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THUNDERCLAP

A MEMOIR OF ART AND LIFE & SUDDEN DEATH

Moving reflections rendered in precise, radiant prose.

A tender homage to art.

Scottish art critic Cumming, the author of The Vanishing Velázquez, melds memoir, art history, and biography in an elegant, beautifully illustrated meditation on art, desire, imagination, and memory. Central to her narrative are two artists: her beloved father, James Cumming (1922-1991), self-described as a painter of “semi-figurative art,” and Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), one of some 600 to 700 painters working in Holland during what has been called the Golden Age of Dutch art. A contemporary of Rembrandt, with whom he studied, and Vermeer, Fabritius was killed in a devastating explosion of gunpowder stores—a great thunderclap—that leveled his studio and nearly killed his neighbor Vermeer as well. Unlike his more famous contemporaries, Fabritius is survived by scant biographical information and barely a dozen paintings, of which two—A View of Delft and The Goldfinch—are the most well known. From shards of evidence, Cumming has created a nuanced portrait of an enigmatic artist whose works have profoundly affected her. A View of Delft, she writes, “is like a seer’s dream, a vision materialising as if through an adder stone, floating in mind and memory.” The Goldfinch, a single bird held captive by a chain, speaks to her of the “isolation and withdrawal” that she imagines characterized Fabritius himself, a man who had buried his wife and children and who faced indebtedness and loneliness. “This bird,” she writes, “has a specific force of personality, an air of solitude and sorrow, a living being looking out at another living being from its prison against the wall.” Cumming recalls the paintings she saw as a child growing up in Edinburgh, the richness of the works that she saw on a family visit to the Netherlands, and her careful observations of her father, engrossed in the work that, for her, keeps him alive. “The painter dies,” she writes, “though I still cannot believe it. He dies, but his painting survives.”

Moving reflections rendered in precise, radiant prose.

Pub Date: July 11, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181741

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ORDINARY NOTES

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

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A potent series of “notes” paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America.

Throughout the book, which mixes memoir, history, literary theory, and art, Sharpe—the chair of Black studies at York University in Toronto and author of the acclaimed book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—writes about everything from her family history to the everyday trauma of American racism. Although most of the notes feature the author’s original writing, she also includes materials like photographs, copies of letters she received, responses to a Twitter-based crowdsourcing request, and definitions of terms collected from colleagues and friends (“preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”). These diverse pieces coalesce into a multifaceted examination of the ways in which the White gaze distorts Blackness and perpetuates racist violence. Sharpe’s critique is not limited to White individuals, however. She includes, for example, a disappointing encounter with a fellow Black female scholar as well as critical analysis of Barack Obama’s choice to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a hate crime at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly. Most impressive is the collagelike structure, which seamlessly moves among an extraordinary variety of forms and topics. For example, a photograph of the author’s mother in a Halloween costume transitions easily into an introduction to Roland Barthes’ work Camera Lucida, which then connects just as smoothly to a memory of watching a White visitor struggle with the reality presented by the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. “Something about this encounter, something about seeing her struggle…feels appropriate to the weight of this history,” writes the author. It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally.

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780374604486

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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