Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hanging friends' art in fiction

As I wrote some years back, an eco-saboteur in my forthcoming novel, Consequence, got his nom de guerre from a twentieth century painter: Marc Chagall. In short, the inspiration came from Paris par la fenêtre, a painting dated 1913.

Earlier this year the author Peter Heller spoke during a reading at Diesel Books in Oakland about a artist friend of his who -- he only realized after he'd drafted much of his second novel -- bore a more-than-coincidental resemblance to The Painter's protagonist.

I suppose there must be writers who are strictly word-people, but I'm not one of them (and, apparently, neither is Peter Heller). The walls of my apartment are covered with paintings, drawings, silkscreens, pastels, prints, and multimedia installations by artist friends I've known and loved for all my adult life (and, in one case, for a solid chunk of my childhood as well).

The work of two artists dear to my heart make cameo appearances in Consequence. In Chapter 19, both pieces are hanging in a (fictional) gallery/café called the "Paint and Palette" near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Here's Christopher, the novel's protagonist, out on his first proper date with Suvali, a medical school student he met only a few weeks before:
She was beyond beautiful. Christopher looked away, taking in the art on nearby walls. A leering figure with the president’s face caught his eye. The painting depicted a man standing in a fiery landscape strewn with bones, dressed in a monk’s robe and shouldering a pennant decorated with a blood-red cross. St. George, he realized as his gaze returned to Suvali. She was staring into her tea.
And here's The Triumph of St. George, painted by Matthew Felix Sun, depicted as it is hanging (even as I type) in downtown Berkeley's Arts Passage:

Back to Consequence. Near closing time at the Paint and Palette, Christopher finds himself staring at the art again:
The crowd in the café had begun to thin. Christopher looked up into a cloud of vellum wings, strung on nylon lines suspended from the ceiling. “Like a kelp forest from below,” he observed. “I wonder if that’s what the artist had in mind.”

Suvali followed his gaze. “It reminds me of the aquarium in Monterey.”

“I haven’t been there for years,” he said. “Do they still have that cylindrical tank, the one full of sardines? Or anchovies, maybe? Flashing around and around, like silver bracelets.”

“They do. It’s hypnotic, isn’t it?”

He watched her stare into the slowly spinning artwork.
The cloud of vellum wings doesn't refer to a specific work, but to a gorgeous body of installations by Oakland artist and longtime friend Leah Korican. Here's a detail from one of these:

Any work of art -- written, painted, sculpted, photographed, played, sung, or danced -- bears relationships to art that has preceded it. An analogous relationship might be said to apply to works of political activism. The community of San Francisco activists depicted in Consequence is naturally entwined with a community of Bay Area artists whose work reflects, refracts, and reframes today through lenses aimed at before and beyond.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
Craft and art: erasure and accent
Allusion in fiction

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for both images in this post; and to Leah Korican for permission to include detail from her installation at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland.