Throwback Thursday, You Say?

In the mood for some Throwback Thursday action? Below are links to the top five posts I’ve written here…

On the Existence of the Female Tentacle” — 312 views — All about women who write Lovecraftian fiction.

Release the Leeches!” — 175 views — Release day and my writeup, lo those several months ago, for The Children of Old Leech.

Mary Chiaramonte / Land of Strangers / Eric Schindler Gallery” — 134 views — Review of Mary Chiaramonte’s 2012 show.

All the Colors of the Night” — 134 views — Review of Thomas Van Auken’s 2012 show at Eric Schindler Gallery.

Writing Year 2013: Statistics, Lies, Stagnation, and the Human Heart” — 115 views — An analysis with charts and statistics of my writing activities over a seven-year period.

Place, Art, and Fiction @ James River Writers

This month James River Writers has some great events lined up, particularly if you’re interested in the role of place in fiction or the intersection of art and fiction. Want to write a more authentic RVA? Longing to mash up art and writing? Look no further.

April Writing Show: Coloring Between the Lines: Using What you Know and Where You’re From in Fiction
Veteran novelists and professors—and husband and wife—Carrie and John Gregory Brown talk about mining your own geographical and personal history as writers, as well as tools and techniques for finding out more about what you already think you know about your place—or places—in the world. Moderated by Virginia Pye. Thursday, April 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m., The Broadberry (a new location for this month!), 2729 W. Broad Street, across the street from the Children’s Museum. $10 in advance, $12 at the door, $5 for students.

Learning to See: A Master Class for Writers on the Art and Practice of Looking with Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown
Carrie and John Gregory Brown offer a shared presentation on writing and art: how art informs and inspires the writer, and how learning to “see” shapes and enriches writing. Short writing exercises and shared reading of those exercises will follow the presentations. Friday, April 25, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., St. John’s Church Parish Hall, 2401 E. Broad St. $60 for members, $100 for non-members.

James River Writers logo

When Worlds Collide: Writing, Art, Academe, and the Story at the Heart of It All

Writers, in 5x5 Format

Writers in Plain Sight

The plan to rekindle my writing flame proceeds apace. I’m returning to writing and reading more steadily, with all the concomitant gains you’d expect. I downloaded Scrivener, am using it in turn with Dragon Naturally Speaking for dictation, or Sound Pilot (Smith-Corona scheme) when typing, or I’m writing by hand. I’ve had one co-written short story sale, I have another story in progress, and I’m getting the first chapter of Knife Fighting with Mondrian into shape, a novel I prematurely abandoned last year. And last night I finally re-hung my inspiration board, which has been sitting in a corner for far too long.

A funny thing happened, though, between now and my writerly productivity peak of a few years ago. When I got into the visual arts, I kept making analogies to writing, thinking about how one affected the other, etc.. All that time, however, I still thought of each as one thing affecting another. This is pretty much in keeping with how my life has often gone: on parallel tracks only occasionally overlapping.

Lately, I see story everywhere. It’s tempting to think this is part of the leveling-up process of writing, and that it’s an aspect of my personal teleology, but whether or no, I think it’s accurate to say that I’m thinking about story more than I have at any other time in my life. Not just plots for stories or scraps of prose running through my head (they’re still there), but everywhere I look, ties that feed into narrative. Different parts of my life seem to be usefully intersecting in ways that they didn’t previously. I’ve written about why librarians should write, and I’ve written about how librarianship informs my thinking about SF, but this seems to be a new strain of intermingling.

As such, I’ve added the category “whenworldscollide” to my blog. I may have more to write about this down the road, but for instance:

  • Back in February I attended the College Art Association conference in Chicago in order to co-present a poster. I attended an excellent panel there about finding common ground among museums, artists, and art historians, and many of the speakers framed their experience in terms of the overall story of the institution.
  • A couple weeks back, a symposium on the digital humanities was held by my university’s interdisciplinary program in media, art, and text. One of the presenters, Amanda Phillips, spoke about teaching literature majors to design games, and what everyone learned in the process, from social justice to the technical aspects of building games.
  • My work with James River Writers is expressly connected to story-land, but what I didn’t anticipate was how many RVA folks would talk to me about JRW and their interest in writing, the broad range of types of writing that my fellow members of JRW do, or how strongly some of the membership would respond to my work as a librarian.
  • Last weekend I helped run an unconference about the New South, social justice, and technology. One of the threads that ran through it was new ways of telling stories, and while I did have a part in weaving in that particular thread, I didn’t do so for creative writing reasons: it just fit.
  • And, of course, I work at James Branch Cabell Library. This wasn’t the reason I applied for the job, but it’s an ineluctable part of my daily existence, as is the extent to which we construct narratives around our collections, whether circulating, archival, or otherwise.

Examples could be multiplied. These days it seems like storytelling flows through just about everything I do. My avocation shows up in unlikely places at work, and my thinking about libraries shows up in association with my writing. That kind of interaction used to seem strange to me, but these days I tend to expect it, and it feels only natural.

Art Year 2013

Instead of waiting until the last minute this go-round, I thought I’d write my end-of-the-year post early. In 2013 I traveled a fair bit, for work and otherwise, and I’ve encountered many artists along the way. Some were familiar, some weren’t, but all of them delighted, taught, surprised, or entranced me. I met them on the street, in stores, at work, online, in books, and in further places yet. They all affected my own work in one way or another, and it was a year of pleasurable production and influence.

I’ve already written about meeting Charles Vess, the echoes of which are still bouncing around in my head, and I’m glad to say that these other meetings have had similar resonances. I spent more time looking at work by artist newfangled and old, from Hans Memling to Francis Bacon. Bacon’s shadow falls over many of the other work I encountered over the last year, including that of the Italian painter Roberto Ferri, who has the skill of the devil and a lineage stretching back to Caravaggio by way of Bacon.

Odi et Amo, by Julia Carpenter

Odi et Amo, by Julia Carpenter

In May I was in Seattle, visiting family en route to Alaska, and I stopped to shop at Daniel Smith, my favorite art supply store. While shopping, I got the kind of knowledgeable, sensitive, useful advice that I always do. In this case, it was delivered by Julia Carpenter, a painter who really knows what she’s talking about, and was able to answer every single question I had, as well as providing useful guidance about applying materials from the store to my own work. Julia helped me find what I needed, as well as giving detailed advice about brushes, and useful advice about drawing materials, as well as introducing me to Arches oil paper. (In case you’re wondering: no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement. I just had a really, really good experience and wanted to share it.)

Julia’s focused heavily on portraiture in the past, but her work encompasses a range of subjects. She’s talked at length previously about her work, what drives her, and the things you want to know about any artist. Here’s one example of her work, Odi et Amo, and you can find more at her website. I mentioned Bacon earlier, and I think you can maybe see some of him in her work.

Infectious Konfectious Konnection, by Philip Saxby

Infectious Konfectious Konnection, by Philip Saxby

In June & July I found myself in Chicago, where the American Library Association’s annual conference was this year, and I got an eyeful of art while there. I went to the MCA, where I saw the Daniel Clowes exhibit, and to the LUMA. The biggie was the Art Institute of Chicago, where I spent an afternoon and O.D.-d on the great art of all the ages. I left humbled and amazed. While in Chicago I also took a quick spin through the Gold Coast Art Fair. I was intrigued by David Abed‘s work, particularly the way he renders skin so finely, so luminously, and yet with a texture that makes you want to reach out and touch. Philip Saxby‘s paintings, by contrast, didn’t seduce me: they grabbed me while I was walking past! He’s a glutton for color, and I could stare all day long at his work, which brings a muscular, grotesque style to portraiture and the sub/urban environment.

self portrait by thomas van auken

Self-portrait, by Thomas Van Auken

Earlier in the year I got to see Tommy Van Auken‘s latest show at Eric Schindler, and it was packed to the gills with people and new work. He returned to favorite themes, from portraiture to dark or abandoned landscapes. He also stretched into new areas, both figuratively and literally, with his circus work. My favorite part of the show was his array of small portraits in the first room. The size of the portraits, combined with the placement, gave me a strong sense of that which I’ve gotten before from his work: that you can see all of Richmond there if you wait long enough.

Here are a few of his newer works, and if you’d like to see more, keep your eyes peeled. He’s planning on holding an open studio at some point in the next few months, and he’ll have a show in 2014 that you’re going to want to hit if you’re in Richmond or can make it. He specializes in seeing the things that no one else does, and if you get a chance to look at his work in person, you’ll know what I mean.

night scene by thomas van auken

Richmond at night, as seen by Thomas Van Auken

The Art of Making Magic

This week my vocation and my avocations synchronized perfectly when Charles Vess came (back) to Richmond to speak at an event hosted by the library where I work. He spoke at the Grace Street Theater to a large, enthusiastic crowd of people from around Richmond and the region. He talked about his development as an artist and illustrator, his loves and taste as a reader, his time as a student at VCU, the joys and pains of making art before you become successful (and what happens when you do), working with Neil Gaiman, and many more things having to do with making art.

The talk was accompanied by a wide array of images, some of his work and some of his past; my favorites were his personal work, blown up to screen size. I love seeing the work of artists in their full power listening only to their muse. Afterward I bumped into a friend who said that it was the best lecture he’d ever seen at VCU. While I haven’t been a student there, I’ve seen many lectures, and his conversational, open, and direct style of address made for a great evening.

Questions from the audience included such topics as how one can succeed as an illustrator, his favorite Miyazaki films, what he finds inspirational or restorative, the nature of contemporary illustration, and more. I asked about his views on drawing from imagination versus drawing from life. I’d misunderstood something he said about using the real world in his work (some leaves, etc.), and he said that he does not, in fact, draw from life. He studies and is inspired by nature, but he doesn’t want to get all of the information onto the page. This was a comfort to me on many levels.

Over the last year I’ve been studying painters and draftsmen who most work from the model or direct observation, have been taking art classes that revolve around the same, and have been reading art instruction material that slants that way, too. That actually goes double for fantasy illustration. In an effort to bring naturalism to their work, many illustrators and artists of the fantastic use techniques that are closely tied to academic painting and 20th century illustration practices. This is all well and good, and I appreciate those methods and the works produced using them, but I do sometimes get restless working from observation. The painting I’m working on right now is in some measure an homage to Erol Otus, and while I could use maquettes, lighting, etc., I’m mostly painting from my imagination.

I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Vess before the event, and I did my best to say concisely what his work has meant to me. Long story short, aside from appreciating his work for many years, I ran across photos of his studio on Terri Windling’s blog at a time when I was doing (same as it ever was) too much soul-searching about writing vs. making art, and how to integrate the two. Seeing photos of his studio was like a swift kick in the ass from a monk at the end of koan, reminding me that the two need not be separate. I bought a pile of books at the event, having forgotten to bring Sandman, etc. stuff along, and he was kind enough to inscribe & draw on the flyleaf from Drawing Down the Moon.

Drawing Down the Moon by Charles Vess

Inscription & drawing on the flyleaf of Drawing Down the Moon