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Essa moça sabe desenhar sim senhor.
She’s Brazilian, and her blog is in Portuguese, but that shouldn’t deter you from a visit. Google Translate is kind to her site, but the real pleasure is in her drawings. By turns whimsical, fantastic, and sensual, Cynthia França wields a pencil like Logen Ninefingers can wield a sword, and it cuts just as deeply. I wasn’t able to determine if Miss França has ever published any of her drawings professionally, or if anyone had ever tapped her to illustrate a book. There were several drawings on her site that seemed to come from a fictional source; Soccertown kids, all appropriately named, a set of drawings entitled Les Reines D’Autobus, but I was frustrated by my total ignorance of Brazilian popular culture.
Since reading L. Sprague De Camp’s planetary romances of the Viagens Interplanetárias in my earliest adolescence, Brazil has always seemed like a mythical country in its own right. I don’t mean to disparage the tremendous challenges faced by the average Brazilian in navigating the real world, but when I visited there, I felt more like I was living inside a legend than I have anywhere else. There has to be some compensation for living in a country where there is so much poverty and injustice, and oddly, there is. Nature is exuberant there, beyond anything we know in North America away from the redwood groves on the West Coast. Taking the bus from Santos on the coast to São Paulo was like dreaming with my eyes open. Music, better music than you can pay to hear in most venues, wafts out of the windows and down to the street.
Because of this I’m surprised Brazil hasn’t produced more fantasy literature. Some of the tales of the bandeirantes, with which Brazilian schoolchildren are as familiar as American children used to be with the stories of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, definitely had a mythopoetic flavor to them. Miss França has a fantastic side to her as well. In her online portfolio there are drawings of Conan, Dejah Thoris, and Desire of the Endless, as well as numerous sketches from what Miss França refers to as her “pocket mythology”. I learned that the phrase Portuguese would use for the Endless is os Perpétuos. From one Gaiman fan to another Gaiman fan, I salute you.
Miss França also has produced an occasional series of sketches of Biblical women. You should really go see these, because they are not likely to see the light of day between the pages of your Zondervan Purpose Oriented Planner Bible. Mary and Martha are here, as are Herodias and a slightly older Salomé, three of David’s wives, Jezebel and her daughter Athalia. Even though Miss França appears to have a soft spot for the bad girls, there are plenty of good girls; Ruth and Orpah are here, as are the three daughters of Job. My favorite, however, is the sketch of Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. Miss França takes the liberty of depicting Leah not as strictly plain, but just frank and transparent as opposed to Rachel’s smoldering and mysterious glamour.
Now, I know I have maybe thirty two nanoWarhols of artistic critical influence, but I would dearly love to see Miss França exercise her considerable talents somewhere where she could be more widely appreciated.
February 15, 2013 is an important date in our household because it is my wife’s sixtieth birthday. I have already blown past sixty and I find sixty-one to be far more amenable than sixty, which for some reason bothered me far worse than fifty, forty, or thirty.
February 15 is also the 100th anniversary of the New York Armory Show, the first exposure Americans were given to the artistic innovations and blasphemies that had been percolating in Europe for some time. Apart from displaying American artists such as James Whistler and Edward Hopper, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors also subjected sensitive American sensibilities to the Cubist visions of Marcel Duchamps, Pablo Picasso, and Jacques Villon, as well as undecipherably non-representational abstractions such as those of Wassily Kandinsky.
Now, I learned about the New York armory show from Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live? Now, I know it isn’t cool for the cool Christian intellectuals to acknowledge any sort of debt to Francis Schaeffer and his reactionary cultural analysis, especially after the hatchet job done on him by his son, but I find his evaluation of the 1913 Armory Show spot-on. The world was different after 1913 than it was before. Sometimes time turns a corner and you can’t go back to the way things were. The Armory Show marked the moment when the Marginal became the Mainstream, the Transgressor became the Canon-setter, and Western art embarked on its self-evidently futile quest of finding one yet more convention to violate. That awful harridan Madonna said something similar when she stated that she couldn’t perform properly without visualizing some sexually uptight [like me] person disapproving of her show.
It is easy to fall in with Dr. Schaeffer’s analysis of the Armory Show and its exhibitors until you look at some of the actual art exhibited there. It is breathtakingly beautiful. This beauty makes it hard for me to dismiss modern art in the way a conservative Calvinist friend did after viewing an exhibition of 20th Century art: “It’s all autonomous man all in your face like THIS!! [sticking his hairy presuppositionalist face with its luxuriant Warfieldian beard within inches of mine]” Well, duh. You say that like that’s a bad thing.
