From literary nonfiction author and novelist Connell (Deus Lo Volt!, 2000, etc.), an idiosyncratic consideration of the groundbreaking Spanish artist.
Perhaps it is the violent lunacy of the world since 9/11, but Goya (1746–1828), creator of the Disasters of War etchings and of paintings depicting the brutal Napoleonic occupation of Spain, appears to be an artist for our time. Connell, who has addressed the hell at which we arrive by taking that road paved with good intentions in such nonfiction as Son of the Morning Star (1984), is the latest in a string of storytellers to tackle the Spanish master, following by mere months the publication of art critic Robert Hughes’s more conventional Goya (p. 1164). The author captures the contradictions and dangers inherent in being a member of the establishment during periods of serial oppression and liberation, with fanatical religion tossed into the mix. Though Connell always writes from a personal point of view, his prose here is oddly detached, considering the colorful subject matter. Frequent digressions sometimes lead to a fascinating tale of great—though not obvious— relevance; a whole chapter about Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War (and long after Goya’s death), recalling anti-Franco guerillas, fear of exposure, and torturous death, forcibly calls to mind both pre- and post-liberation Iraq, reminding us that Goya captured the grim, eternal ugliness of war. As an art historian, however, Connell leaves something to be desired. His constant speculation on the meaning of Goya’s work, and his basic incomprehension of pre-modern artistic conventions, might cause a specialist to gloss over parts of this. The absence of illustrations is likewise frustrating, given the viscerally pictorial nature of Goya’s art.
Well-crafted musings on living in violent and troubled times, using one of the greatest artists of that genre as a lens.