from the jazz age to the space age

Monthly Archives: September 2011

i have a confession: i wasn’t always a chris van allsburg fan. “polar express” was my introduction to him and it left me as cold as the frozen snow on the cover. i found his art dull, heavy, too still. 

and then i came across, “the garden of abdul gasazi.” the story was wonderfully weird and thought provoking- an island of imagination in the doldrums of most modern children’s books. what i once found heavy became sculptural, what was too still became life magically paused.  

the title page invites us along with allen as he trails fritz, the renegade bull terrier he’s dog-sitting. a sign declares, “ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS GARDEN,” signed, “ABDUL GASAZI, RETIRED MAGICIAN.”

echoing “snoopy come home”‘s famous refrain, “nooo dogs allowed!” which every child knows to mean where dogs aren’t allowed children are usually not welcome either. {except for san francisco, where dogs are allowed everywhere and children are the intruders- mostly due to their narcissistic and bullying parents who don’t care if their golden genius screams through your meal.}

the {retired} magician, abdul gasazi is both modern and timeless. with his fez, dressing gown, and cigar, he is faintly amusing and vaguely sinister. 
with an obvious love of ambiguity, the reader is left to decide whether gasazi is a skilled illusionist or a reality bending magician.

van allsburg’s art is subtle, intriguing, and perfectly still. his work as a sculptor shows through on every page. his scenes are frozen in time as if a magic spell has been cast on the players. each page is so three dimensional you feel as though you may fall into them if you lean forward too far. 

published in 1979 it was his first book.

from his official website: The first story that I wrote, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, had a dog in it named Fritz. When I thought about the kind of dog I wanted Fritz to be, I decided he should be a bull terrier. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any bull terriers that could be my model for drawing pictures. I found some photographs, but they were not what I needed. What I needed was a real dog. My brother-in-law, David, visited one day, and told me he was thinking of getting a dog, possibly a golden retriever. I told him he should get himself something more interesting. Something really unusual. I showed him photos of bull terriers and he agreed that it was a most unusual and appealing dog. 

Not long after that, he acquired a bull terrier puppy, and named him Winston. Winston became the model for Fritz, and because he was my brother-in-law’s dog, I thought of Winston as a kind of nephew. Sadly, Winston had an accident that sent him to the big dog kennel in the sky at a young age. I decided to commemorate the contribution he made to my first book by including him (or at least a tiny part of him) in all of my books. “

i look for winston in each book ;D

as i’ve posted before, mercer mayer is one of my earliest and most lasting influences. with the beginning of autumn, now seems a fitting time to post his illustrations from “favorite tales from grimm.” this was his third and last book before his artistic decline began to set in. the pictures are highly detailed, exquisitely shaded, and colored. his model appears to once again be his first wife, the regally beautiful marianna mayer. 
the themes are befitting the brothers grimm. many of the pictures are slightly frightening or adult in nature. they also appear to be painted on a heavier paper but unfortunately, unlike, “beauty and the beast” there is no art information given in the copyright info. btw~ this book is out of print.
~snow white
not only is her semi-profile masterfully done, the soft pencil shading of her cheekbones is amazing. her hair, her hands, and the soft realistic baby make this my favorite in the book.
“thousandfurs” is a deeply disturbing tale, better known by it’s french varient, “donkeyskin,” which was made into an incredibly strange, wondrous, and popular film starring catherine deneuve. the princess escapes her incestuous father by disguising herself as an animal & getting a job in another castle. after some cinderella-like parties everything turns out happily ever after.
the expression in her lamp-like eyes is so ambiguous. is it wistful? hopeful? the soft modeling of her nose and mouth and, as always, mayer’s dipiction of the swirling organic trees, leaves, and nature are some of his best. 

the short stories comprising “the lottery” concern evil. not grandiose evil or glamorous evil, but mundane, petty evil- a distinctly human evil despite the ivy trails of the supernatural twisting through her writing.
taking the ballad, “the daemon lover” for her inspiration, she explores marriage, fidelity, domesticity, hypocrisy, and the nuances of small town living and mind set. despite their mid 20th century settings, her characters could have been any of the dull, showy, self-important people i’ve met in places such as orange county, riverside county, or even my home town of cardiff.
variations of the name “james harris” pop up in the stories, always signalling impending disquiet or disaster. where he’s unnamed, his blue suit flits from story to story alerting us to danger.
shirley jackson’s stories are restrained. often nothing overt happens, but you’re left with a feeling of general unwellness. the supernatural blends seamlessly with our world until we ourselves are not sure who is who or what is what. a man wearing a blue suit may be a respectable commuting businessman or he may be a witch spreading his evil plans among our children, sowing murderous thoughts in their fertile minds before we’re fully conscious of his actions.
and that is shirley jackson’s most insidious gift. the insight that the most obviously respectable people are often the agents of evil. we trust them because they cast themselves as the voices of tradition and realize too late that tradition favors the strong and merciless.
<— this is just because i love pete campbell and his beautiful blue suits.

autumn, like spring, is a changing season. already the long hot days of august are fading and there is a new crispness in the air. the light falls golden instead of the white, blinding light of summer. witches and fairies roam the countryside. wolves and changelings lurk behind every tree.
transformation is in the air…
“trois femmes et trois loups” ~eugene grasset