By now it is no secret that I love the visual arts, and love them all the more when they intersect the world of written narrative. I try to include an image with each post. This means I often post photographs, but just as often I post images rendered in paint or other such means/media.
I am, it turns out, a visual learner.
But more than just feeling that the images benefit my learning needs, I feel that the intersection of arts proliferate rich networks of complex conversations with stories and ideas. Remember the interactive map of Moby-Dick I posted on November 6, 2011? Not only is it a thoughtful and detailed educational tool, it’s a inspired piece of art. Similarly Matt Kish’s imposing illustration-per-page imagining of Melville’s opus, which I saw and held in Chapters last week – it’s a car battery of a book: heavyweight and charged with energy. Reminiscing, as I am, about art posted on this blog since September, I must also mention E. McKnight Kauffer’s moody portrait of Poe.
Surprise: I’m intrigued by some stirring images inspired by Huck Finn.
First, the relatively easy-to-digest set: Not one year ago, the British newspaper The Guardian reported on the recent discovery of 37 Huck Finn illustrations by the English artist Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979). Ostensibly, the drawings are simple if not somewhat crude, which, I feel, is part of their appeal; it’s obvious they are the work of a talented artist. The deep shadows, achieved by crosshatching so intricate and layered the texture seems tangible, lends to the earthy feel of Twain’s novel. Take a moment, visit the gallery provided on The Guardian, and browse a few of Ardizzone’s little masterpieces (also here).
Much more recently than Adrizzone are the Huck Finn-inspired vibrant watercolours and wall drawings of Spanish-born painter Santi Moix (b. 1960), who is represented in the US by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.
The artist’s bio on the Kasmin website states: “Three years after tackling themes and images from the quitessential work of Spanish satirical-heroism, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Santi Moix animates the ultimate allegory of American cultural-heroism, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Moix’s series of watercolors, collages, and wall-drawings transcribe the optimism, color, and vernacular panache of Twain’s characters and prose. They also represent a witty confrontation between the artist and his adopted land; the works on exhibit are the quasi-autobiographical ‘Adventues’ of Santi Moix…Through Huck and his ‘Adventures,’ Santi Moix illustrates the insight central to all great artists and writers: that art is ever-young and never docile.”
Moix’s work is perhaps not as ‘user-friendly’ as the illustrations of Ardizzone. I admit they bear much artistic merit, I like how they are at once dark and almost adolescent, and yet I’m divided by how severely raw and visceral they are. Certainly, Moix’s aesthetic falls somewhere inside of or near to the definition of ‘outsider art’ – the English synonym for what the French call art brut: raw or rough art.
It is exactly the condition of finding Moix’s images repelling by their very raw outsiderness that draws me back to liking them all the more. Who, in Twain’s novel isn’t raw, rough, or crude? Who, if not Huck and Jim, are not outsiders, repellent of most folks they come into contact with? Isn’t that what draws us into the characters? Isn’t that what makes us sympathize with them, a shared feeling of being an outsider just trying to escape certain doom on a raft carried by a hulking river, the currents of which flow with no regard for our well-being? Maybe I’m overstating my case. I think so. Reel me in bit and you get the idea: we are bound together by feelings of alienation; life is a mad river; outsider imagery befits a band of outsiders; we are as dark as we are innocent.
Equally as compelling is Moix’s acid-trip mix of colours and grotesquely-proportioned figures crowding the canvas. Isn’t Twain’s story a trip in itself? (Wow, I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions to state ideas. What’s come over me? Enough!)
So there. You win, Moix.
And there you go, reader. I likes me my art. And I likes me my Huck Finn.
Also, here’s some Huck Finn mood music; Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) playing “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”: