tone of the poem with its last line is, in a way, mimicked in the painting. But Rubin places it more in the middle having the lines draw close and concentrate to make a block, an impediment. I wonder… why did you weep?

Not all the works are strictly about the night. Dawn allows for a conversation rather than just contemplation and self-revelation. The broken-up color strips and lightness float back and forth in the painting not only like the beginning of a new day but also in that other definition of dawn-- that something is becoming evident. The poem has the characteristic of a conversation with dawn mocking and the receiver accepting. In the end, there is a self-deprecating yet appreciative tone that carries anticipation.

Dawn by Melissa Rubin


Dawn was a reproach to me.

You shouldn’t have behaved like that, she said.

If you had waited for me I would have come for you.

Don’t I, your tomorrow, always come for you:

A seam of Guatemala green, a curl of cantaloupe,

A glow, the apparition of a flaming pyre,

Spent minds bleached white with revelation?

Once I am with you, nothing is quite as you imagined.

Even if you fail, it is not in exactly the way you

Guessed. There occurs a modulation,

Albeit slight. You cope.

Dawn smiled. I smiled.

Dawn added, Usually.

-- Polly Walshe, Oxford, UK

One of my favorites and perhaps the most representational of all the works are Shining Through. Part of this may be because they are the most colorful in their use of the color blue. Part may be because of the hopefulness and romanticism, and the way they return us to thinking about the world—night-time and day.

Shining Through by Melissa Rubin

Shining Through

There is a blueness in the night

And the rain delights in it.

You ask, What is the purpose of time

And what is it like?

Look at the blue of the night

And the blue of the rain in the night,

The way the blue rain clings

To your window’s glass and falls and falls

While far beyond the car lights flash and blur.

Isn’t time the same as that glass?

Doesn’t it hold us, opal-blue, secure,

Flat within the this-then-that

While round us whirl

The fountains of the universe?

-- Polly Walshe, Oxford, UK

Night Vision(s): Recent Work by Melissa Rubin with Poems by Polly Walshe will be at Atlantic Gallery through September 21st. The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday from 12 – 6 PM. To contact Atlantic Gallery visit Melissa Rubin and Polly Walshe each also have a web site:

Melissa Rubin—

Polly Walshe—

Melissa Rubin’s work is available for purchase through Artsy at

Gallery installation view from back, right of Night Vision:  Recent Work by Melissa Rubin at Atlantic Gallery

I can’t encourage you enough to visit the web sites of these artists and especially, go to the the exhibition! How else are you to know what Three AM looks and sounds like, or what happens in Earworm or Shadow Play?

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