A Creative Connection:
MM Panas and JoAnn Moore

By Cyndle Plaisted Rials

Spark has had many repeat contributors, but few have worked together as fruitfully or as often as MM Panas, a painter of abstracts, and JoAnn Moore, a poet. Their many collaborative works of word and image are vibrant and arresting, and their continued participation as partners speaks to the power of this pairing.

The two were assigned as partners during Spark’s first round in 2008, when project founder Amy Souza knew most of the participants personally.

“Back then, I was a bit of a matchmaker, trying to connect artists and writers who I thought would work well together,” Souza said. “My gut told me Margaret and JoAnn would make a perfect pair.”

While the women have never met in person, their work pulses with conversation, exchange, and emotional confluence.

“We seem to understand one another especially well,” Panas said. “There have been a number of times when the inspirational pieces we sent one another reached something we each needed as food for thought on personal matters we had not even shared until after we created our responses. It’s been a very fulfilling partnership for me.”

For artists, whether the chosen medium is paint or words, much of the creative process happens in solitude; to work within the confines of a prescribed timeline and with a specific inspiration piece on which to draw is a new experience indeed.

Moore describes the apprehension and worry she felt in the first round of Spark: “What if I misinterpreted Margaret’s piece? What if I made an inaccurate or, worse, inappropriate generalization or connection to her work? That first time was a highly stressful situation. It was all for naught. It was a match made in heaven, as the cliché goes.”

Panas felt a similar fear (which proved equally unfounded). “As the time grew near to deliver that first response, I became nervous about it and wondered why I had put myself into this situation.”


Panas photo

The relatively short period of each project round allows both women to quickly see the end result of their pairing. The first time Panas saw their work together on the website, she said “it was a thrill. I was truly surprised by the back-and-forth play that took place, and surprised that JoAnn was able to write something that discovered things about me she did not know.”

This comment brings to light the true power of collaboration: to find surprises. Spark’s structure can usher an artist into new territory, whether it be an unexplored subject or a buried emotion, and often these things happen by surprise—when producing art based on other art, the work of finding inspiration is already done and the mind is free to make associations.

Panas speaks to the generative power of the process itself. “I always feel challenged by the inspiration piece I get and usually feel like I will not do it justice. Somehow, it always works out. I have found that the different inspirations I have received have—out of necessity and desperation to respond to them adequately—made me stretch and do work that I would not have thought of doing. In that way, they have taught me things.”

When asked about emerging themes in the Panas/Moore collaborative oeuvre, Moore points to a few specific topics she sees as prominent: “Personal history and struggle, as well as acceptance of the past. We also seem to utilize nature, but in very different ways. Survival, too. And the fragility of life.”

As the fragility of our economic structure continues to discredit the value of art and literature, the creative community continues to develop ways to keep these disciplines alive. “The reality is that we are a money-hungry society, so until the arts pay a whole lot more, it probably will never get the respect and attention it deserves,” Moore commented. “That being said, I’m not sure I want it to have all THAT attention. I think that would only work to dilute the quality that exists now. So instead I work to infuse art into my classroom, encourage projects like Spark, and hope the movement grows.”

Moore, a high school English teacher and instructor in a local arts program, is also planning a similar project to Spark with students in art and photography classes. What makes participation in Spark so unique and valuable, in part, is being able to see her poetry displayed online, side by side with Panas’s paintings. “It’s very powerful. It brings the meaning and the connection between the two of us as writer and artist to the surface even more. I like seeing our work apart, but find the true power in the project is when we can see them together.”


See their work:

Panas/Moore from SPARK 1.

Panas/Moore from SPARK 4.

Panas/Moore from SPARK 6.

Panas/Moore from SPARK 7 & SPARK 10.


Cyndle photo

Cyndle Plaisted Rials lives with her two men (a big one and a very small one) in Maine, the land between the mountains and the ocean; both pull her equally. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, but the bulk of her other knowledge comes from copious reading and constantly teaching herself whatever new thing strikes her, from DJing to knitting. She spends her days with her son, designing and creating eclectic fiber accessories, spinning yarn, and always seeking new music to add to a library that would currently take 18 days to hear in its entirety.