Tag Archives: visual art

Netherlandish Birds

15 May

bosch-pond

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, I spent the earlier part of this month in the Netherlands, researching my third novel. M came as my trusty research assistant, furnishing highlighters, snacks, and sweaters with alacrity. There’s a lot of information crammed in my skull right now, which I am organizing as best I can, hoping it seeps into the crevices of my subconscious fruitfully.

What struck me on our trip: the birds! (I know, I know, put a bird on it.) Egrets, loons, swans, geese, ducks, grouse, crows; white-breasted, brilliant blue, long-tailed, plump and shimmery; raucous, trilling, warbling, chortling. Fact: the first painting acquired by the Rijksmuseum features a bold, angry swan.

Jan_Asselijn_-_De_bedreigde_zwaan;_later_opgevat_als_allegorie_op_Johan_de_Witt_-_Google_Art_Project

In the moat by the citadel in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, an egret bullied ducks until a trio of geese chased the egret to the boardwalk where it loomed. This continued on a loop for a while. A seagull swooped down to chase the egret further and when the egret returned, the geese trailed it, sinister and slow. Sinister, at least, until we realized there were goslings near.

In a canal in Rotterdam, three loons had a lovers’ spat. Slapped wings, held heads beneath the water–murderous! Not far from there, we strolled past the “swan bridge,” soaring and modern.

On our last night in Amsterdam, we stayed at a fanciful b&b on the Western Canal Belt. Our hostess could not greet us when we arrived. She hid our keys in a flowerpot. Up two steep, narrow flights of stairs, we flung open the door. The lights were on, the doors and windows open, a gust of wind coming from the terrace, which led to another room with another open door, and the flutter and chirp of green and yellow parakeets, in a big cage looking down upon the Keizersgracht canal. Old books stacked everywhere, art on the walls and leaning upon the books, a laptop left on a long wooden table, half open, as if our hostess had left in a hurry. It had the feel of that computer game Myst, where mysterious rooms, empty of people, always suggest a presence, a place quickly abandoned. We did meet her late that night and in the morning at breakfast the birds flew freely about the room and she would call to them and air kiss them and talked to us about Argentina and Barcelona and photography and her love of Amy (Winehouse).

Apropos of birds, on the flight back, I finished Noy Holland’s debut novel Bird, a raw gorgeous thing. Here, I leave you with an excerpt:

She was hungry again and gorged herself on chicken fried steak and skittles, on vermilion faces of canyons, cliffs you could dig with a spoon.

 

Fall Classes at Hugo House

27 Jul

Hugo House’s fall course catalog is now available. I’m teaching three classes, listed below. Scholarships are available and applications are due August 24. Hope to see you around Hugo House soon!

I’m also happy to offer writing coaching. If you’re interested, email me at anca (dot) l (dot) szilagyi (at) gmail (dot) com, and tell me what you’re working on and what kind of coaching you are looking for, and we’ll go from there.

Writing with Abstract Art

11 Aug

My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers writing prompts inspired by abstract art, with wisdom from Jeanette Winterson, and features a fantastic, electric illustration courtesy of Amy Frierson.

Back when I was slogging through the first draft of my first novel, I looked to visual art every morning as a prompt. I had a big stack of Dover art stickers that I would randomly choose from, and stick in my journal, and over time, I found that Kandinsky helped me write my protagonist. I have no idea why. But when you’re focusing on just getting words on the page, you do whatever works, right? Now I’m working on a couple projects dealing with art more deliberately, one of which I’ve written a bit about in these posts; the other is a bit too embryonic, but I’m excited about it and look forward to telling you more here when the time is right.

Classy Talk: Visual Inspiration

5 Jan

I did a little interview on the Hugo House blog about my upcoming class co-presented with the Henry Art Gallery and about what I’ve been reading and writing lately. You can register for the class here and see previous students’ work from the class here and here. Join me Thursday nights 6-8 pm starting January 30. Happy new year!

Visual Inspiration: Hugo at the Henry

25 Nov

I’m pleased to offer a third iteration of my writing with visual art class for Richard Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery, now snappily-titled Visual Inspiration. Here’s the course description:

This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.

Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.

New Fairy Tales from the North

8 Aug
JaneAlexander

“Bom Boys” by Jane Alexander

After the Tin House conference, M. and I went to New York to visit family and get our fill of art and food. We structured our visit around three bizarre-sounding art exhibits: Matthew Barney’s drawings at the Morgan Library, Paul McCarthy’s massive installation at the Park Avenue armory, and Jane Alexander’s eerie sculptures at St. John the Divine.

Barney’s drawings were often framed in “self-lubricating” plastic, which was fascinating in and of itself, and sometimes more  interesting than the faint, conceptual sketches contained within. Most intriguing in this exhibit were his copies of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, heavily marked up, cut up, splashed with gold leaf. This is part of his newest project, “River of Fundament,” a seven-part “opera” drawing on  Mailer’s novel of Ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Book of the Dead and transposing it to 20th century American car culture.

“WS,” McCarthy’s exhibit, took up the entire armory with projections and sculptures of Snow White, the seven dwarves, and Walt Disney in an extremely debauched frat party. The set from the projected film took up the center of the armory, and you could walk around it, peeking into windows, catching sight of some very disturbing after-the-party messes. An enchanted forest lay beyond the house, and you couldn’t quite walk inside of it, but just below it, which was unsettling, along with the fact that trees intentionally resembled turds. And in side galleries, a series of other films with the same characters included food porn and  a naked Snow White accosting Walt Disney’s mouth with a bar of soap. It was an impressive production, though I regret bringing my mother.

The most moving and complex was “Jane Alexander: Surveys (From the Cape of Good Hope),” which explores the legacy of Apartheid. Tucked away in various chapels at the back of St. John the Divine, these child-sized beast-human sculptures were strange and haunting. I half-expected them to start moving around and addressing me. Because of a calendar error, we caught the show on its last-last day, as it was being packed up, so it was doubly strange to see these small creatures being put into crates. Particularly arresting was “Security.” It featured a large wingless bird enclosed in razor-wire inside a courtyard that was once the north transept of the church before the roof burned down in 2001. Surrounded by red rubber work gloves and rusting machetes and sickles and standing atop wheat and earth, the bird is watched over, sort of, by a dull-eyed, monkey-like “Custodian” perched on a window sill and a pointing “Monkey Boy”. The New York Times has a photo gallery here.

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In other news, I’m very happy to be on a panel at the 2014 AWP in Seattle! I will be reading at “New Fairy Tales from the North” with Maya Sonenberg, Valerie Arvidson, and Rikki Ducornet. The panel description begins with this choice Angela Carter quote from “The Werewolf”:

“It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”

Dreaming: Australian Aboriginal Art

31 Aug

Last night, I finally caught the SAM’s special exhibit Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art, and I’m really glad I did. “Bush Hen Dreaming, Sandhill Country,” by Abie Loy Kamerre, a swirl of lines that suggest “the bush hen’s search for seeds, plums, and tomatoes” made me want to sweep my hands over it, feel the grains of richly colored sands. “Leaves” by Gloria Tamen Petayarr, a dark background with lush splotches of white displaying incredible movement and life brought on a similar reaction. Actually, more than wanting to run my hands through the leaves, I wanted to bury my face in them, imagining them the texture of lamb’s-ears. And, “Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming – Winter Storm,” by Kathleen Petayarr, a black canvas dotted gold (applied with a satay stick!) resembled billions of fire flies in the night sky, though a shape taking up nearly one quarter of the painting, somewhat like an outline of an elongated eye or a pea pod, seemed to be a tear in the universe.

All this to say, if you have a chance to see the show this weekend, go, go! It closes this Sunday, September 2, and there are many more wonderful pieces that I can possibly write about here, and, I hope, they will make you as happy as they made me.

Hugo to the Henry: Writing with Visual Art

24 May

I’m delighted to be offering a six-week creative writing class through the Hugo House and the Henry Art Gallery this summer. Here’s the course description:

Meeting at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, this class will use visual art as a springboard for writing. We’ll mine a range of media (photographs, paintings, sculpture, textiles, etc.) to unearth new prose projects or add depth and breadth to works in progress. To help with the creative percolation, we’ll read short published works that have been inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will be able to workshop one short-short story or essay. Optional text: Looking Together: Writers on Art, ed. Rebecca Brown and Mary Jane Knecht (Frye Art Museum & University of Washington Press). Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.

The class will meet Thursday evenings, 5-7 pm, from July 12-August 16, and we’re going to have a fabulous time looking at art and writing!

You can register online, by phone (206-322-7030), or in person at Hugo House.

Related content:

  1. Writing from Art
  2. Filtering
  3. The Work of Writing

Looking & Seeing: Generating Prose with Paintings

22 Jan

I’m teaching a one-day class at the Hugo House on Saturday, February 11 from 1-5 pm. The class, Looking & Seeing: Generating Prose with Paintings, will use paintings as prompts for fresh writing.

Here’s the description from the Hugo House website: We’ll mine a range of paintings (representational, surreal, abstract, etc.) to unearth new prose projects or add depth and breadth to works in progress. Rather than focusing solely on ekphrastic writing, making the writing an interpretation of a specific work of art, we’ll use visual art as prompts. These prompts will approach pieces from different angles, focusing on character, story and landscape (both internal and external). We’ll also experiment with style. To help with the creative percolation, we’ll take a look at a range of short published works that have been inspired by visual art. Students will write fresh material (from one to four pieces) and leave class with the tools to keep going.

This is something I’ve been doing with my own writing for years now, both for short stories and for the novel I’m finishing up, so I’m excited to unpack the process for others and see how they use it.  When I taught fiction at the University of Washington, bringing visual art into the classroom (or the class to visual art) was always great fun.  More fun will be had on February 11 and you can sign up for the class right here. Hope to see you then!

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