I recently read a biography of Diane Arbus and read this great review of an exhibit of her early photos by Holland Cotter:
Looking at her odd and challenging pictures reminds me that artists translate visual imagery and memories of people and places into symbols (refracted, fractured) and signs (reflections), often making choices along some continuum between the two. There is no such thing as the unvarnished view. All of us have strategies of seeing and portraying that suit us.
I go for fractured and refracted; I don’t do reflective very well. This tendency extends to my sense of place. I recently revisited a childhood summer home and recognized with fresh eyes that my black and white drawings are littered with symbolic bits and pieces from that environment. The story involving those drawings (“The Obidian Interval”) has nothing to do with that place or my family, but they are in there, as individual characters, imaginary geography, and even the overall style of my drawings.
I’m recording a few examples to help me preapare for a second graphic novel (of sorts). I’m hoping for stylistic continuity (one reason for this exercise) and some of the characters will repeat. This will be the story of a Trek across country. It’s a mash up of The Wizard of Oz (always), Thelma and Louise (loosely), and Rocky and Bulwinkle’s fractured fairytales. It fills the gap between “The Obidian Interval” and “The Grand Houkathunk” (which I introduced in an earlier post).
Around 2000 I did rubbings of interior hardware in my family’s summer home, a shingle style house built in the 1880s, and some time later produced an artist’s book titled: The House in my Head.”
Below are views from the house (on an island in the Great Lakes) that I will always remember. They influence the way I interpret experience and determine everything from imaginary geography to a vaguely eastern style originally derived more from Victorian “orientalism” than any true awareness of traditional Asian culture.
My cover for “The Obidian Interval” is a compilation of odds and ends from my father’s second floor junk room, interior hardware, and home artifacts.
The strange little girl on the right may be me in the dark corner of the house near the back steps under the phone, a place that for some reason made me afraid (I have never figured that one out).
Hanging on the wall in the dining room, there’s a picture of a horse drawn cab on a road with a grave marker or a commemorative sculpture or a letter box or a Station of the Cross—I have never figured out what it is supposed to be, but I can only see a scary face there. I used to look at it during family meals, probably while waiting for my father to serve the plates and my mother to pick up her fork. This faces shows up in my drawings.
I’ve drawn many dancing rubbery bodies because of the prancing figure on this lamp and occasionally a rubbery landscape (also conditioned by looking out wavy glass in old windows).
These bits and pieces symbolize or refract or incorporate family history, but the artist need not justify or explain, and sometimes can’t.
Now, there’s more to come, just as soon as I make it all up (out of more bits and pieces). There will even be a little history (fractured) of bootlegging. Probably because I remember the dusty top row of exotic cocktail glasses from a bygone era in the pantry of the summer home, things that my family would never have considered using.