Monday, July 30, 2012

K is for Kinbote

This week's entry for AlphaBooks is the amorphous co-hero/co-author(?) of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire. Ostensibly, Kinbote provides academic analysis of a 999-line poem, also called "Pale Fire," written by his neighbor, John Shade, & included in the text. But the book is a curious knotwork of digressions, mysterious recollections, mistaken identities, unexpected connections, and misleading interjections-- it is utterly engrossing & often hilarious, but difficult to describe, & equally challenging to illustrate!

For a while I was completely puzzled over how to portray Kinbote. But then it dawned on me that, according to Kinbote, Shade's manuscript is written entirely on a series of index cards, so I decided to base the composition on 5 of these... I found some blank cards in an old recipe box, wrote out a few samples from the poem, & scanned, reduced & printed them. Then I scanned a page from the book, sketched out the face of Kinbote as I imagined him, & painted the features onto the cards in acrylics, then collaged the cards to the text in the shape of a "K," & mounted the whole on the cover of an old stenographer's notebook, ~6"x9".

Whew! I think this was my most complicated & time-consuming AlphaBooks character yet! But I do like the way the incomplete portrait echoes the uncertainty of Kinbote's identity, & the way the notebooks unraveling binding seems to continue K's beard...

p.s. While painting this I thoroughly enjoyed listening to an Audiobook version of Pale Fire, via Audible, narrated by Marc Vietor. I don't always like multi-voiced/deliberately-accented readings, but in this case it seemed quite appropriate, & well done. But I hasten to add that it's not a substitute for the printed version-- you will want to refer back & forth from poem to commentary, which isn't really possible in audio. What would be really amazing would be an iPad app with both text & audio, fully linked & annotated. Hear that, app developers? ;-)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

J is for Jumblies

This week's entry for AlphaBooks (& Illustration Friday) is not one character but many: the Jumblies, from Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs and Stories. Some might see the poem as pure silliness, but like much of Lear's work it carries undertones of deeper meaning-- I think it's a wonderful anthem for dreamers & the stubbornly impractical.

Green of head, blue of hand, & intrepid of spirit, these rare & dauntless creatures set sail in their sieve, ignoring a chorus of naysayers. They overcome difficult obstacles in inventive ways, find adventure & delight, & eventually return in triumph. And they do it all in such exquisitely playful & lyrical verse! 

Edward Lear himself loved to travel, despite daunting challenges. He suffered all his life from epilepsy & serious depression, among other ailments, yet he relished exploring other counties, routinely walking many miles of difficult terrain in search of scenes to paint. He was also an accomplished wildlife painter who specialized in birds (particularly parrots), & of course his poems & their accompanying illustrations have brought giddy delight to generations of children-- & to adults who haven't lost their taste for inspired nonsense.

Acrylic on text scanned from a Dover edition of The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, ~5" x 7.5"

Do you see the "J"s?

Edit: For those of you who aren't familiar with this poem, here it is! Bon voyage!

The Jumblies
They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
  In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
  In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
  In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
  With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
  To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
'O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
  In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
  The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
  And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, 'How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
  While round in our Sieve we spin!'
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
  And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
  In the shade of the mountains brown.
'O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
  In the shade of the mountains brown!'
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
  To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
  And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
  And no end of Stilton Cheese.
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
  In twenty years or more,
And every one said, 'How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
  And the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, 'If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,---
  To the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
      Far and few, far and few,
            Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
            And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I is for Ignatius

Ignatius J. Reilly, that is, hero/antihero of the hilarious A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius is insanely self-righteous, dishonest, filthy, impatient, gluttonous, egomaniacal, loud and lazy. And he's even mean to his mother. And yet, he possesses such a singular personality and voice (something like a cross between Don Quixote and Gargantua) that he manages to win a surprising amount of sympathy as he attempts to reconfigure the world according to his own peculiar standards. Long may he wield the avenging sword of taste & decency! Acrylic on text scanned from a Grove Press paperback, ~6"x 8.5"

Friday, July 13, 2012


Again, IF's timing seems almost uncanny. I'm feeling rather lost at the moment! With both my year of Oddments & my multiple-year children's book finished, my seemingly-eternal painting commission almost completed, & yet way too much assorted stuff going on in my life... I'm having a hard time staying pointed in one direction.

I'm actually used to getting lost, but mostly it happens on the road. Even though on paper I test well on spatial reasoning, & I can read a map relatively well, put me out in the real world & it is all too easy for me to get completely turned around. I think a big part of it is that I hate driving, so I tend to daydream in the car. Sometimes I blink out of some reverie & feel like I've suddenly landed on another planet, when probably I just missed a turn while thinking about some current obsession... I really should invest in a GPS. It would probably save time, gas & anxiety.

This is quite an old piece-- in fact, it was one of the first experimental pieces I did when I was exploring the paint-on-print style that is now my usual modus operandi. Looking back, that was another time when I felt very lost artistically (hence the subject!) but in fact I was finding myself in a big way. I guess I should take comfort in that!

Acrylic on text from The Automobile Green Book, 1921-- a fascinating document actually, detailing road trips around New England when road trips were a very different experience! ~5.5"x5.5"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

H is for Harold

This week's entry for AlphaBooks is a fellow who inspired continual torments of envy when I first encountered him as a child. Harold's purple crayon enables him to create whatever he can imagine, & he inhabits his drawings as real environments. I longed fiercely for this magical ability when I was little (& still feel residual pangs now & then, to be honest!) but I've since come to understand that in a sense, all artists live at least part of their lives in the imaginary worlds they create. I'm sure that's one of the reasons we do what we do!

I still love Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon. It is a perfect, simple, brilliant little gem of a book. The art is so pure that it made me a little sick to interpret Harold in my own style, much like the way I felt when HergĂ©'s ligne claire was mangled into 3-D/motion-capture for the recent Tintin movie... (shudder)... 

So Harold, I owe you two heartfelt apologies. For my endless daydreams of getting hold of your magic crayon when I was little, & for messing with your gorgeous clean lines today. Please forgive me!

Acrylic on text scanned from Harold & an ad for Milton Bradley crayons scanned from Primary Education magazine, January 1923, ~6"x3.3"

Oh yes, about the "H"s-- this one is rather like those brain-teasers where you have to find all the overlapping squares in a geometric drawing. You have to imagine some lines out of the way. And in this case, imagine one line segment in. ;-) (Confession-- even I didn't bother to count them!)

Monday, July 2, 2012

G is for Gregor Samsa

Sorry for the long absence, folks-- a family emergency and major book deadline led me on a not-so-merry waltz for the last week or so. Whew! Luckily everyone came out of it alive & well, except for my poor neglected Oddments. I'll try to catch up with the missing AlphaBooks, but for now I'm jumping on to this week's model. Gregor Samsa is the protagonist of Franz Kafka's novella, The Metamorphosis. The poor fellow wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a hideous insectoid vermin. The ensuing events make my crazy week seem comparatively benign!

I couldn't find my copy of The Metamorphosis, nor did I have time to hit up the library or bookstore, so I was delighted to find the full text on Project Gutenberg. I printed out the opening passages in book-esque form, (~5"x8") & took it from there with the usual acrylic assault.

Do you see the big G? There are a few more tossed in for good measure.