Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick

*Please note: this 3QV features mature work and themes by a very talented artist. Please do not click through if this is something you do not wish to see or read*

This post is the seventh of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.


Cynthia Cusick
3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick 
Sculptor and Ceramicist, www.cynthiacusick.com
Anna: 
You describe your work as introspective, with a focus on sexuality and maturity. As an art historian, I’ve been trained to see “girl parts” in every flower and fruit, so it’s relieving to see it as clearly intentional. Why do these themes inspire you? How has living in Manhattan and now Kentucky brought different influences to your work?

Cynthia:
Being raised Catholic initially helped shape my views on sexuality as something to be hidden, confined, and separated from the self. The lip service was, ‘Yes, sexuality is a natural thing.” The unspoken message was that it was dirty, to be shunned and private to the point of being completely denied. This conflicting message made sex and sexuality an uncomfortable experience for me. I learned to avoid any sexual references, intellectually and emotionally, personally and collectively. As I grew older, I finally reached a place in my life where I assumed I had everything figured out. Instead, my marriage fell apart; I initiated the process without realizing it. I was out there alone and became acutely aware that I knew nothing.  I avoided things of which I was fearful, that scared me or made me uncomfortable. So I made the choice to face head on all of my fears and ask, “Why does this scare me?”

Making tangible objects out of intangible fears makes my fears approachable. Being alone was the biggest fear of mine at the time but it forced me to reconcile myself without outside feedback and approval. Sexuality and sexual identity elicited an uncomfortable response within me; it made me intensely curious. In current American culture, we view it as a power element rather than what it truly is: a biological construct that exists everywhere. I combine sexual elements or references with ambiguous, natural elements as a reminder of our most natural part of ourselves, that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. Some of the reactions to the genitalia-like parts of my work are thoughtful, some are repulsed, some reactions are funny. All are part of the mix. I respond to the quirky, unexpected and humor aspect. Humor eases the discomfort and make the scary less scary. 
The Incidental Observer

The Incidental Observer (Detail)

Living in Manhattan for over 15 years allowed me an environment rich with diversity of culture and points of view, the importance of being true to yourself in a sea of humanity. When I came to Kentucky, I came to fulfill my childhood dreams in an environment that inspired me. NYC has some amazing green spaces and parks, but nature is experienced in a controlled setting. I love the uninhibited quality of my rural setting; it’s never quite clear who or what has the upper advantage. I love that sense of the unexpected. It keeps me focused on the moment at hand and my relationship with the natural world. I find a sense of humility in that paradox. 

Anna: 
One of my favorite series is “The 35 Symptoms”, an exploration of the common symptoms of Peri-Menopause. How did creating these works express your feelings about this transition in your life? How do you think your work has developed and matured?

Cynthia: 
The 35 Symptoms is a cathartic work for me. Knowing ahead of time as much information as possible gives me the illusion of having control over uncontrollable things. When I first made The 35 Symptoms, I placed the little icons around this womb-like sculpture. It made a nice presentation but became static for me – menopause frozen in a metaphor. This phase of peri-menopause, the 2-9 years before actual menopause (yes, that’s right, sometimes it’s nine years, folks!) is anything but static. And the process doesn’t just affect me, it affects those around me. I need to give some warning and acknowledgement to the most problematic symptoms so I’ve created a kind of a shrine to display them. I use this small stage to contemplate my most prominent symptoms of the day and, in doing so, the little icons help me keep perspective. They keep me aware of what’s going on within me, but with a sense of humor about the whole process. 
When I was younger, my art was paintings, drawings, photography, two-dimensional pieces that tended to focus on solitude, stillness and isolation. Now that I’ve moved into three-dimensional work, there is more literal and metaphorical depth. Because my work in clay and other sculptural media is relatively new, I have a ways to go to feel as if my work has matured. Yet my perspective is that of a mature woman so I think I am able to use my experience to reflect and ponder some deeper experiences and questions that confront us. 


Feeling of Doom
Disturbing Memory Loss, in situ, in Adaptation Exhibit

See the whole series here: http://www.cynthiacusick.com/Portfolio/35_Symptoms.html

 

Anna: 
Now for a little whimsy – you create personality by putting little feet on most of your pottery mugs and cups, which are historically utilitarian. It’s endearing and yet simultaneously earthy and organic. How did you come up with the idea of foot-ing your drinking vessels? What about the idea of usable art appeals to you?

Cynthia:
Many terms in pottery are derived from the human body so it’s a natural extension to turn a utilitarian object into something more human-like. Terms used to describe parts of cups, bowls, and bottles are things like “foot,” “lip,” “belly,” “body,” “neck.” Moving from pure utility to personality feels natural. I find that I enjoy making functional work that behaves more like an evolved creature as opposed to making very traditional utilitarian work. My talent lies in the clumsy dent, the falling handle, the bowed-out edge and then seeing what that flaw inspires. Nature, itself, is not perfect. Nature contains many flaws, mistakes and bumps in the road but it has this wonderful capacity to adapt and evolve from those points into something even more exciting. 
I find my passion lies in seeing the form and then letting myself go back to being a kid again and using my imagination to ask: what does this look like to me? Is is a little monster? A queen? A slithery underground creature? A twisted plant? Carving, pinching and sculpting things I can still use for everyday functions transports me into those imaginary worlds and moments. For me, it makes drinking a cup of tea a much more expressive act.

Chubby Cup

You can order Cynthia’s work on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/teahorsestudio

Cynthia’s portfolio website: http://www.cynthiacusick.com

You can visit Cynthia’s blog, reflections on art and life: http://cynthiacusick.blogspot.com

Remembering Salvador

This post is more difficult than most for me to write, as it involves grieving and a dog that changed my life. He wasn’t even my dog; he was Paul’s, who is one of my very best friends. But he was part of my pack or, more accurately, I was part of his.

Salvador was rescued, in a most literal sense. Paul found him sitting on the street with a homeless guy, tied with a dangling bit of shoelace. He gave the man all the money in his wallet to rescue the dog, little enough to pay for a life companion. It was pure serendipity, an intersection of that perfect moment and destiny.

“Sal” was a powder puff of poofy fur and aggressive energy, half Golden Retriever and half Chow. A happy mix, aesthetically – it gave him the sweet face of a Golden with super-expressive eyebrows and masses of lion-like fur. I did not know him until later, when he was full grown, so I missed a lot of the chew phase.

The Chow in him was super-protective and often would not let other dogs even close. Dogs twice his size would inspire furious barking and yet those half his size left him bemused. He had a heart like a lion, Sir Loyal Heart.

Like most dogs, he loved long walks…in rain, in snow, in sleet and freezing cold. He liked walks at 3 am, when you could barely crack an eyeball open to see. He would take off running after anything that took his fancy; his retractable leash would snap to maximum length and dismantle your arm from your socket. He would search the bushes for what felt like hours to find the very perfect spot to deposit his gift. He would store liquid in his bladder like a camel and stop every three feet to mark an infinitesimally small patch of grass. 

When he saw you, it was a moment of pure joy. He would spring forward and charge into you at full tilt and jump up and bark with joy, asking you “Where, oh where have you been?” Once the preliminary histrionics were complete, he would not rest until he trotted through all the rooms and found my cat, Ramses. They would touch noses in acknowledgment and then he would insist on securing the perimeter of the neighborhood for his pack.

I always felt safe with Salvador in the house. He would lie flat on my hardwood floors, splayed out in all directions. Not that it was always roses; he was notorious with unleashing fatal dog farts with no advance notice. He would lick your face, most frequently when his breath was truly horrific, and could always find the most foul, rotten pile within a mile to go roll in. He was the best pillow I ever held and his paws smelled of Fritos.

One time I was crying and he crawled up into bed with me and pushed his head into my chin. His big liquid brown eyes were infinitely wise and it was at that moment that I became convinced that he might be at the top level of reincarnation. That if I were good enough and brave enough and loving enough, that I might one day be reborn as a dog like Sal. He was the Buddha of all dogs and he made my life better than it was before he arrived.

The last few years, it was clear that Salvador was aging and slowing down. Perhaps it was time for him to leave this place and transcend to another plane. He had completed his mission in life; he guided Paul through his life until he had a child of his own, Sofia. Sal left us peacefully, put to sleep after a biopsy revealed terminal cancer.

He left us and my pack is reduced by one, but I know he is off somewhere in some Doggy Elysian Fields, barking and jumping and rolling in some celestial pile of stinky.

Salvador Doggy, Rest in Peace Old Friend, July 20, 2011 – 16 years

3 Question View – Alisa Libby

This post is the sixth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.
Alisa Libby

3 Question View – Alissa Libby

Author, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose

Anna:
Your novels, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose, are historical fiction; what drew to this genre? In your travels to do historical research, where was your favorite destination? How does being in a place inspire you? What is the most fascinating fact you discovered in your travels by being “on the spot”?
Alisa:
I came to write historical novels by accident. History was a bore to me in school, just a list of nameless dates and facts to memorize. But when I started reading about particular people, it occurred to me that history was filled with characters who were once vital and alive. History is about people—fascinating, flawed, lovestruck, mad people, in many cases.

As for historical research, my husband and I took a trip to England to research Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. We visited the Tower of London on February 13th, the anniversary of her execution. I visited her crest on the chapel altar, beneath which she is buried. I felt her presence there more strongly than I had at Hampton Court, where her ghost supposedly still haunts a particular gallery, running and screaming Henry’s name. 

It was a bittersweet meeting; Catherine is buried alongside her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn, who had a half dozen roses on her crest on the day we visited, while Catherine had none. The yeoman guard showed us that the white marble of Anne’s stone has turned pink from so many years of red roses being laid upon it. This made me sad for Catherine, the overlooked (but still doomed) wife of King Henry. I said hello to her and left a stone to mark our visit, and made it clear that we had come a long way to visit her, specifically.


Anna:
On your blog you say you are attracted to “characters who do something
wrong.” Which character was a greater challenge for you to write – Katherine Howard or Countess Bathory? Out of all the females in history, what led you to these two as the focus of your novels?


Alisa:
I love this question! Each character posed unique challenges. With Bathory, the challenge was to make her a sympathetic character. That book is more historical fantasy, because I added many fictional elements to her life (this is why I changed her name to Bizecka in the book). I still wanted her to commit the crimes of legend: bathing in the blood of her servants, believing that it would keep her young forever. So, how to make the reader empathize with such a character? How to show her madness growing gradually, in a way that is believable? That was the challenge. I started at a place that I could deeply understand: I gave the young Countess a best friend, and felt her betrayal when that best friend leaves her behind. A very common story, but it alters Erzebet’s perception of her world.

With Catherine Howard, the challenge was perhaps even greater: her sin was stupidity. This is extremely difficult to empathize with, as a reader. What could she have been thinking, cheating on King Henry? Didn’t she know that adultery – or even the intent to commit it – was a crime punishable by death? She surely must have understood this, to some extent; the Tudor court was a dangerous place, ruled by an emotional, unpredictable king. I had to remain true to historical accounts of Catherine while also filling in the gaps to reveal more of her character and create her own “logic” (however illogical) to explain her actions.

Anna:
When writing historical fiction, how do you balance between sharing juicy historical bits with the reader without overburdening the story? Has there been a historical detail in one of your books that you badly wanted to include, but cut for story purposes? Will you stay with the genre of historical fiction or are there other types of writing calling your name?

Alisa:
Oh, so many details! It really was difficult, especially with The King’s Rose. I researched their food, clothing, daily life, holidays, music…The details are valuable for world-building, but it is tricky to include just what you need and not a sentence more. A delicate balance that I’m still learning to strike! I took a break from history and was working on some contemporary stories for the last few years. But there is something exciting about setting a story in a different time period. The beliefs and customs of that time influence the characters and the story itself in very interesting ways.

The King’s Rose
Appointed to the queen’s household at the age of fourteen, Catherine Howard is not long at court before she catches the eye of King Henry VIII. The king is as enchanted with Catherine as he is disappointed with his newest wife — the German princess Anne of Cleves. Less than a year from her arrival at court, Catherine becomes the fifth wife of the overwhelmingly powerful, if aging, King of England.

Caught up in a dazzling whirl of elaborate celebrations, rich gowns and royal jewels, young Catherine is dizzied by the absolute power that the king wields over his subjects. But does becoming the king’s wife make her safe above all others, or put her in more danger? Catherine must navigate the conspiracies, the silent enemies, the king’s unpredictable rages, as well as contend with the ghosts of King Henry’s former wives: the abandoned Catherine of Aragon, the tragic Jane Seymour, and her own cousin, the beheaded Anne Boleyn. The more Catherine learns about court, the more she can see the circles of danger constricting around her, the threats ever more dire.

Check out the book trailer for The King’s Rose! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGaAGyAgvas

The Blood Confession
Erzebet Bizecka lives in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains, the only child of the Count and Countess Bizecka. Born under the omen of a falling star, Erzebet is a child of prophecy: the predictions of a scryer tell of a child whose days will end quickly, or whose days will have no end. As a teenager, Erzebet strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young village girl, Marianna, but even her dearest friend can not understand her overwhelming fears of growing older and losing her beauty. The only one who does understand her is Sinestra, the beautiful, mysterious stranger who visits Erzebet and assures her that there are ways to determine her own destiny. With the Biblical passage “The life of the flesh is in the blood” he successfully lures her into a dark world of blood rituals in order to preserve her youth and beauty for eternity. But will the blood treatments—exacted from willing servant girls—be enough to keep her safe forever? How far will Erzebet be willing to go to sever her life from the predestined path God has chosen for her?

Visit the book trailer for The Blood Confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYyij1xBLv8

Alisa’s Links
www.alisalibby.com
www.alisalibby.com/blog

Picturing Mr. Darcy

Article first published as Picturing Mr. Darcy on Blogcritics.

Books and films have an uneasy alliance. If you truly love a book, you may passionately want to see it brought to life in a film…or you may not. In fact, some of the most vehement reaction to a book adaptation comes from some of the book’s biggest fans.

When you are first reading a book, you picture the characters, visualize the scenes as they unfold. For me, it is like watching a movie in my head. My actors do as they are told, as they turn the page. In fact, there have been a few times where I remember a “scene” in a movie, when in fact it was only in my head from reading the book.

Though the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) is as beloved as Jane Austen’s classic (#13 in Amazon’s top bestsellers), I defy anyone to watch it and then reread the book and not see this:

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

Arguably, seeing Colin Firth in your head for long stretches of time is not a bad thing. However, I can’t even remember what my original Mr. Darcy looked like. I’m fairly certain he had dark hair and flashing eyes and a haughty demeanor, as Darcys are wont to have. Other than that, I can only ever see Colin Firth.

It is a tribute to Firth’s acting skills that he has replaced the actor in my head; he was voted the Best Darcy by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. But what of my long, lost Darcy?

Once a book’s character is codified into the face of an actor, there’s few ways to reset it: Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter are actors who permanenty define their character hereafter.

We are a deeply visual culture, so we delight in the ease and immersive experience of watching a movie. No one denigrates the joys of a classic, well-done film. But reading a book requires us to conjure faces and feelings in our own imagination, subject to no person except ourselves.

I have resisted watching the new Jane Eyre thus far, to avoid replacing the Mr. Rochester in my head with this:
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester

As for you, which characters are now inseparable from the actors that have made them famous? Does this please or dismay you?

Word of the Day – Elegiac

el·e·gi·ac [el-i-jahyuhk, -ak, ih-lee-jee-ak]  –adjective
1. used in, suitable for, or resembling an elegy.
2. expressing sorrow or lamentation: elegiac strains.
This seemed an appropriate week for the word elegy. Most notably, the ending of the NASA shuttle missions.
When you google ‘NASA’ and read the stories of the ending, the regret seems to be primarily over the loss of jobs and the loss of America’s role as a prominent space pioneer. These are definitely losses. 

I have not seen much addressing the loss of the wonder that was NASA’s shuttle program. The first orbital flight of the shuttle launched on April 12, 1981, described by NASA as “the boldest flight test in history”. The opening words of Star Trek
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sorry, Kirk, it seems as though your reality may never be. Science fiction turns into science fact easily. The visions of the future by great artists and writers, these have been brought to reality by creative scientists: engineers, physicists and designers. We now fly around the world in one long day. We build robots that seem human. We go 10,000 leagues under the sea and to the stars…or at least until lately.

It is a sad development. Without science exploration, who will supply the dreamers? How can we colonize Mars or see existence beyond our solar system? Humans have stared at the stars and wondered for thousands of years. And, finally, finally when we have the capability to move into that great beyond, that final frontier…we turn our faces away. We lower our eyes from the stars to the ground. We may wonder, but there are more immediate worries: unemployment, the debt crisis, and so on.
No one disputes that these are worrisome problems. But to see NASA as only a dump for millions of dollars, when we spend far greater money on wars we cannot win, that is grievously short-sighted.

We have 101 ways to kill a man, but no longer any way to take him to the stars.