In the past 4-5 months there have been a slew of interviews and articles about Maurice Sendak, coinciding with the publication of his latest (and possibly last) picture book, Brundibar, as well as a new book of his artwork, The Art of Maurice Sendak 1980-the present, written by Tony Kushner.
I'm glad to say some of the interviews are available for listening on the internet. The FreshAir Interview, the Diane Rehm Interview and most recently a video interview on NOW with Bill Moyers. The Moyers interview (especially interesting) can also be read as a transcript.
All have brought up strong memories and strong emotions for me. I would not be an artist had it not been for Maurice Sendak. Not just the picture books that I saw as a kid (and into my adult years), but also the interviews with him. His intellect, his perspective on art and life have had a deep influence on me.
I remember seeing him in a short documentary film about children's literature when I was young and being fascinated by the process of drawing and making picture books. Fascinated by seeing him draw. I remember him demonstrating a flip book, where drawings became that amazing thing - 'animation'.
So the question arises, what appeals to me about his work? Foremost, there is breadth and depth to it. There are a variety of styles contained in his illustrations. This, to me, reflects the very richness and complexity of the human experience. I've always been less interested in the artist who has 'one style' throughout a career. I just don't understand it.
He has a willingness, almost compulsion, to stretch his artform to its limit, and yet to stay within this medium of 'illustration'. Be it for theater or literature, the work is illustrating another 'text'. It's difficult to describe why this appeals to me so much. The idea of balance between tradition and experiment appeals to me. I like the growth and the limitation. I feel it in the same way that I wish to stay within the "limitation" of working in the medium of the traditionally crafted stained glass window and yet I wish to apply the widest range of graphic possibilities to that medium.
And then there are the interviews. The first key interview I read was one he did with Jonathan Cott initially for Rolling Stone Magazine in December of 1976, then anthologized in Cott's book "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn". I was 17 when I read it and this interview first set my mind to thinking about art - about making art myself. I haven't stopped thinking about it since.
Initially, the most appealing aspect of these interviews was reading of the self taught nature of his learning. His 'school' education was limited and mostly disdained. Yet he displayed a voracious appetite for learning, especially for learning his art - unimpeded by Academia!
This viewpoint opened up a whole new world for me. I could learn and figure things out by myself. Learning could be an active pursuit and not a passive 'taking in'. It was very liberating for the rather uptight and timid teenager that I was.
And yet I've been timid about this all these years. Just too difficult to explain, I suppose. Something along the lines of - "Why on earth would a stained glass artist be most influenced by a children's book illustrator?" I don't think I felt any shame at being influenced by such a "lowly" art form as children's book illustration. Yet I know I avoided talking about it for fear it would make a conversation too difficult. This happened most often when I discussed my art with people who seem to represent a 'higher' form of art, especially gallery people and museum people.
So, I have come to the realization, especially after this latest round of Sendak interviews, that I need to be honest and forthright about myself, my influences and, ulitmately, my own viewpoint of the world. That is what being an artist is about anyway. This man, who I believe is one of the greatest visual artists of the past century, deserves that. If I am going to publicly state his influence on my work and world view then I owe it to him to dive deep and be honest.
I have long been fascinated (some might say obsessed) with the question -
What different graphic approaches could be applied toward the design of stained glass?
In much the way that Tiffany used Impressionistic and Hudson River School ideas to influence his design work (especially in his Landscape windows). In much the same way that LaFarge used Japanese and a whole slew of other approaches to influence his design. I'd like to share some thoughts and impressions of artists and graphic approaches that might inspire new design directions in stained glass.
I love the work of Odilon Redon, french Symbolist artist (1840-1916), and it's always been difficult for me to pin down why. There is an indistinct quality that is appealing. the words evocative and thoughtful spring to mind. There is a pull toward the mysterious that, to me, lends itself to spiritual art and that does not seem to have been explored in depth by many actually designing stained glass.
Check these out and think how they might translate into the design of stained glass windows - just as examples, try his Beatrice and St. John.
There is one artist and one work that may resemble what I would envision a Redon-inspired stained glass work to be like. The St. Bartholomew War Memorial window in Ottawa by Wilhelmina Geddes. This also happens to be a favorite window of mine, in terms of concept and execution. I have strong memories of seeing this window in person, even though it's been nearly 20 years. I have not ever seen the entire window reproduced in print and would love to see an article on it - hey, why not a whole book!
[update 9/2007 - updated link to Geddes page, though there is no picture now on that page - just a link to a pdf of an article from Irish Arts Review of 1994, which does have a picture of the window]
I finally signed up for the Stained Glass Network ListServ. They describe it thus - "The Stained Glass Network on Architectural Stained Glass is a moderated internet discussion forum that will provide a worldwide exchange of information among individuals engaged in historic research, documentation, preservation, creation or restoration of architectural stained glass." You can sign up at this page.
I have been receiving emails for about a week now and I am impressed by the quality of the posts. The viewpoints and insights are top notch. I recommend it if you are interested in stained glass, especially if you are interested in the history and conservation of stained glass. I recommend it for any artists simply because there is no other place on the net where there is a comparable attempt at an online 'community' of stained glass professionals.
My only misgiving is in the form itself, the 'listserv'. This was the main reason I had hesitated to join before (this list began in October or November of 2003). I had belonged to 'email groups' before and the idea of receiving, reading, archiving (or not) and maintaining groups of emails is something I find cumbersome. It's only been one week and I've received more than 50 emails. I do not have the time on a regular basis to skim through these, let alone have the time to fully read or make my own comments.
So I can't help but think - Why couldn't this be done as a blog?
The advantages seem obvious to me -
All in one web-based design - Current posts, with an easily read thread of comments, plus an easily accessed archive, with topics threaded for easier reading. It could still be moderated and still be by subscription only.
There could be IMAGES, critical it seems to me for a forum about stained glass, and there could be live links to other websites of interest.
Just dreaming, for now - it would take a sponsor and a few people who are at least a little internet savvy to moderate.