The summer art show put together by The Studios of Key West and Books & Books includes my piece, Drowning Girl, along with some other great local artwork. While it’s true that summer is over this show is just starting. You can blame Hurricane Irma for the delay.
I’ve had the chance to exhibit at The Studio before and it is a great space and a blast to visit. The current theme asked for an artwork inspired by a book and at least a few close acquaintances laughed when I said “Moby Dick” was the catalyst for my latest version of Lady Liberty.
Of course for me picking any single book or inspiration for a work is impossible. The real answer for what book (s) inspired Drowning Girl would include Moby Dick, my manuscript titled “Drowning Girl,” Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, every book on Roy Lichtenstein I ever read, Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, a recent Emerson biography I read (The Mind On Fire), my novel title Art Official, and on and on and on.
Lichtenstein and Drowning
In my manuscript “Drowning Girl” I wrote a 100 page meditation on the Lichtenstein painting by the same name. The ben day dots at times became harpoon holes, the wounds of Cupid’s arrow, and the blur of things falling apart and coming together.
It only occurred to me a year or so ago that Ahab could have been Cupid in love with his own inventions. The line between love and desire and illusion and folly is so fragile in Moby Dick it can be nearly untethered. One of the things I have come to most appreciate in Melville’s classic is the humor, spiritual humor, and enlightenment throughout. When I first read The Whale as a pre-teen I didn’t get this comedic genius. The same was true when I first read Slaughterhouse Five by Uncle Kurt.
Add in Breakfast of Champions as direct influences to this artwork. Add in every word ever written as indirect influence—a bibliography of letters and forms; an S-O-S summoning of braille, ben day, and atoms.
There is also a personal connection between myself and the whale. Melville apparently looked up at Mt Greylock in the winter from his writing studio and saw the snow covered landscape as the rising figure of his emblematic white whale. My grandmother Cole, who lived in Western Massachusetts near Mt Greylock her entire life, never liked to venture so far that she couldn’t see her symbol of home.
In my visual version of Drowning Girl our symbol for everything has undergone an epic journey. Much like Ishmael clinging to Queequeg's coffin, there is hope in the floating seen here. As with any narrative, the key to my visual representation of Drowning is when to enter the story and when to exit. If corruption, greed, fear, and disillusionment have been the arrows in Ahab/Liberty’s quiver, then the clear chlorine blue and floating buoy may mean a new chapter. They mean an end or a beginning.
Hope or Hopelessness
It has been interesting to hear audiences consider Drowning Girl a picture of hope or hopelessness. For me, there is triumph, or the promise of something else here.
As always, I should probably mention Jeff Koons. Any connection between the heavy cast sculpture recreated as buoyant, a kitsch pool float, and Mr. Koons is not coincidental.
Maybe “Queequeg's Coffin” would have been a more suitable title? I’m pretty sure most people thought I was joking when I said Moby Dick inspired this girl.
You can check out Drowning Girl at The Studios of Key West this month. Or you have your own piece of Eidsvig Art and grab a Drowning Girl product from the online store now.