A little later in the year [May 29] will arrive the Centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring. This had an impact on its viewers even more marked than that of the Armory Show on its patrons. They rioted and tore up the theatre. Can you imagine people these days rioting about art? Well, I can easily see why.
On YouTube I found and watched the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of the ballet, with the restored choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky and the disturbing costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich. It made me wish I were 30 years younger and could rut like a reindeer. 100 years later and this is still as sexually charged a work of art as I have ever seen.
Another centenary last year passed me by. April 15, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Despite what you think of James Cameron’s blockbuster romance based on this disaster, one scene in it struck me as particularly iconic. It is, of course, the shot of Rose and Jack at the prow of the ship, with Rose’s arms extended cruciform and Jack embracing her waist, flying into the setting sun with the wind in their hair. ‘Yeah, there’s 20th century man for you, I thought, ‘Beautiful as an angel, dumb as a stump, trusting blindly in your machines and heading straight for an iceberg.’
The rooster always crows three times. The survivors of the Titanic, the viewers of the Armory Show, and the rioters at the Ballet Russe had one final outrage awaiting for them the next year, a Centenary which is bearing down on us and demanding our contemplation; the Cotillion of Mars, the self-mastication of Europe, the outbreak of the Great War.
It cost the Great War to begin the breakdown of the epistemological hubris of Europe, which price we are still paying, with interest.
Waiting in line for Isabel Allende to sign my son’s copy of La Isla Bajo Del Mar, I struck up a conversation with a fellow lit-fan who was clutching a copy of a Russian grammar. She was planning to visit Russia shortly with her husband and wanted at least to learn the alphabet and a few elementary phrases. It turned out she was widely traveled, and had spent the cusp of the millennium in Arequipa, Peru with a group of curanderos on the summit of the Misti volcano.
We discussed the ephemera of the event; the rituals performed, the incantations spoken, and the atmosphere generated. However, I completely missed the opportunity to ask her what the experience meant to her. It would have been very interesting to hear why a pagan would find it significant to celebrate an event calibrated according to a Christian calendar. I remain highly interested in non-Christians’ appraisals of Jesus Christ, and of His significance to them.
I have been reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and it is good beyond hope. Over and over again, I found myself saying to myself, “This is a comic book, how can this possibly be as good as it is?” It was the first time in a long time when something surpassed the expectations that I had of it, or the rumours of its quality.
The Sandman is the best Gaiman I have read to date. The narratives related in the comics have a non-Euclidean, surreal quality to them that is unlike anything outside actual dreams. Uncannily, dreams have been propelled into the forefront of my attention lately due to some striking dreams that have occurred [and been fulfilled] in my wife’s family, and to a reading of Pavel Florovsky’s Iconostasis, which deals extensively with dreams, non-waking states of consciousness, and iconography.
More on all of this much later, but I would like to take the time to especially recommend Sandman issues #15, #19, and #50. They are as good as any imaginative literature I have ever read. Interestingly, first editions of the magazines are still available on Ebay for very reasonable prices. I have always daydreamed about a collection of first editions of the works of the Inklings. Uncirculated first editions of Tolkien and Lewis are now running into the four digits, but if I ever had such a collection, I would not be at all hesitant to add the Sandman comics to it. Even in that mighty company, they would not be ashamed.
His art was very, very sexy, but I was virginally unaware of that. When I heard of his repose, I thought back on all of the covers he drew for the Ace editions of the Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars books, the Pellucidar books, the Carson of Venus books, and the Tarzan books. His men were creatures of high testosterone, brandishing swords and exploding with muscular virility. His women were feminine, curvy, and jaw-droppingly beautiful without ever appearing weak or dependent. One look at Duare facing off against the tharban on the cover of Escape On Venus, and you knew this woman meant business.
He also illustrated the covers for the Robert E. Howard Conan books, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collections, and a number of heavy metal album covers, where his beefy aesthetics were widely appreciated.
Although he was never tapped to illustrate anything from the Tolkien mythos, I believe he would have drawn a marvelous Beren, Boromir, or Aragorn. When I got older, and began to appreciate fantastic art for its own sake, I found I preferred Boris Vallejo. Nevertheless, it was very sad to hear about the passing of this great artist yesterday.
May you rest in peace, Frank Frazetta.
Update – Frazetta did draw some Tolkien illustrations. Now that I see them, I remember having seen them back in the 70s. I must have thought they were Bakshi’s.
Thank you Mr. Herron