Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
The Recommendation List is a collection of art and media that I experienced for the first time in the month prior, and which I expect to either inform my future projects or that had at least one element that sticks with me. These posts are exclusive to my Patreon subscribers for three months, and then posted to the Creative Control blog for posterity after that period. This is the first such installment, and I welcome comments along the line of “If you like X, you need to check out Y.”
The Drawing Class
By Nicole Eisenman
I happened across this 2011 painting hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago during an after-hours company party and it spoke directly to the same parts of my brain that have always been enamored of Rene Magritte. I love the number of different stories that exist within the individual characters, I love the subversion of the spectacle, I love the way you can come up with multiple meanings of the words “drawing” and “class.” The work manages to embody both comedy and dread and the way its chosen perspective turns the viewer into a character as well implies a certain level of previously unknown complicity in the circumstances that led to this event. The subject at the center of the room is somehow filled with anxiety despite having few details of its own, and one of the possible horrors of the image is to think that we have arrived an hour after everything that gave the subject its identity has been stripped away–that the students are not drawing this person, but have instead withdrawn everything about this person that made them a person in the first place. Looking at the image online is one thing, certainly, but I encourage you to spend some time directly in front of it.
Hasib & The Queen of Serpents
By David B.
Since I’m embarking on my own adaptation of a tale from The Arabian Nights in the near future I was drawn to this gorgeously illustrated work that came out in June of this year. The story, about a wise man’s son who grows up foolish and gradually learns wisdom through his experiences with beings both earthly and fantastical, not only captures the magical qualities of the original tales but also the narrative tendencies towards tangents, in which one character encounters another and begins to listen to their story, which sometimes involves that character listening to another story.
By Charles Johnson
I was introduced to this novel — the 1990 winner of the National Book Award — by incoming Lifeline Theatre Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan, who previously co-wrote and directed a stage adaptation of the work. This story follows Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who went to New Orleans in 1832 to become a gambler and general ne’er-do-well and then, through a series of bad choices and circumstances, ends up a crewman on the slave ship Republic. Besides having the dynamic, intelligent voice of Calhoun as its narrator, the novel also benefits from Johnson’s incisive allegorical perspective, in which the ship and its passengers become a metaphor for America’s complicated, unhealed racism scars.
Marvel’s Luke Cage (Season 2)
Netflix (Various Writers/Directors, created by Cheo Hodari Coker)
Of the five core Marvel / Netflix collaborations — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Punisher — only Luke Cage has thus far been fully successful in making its dramatized Harlem an alive and breathing locale with a rich history and breadth of both class and culture*. The series takes pains this season to draw distinctive differences between the black American power structure represented by the Stokes family and the less predictable immigrant Jamaican organization that moves in to assert dominance, as well as offering nuanced portrayals of the everyday citizens, both criminal and non-, caught in between. Cage’s journey navigates grayer, more complex areas in both this social paradigm and within his own sense of righteousness, and where it leaves him by the end of this season does not leave one feeling optimistic about where he may go in the next season.
Additionally: Alfre Woodard delivers a powerhouse performance of a very difficult character in her work as Mariah (Stokes) Dillard, a woman who repeatedly dances back and forth between being sympathetic and monstrous without even stopping to catch her breath. She’s ably supported by Theo Rossi as her lieutenant and lover Shades, who seems not to lack a moral compass but who consciously ignores it until it becomes impossible to do so. Generally, the performances in this show speak to a cast that’s very committed and invested in the story being told, but Woodard’s is especially not to be missed.
* Although the second season of Iron Fist, which I’m halfway through, is doing some decent work with its version of New York City’s Chinatown.
Netflix (Various Writers, created by Luke Pearson)
Fellow playwright Nick Izzo recommended this series for me and my family, and I’m elated that I took him up on it. Based on a series of graphic novels, Hilda feels like a charming version of Miyazaki’s sense of magic, placed within a Scandinavian setting, while blending in a dash of Steven Universe’s offbeat brilliance and heart, the spirit of adventurous friendship that was so key to early Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and a soundtrack by Canadian electronica artist Grimes. I’m especially floored by how casually it shows us the diversity of its small-town setting — for example, there’s a brief shot of a young girl in a hijab playing dodgeball that was stunning simply for having been put into the series at all. And it’s lovely to have programming that provides my son with a brave, kind young woman as a protagonist.
By Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason
This audio drama was recommended to me by HartLife managing director, inventive game designer, loyal Patron, and longtime friend Eleanor Hyde, and it’s so utterly the kind of fiction I both love to write and to listen to: character-based storytelling with a strong sense of place and events that seem both plausible and deeply weird at the same time. It’s hard to describe with any sort of plot summary, so the best I can do to recommend it is to say that if you like Pushing Daisies and David E. Kelley’s shows from the mid-90s, but wished the former had been less whimsical and the latter less smug, this might be what you were looking for.
Give It Back To You
The Record Company
I’m just now getting around to this Grammy-nominated rock trio from Los Angeles and I’m loving everything about their no-nonsense, blues-based sound. The opening track of this album, “Off The Ground,” has a driving bass line that reminds me of the best of Morphine, and the remainder of the tracks travel some of the same highways as artists like John Fogarty and Howlin’ Wolf. I’m also going to mention that I got to this album in part because of a recommendation to check out Greta Van Fleet, a young rock band heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin. Generally speaking, I appreciate a band that can still put together a catchy rock song requiring little more than the basics of instruments and voice.