Monthly Archives: May 2007

Elizabeth Catlett: In the Image of the People by Melanie Anne Herzog, (Art Institute of Chicago, Yale Univ. Press, 2006, 36 pages)

The Sharecropper by Elizabeth Catlett is an image I find inspiring and capturing.  One day I would like to attempt it with embroidery stitches.  After reading somewhere that she eventually made Mexico her home and was barred from re-entering the U.S. due to her politics, I promised myself to learn more about her as a woman and artist. 

While looking for another book in the library I came across this catalogue which includes a few pages of bio information, a photograph of the artist, and prints made from her lino-cuts from her series entitled The Negro Woman.  This catalogue was a nice companion to read with Sapphire’s Grave as one of the characters is an artist who paints the faces and eyes of the women in her life.  The catalogue also provides other references of information about Elizabeth Catlett that I intend to check out.

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Sapphire’s Grave, cont.

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Today is a day of staying in bed surrounded by books and cups of tea and it feels good. 

I was first drawn to this book by the beautiful cover.  The summary clued me to the elements that I find intriguing and appealing in fiction; the bending of time and spirits and across multiple generations.  The novel opened in 1749 off the coast of Sierra Leone and closes in 1995 in New York.  The opening line was “She was a fierce woman”, referring to a blue-black Woman captured for enslavement.  The coupling of the word fierce to describe a Black Woman set an extremely high expectation of this story.  The opening scene involves her fighting against being raped by the ship captain who she sees as some creature…stripped necked but focused she awaits the moment of attack and lunges into his throat attempting to sever his jugular vein…okay, from here I was hooked…the jugular vein?! Didn’t see that coming and thought it brilliant!  No whacking him to death with a candle stick holder or even clawing him bloody with her fingernails or kicking him away…but one decisive chance at escaping the clutches of this animal and she went for the jugular! 

From this point of climax in the very beginning I was conscious of the unidentified narrator.  I was conscious of being told a story of reading the book.  With novels and movies I like the impact of being so caught up in the movie that I feel like I’m actually in the environment of the characters as a minor one.  It wasn’t until a little over half way through the 248 pages that this happened for me.  It was in the life of the 5th generation from the opening protagonist, Vyda Rose, a prostitute in business for herself because she was aware of being good at what she did…it wasn’t until one of her regular customers filled her with something she didn’t even know she needed that she goes in search of him, pregnant with his child and ends up in New York from North Carolina. 

The title of the book is taken from the child of the unnamed woman who opens the story.  The succeeding stories of women attempt to identify the pain of their own existence and their attempts at reconciling the anguish and confusion they have inherited from their fore-mothers. 

So far this is the author’s first and only novel.  Based on this book I would place forthcoming novels by her on my list. 

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Sapphire’s Grave by Hilda Gurley Highgate, Hardcover, Doubleday, 1st ed., 2002

I purchased this book back in December and cracked its pages for the first time over the weekend.  The book has a strong and powerful opening of a fierce, blue-black toned woman fighting the strange beasts she sees aboard a ship.  A few chapters into it and the writing remains strong with a mystical overtone.  The story could be made even stronger if the voices of the characters where allowed to tell their own story.  To deny them this makes the book read like a draft nearing its final stage. 

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Moving on…Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, Image Continuum Press, Paperback, 1st ed., 2001

I completed A Natural History of the Palette a while back and returned it to the library.  The book continued on its course of part travel log, part history, part trivia colour facts and by the end of the book I was quite bored living vicariously through the author’s words and adventures.  Overall it was a good book in a “I’ll take colour for 200, Alex” vein and hope that somewhere I’ll be able to impress someone about the demise and rise of Aboriginal Art under colonial powers.

I moved on and purchased and read Art and Fear, a book about how we make art, the actual doing of it, regardless of one’s methods, materials, philosophies…how does art get made, and more importantly, how do I (personal) make art, you (global) make art. 

This book was like meeting a new friend over lunch or dinner and talking about what actually gets done and how.  I really enjoyed the tone but a little over half-way through it I concluded that it isn’t fear of making art that hinders me but I need the book entitled Art & Rage.  Either out of my wisdom or my stupidity I feel fearless.  The one emotion that consumes me is rage…I can draw this up pretty easily at take your pick numerous occurrences daily.  When I run my sewing machine it soothes the raging soul but one of the issues that enrages me is that I don’t have space to leave my machine up permanently.  I’ve tried holding the image of Anna Williams quilting in her small cluttered bedroom and the photo of the woman hand quilting in her barn with hams hanging over her head as a reminder to do with where I find myself.  Making do has been a survival technique that has supported many generations upon generations and saying that I’m not a make do kinda woman just further lends itself to my generalized anger and pissivity.  As a result I’ve been piddling with hand work and not holding my breath.

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