Thursday, September 13, 2007

Highly Recommended

Time to take a break from the war and other depressing subjects. Onward and upward with the arts! Here are three artists no dilettante should miss.

Flannery O'Connor, IMHO, was the greatest American writer, Her mercilessly, precisely drawn characters and powers of description were frightening. She wrote a couple novels, neither of which is up to her prodigious standard. Her forte was the short story, a concentrated form that lends itself to an unrelenting intensity which no writer (or reader) could sustain for more than 20 consecutive pages or so.

All of O'Connor's short fiction is impressive, but one of my favorites is "Revelation," which concerns a middle-aged southern lady forced by violent and unanticipated events to confront her own mean, judgmental nature. In it O'Connor shows off her talent for reproducing dialect, a technique devastatingly effective when done well and disastrous when done badly.

The woman with the snuff-stained lips turned around in her chair and looked up at the clock. Then she turned back and appeared to look a little to the side of Mrs. Turpin. There was a cast in one of her eyes. 'You want to know wher you can get you one of themther clocks?' she asked in a loud voice.

'No, I already have a nice clock,' Mrs. Turpin said. Once somebody like her got a leg in the coversation, she would be all over it.

'You can get you one with green stamps,' the woman said. 'That's most likely wher he got hisn. Save you up enough, you can get you most anythang. I got me some joo'ry.'

Ought to have got you a wash rag and some soap, Mrs. Turpin thought.


Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds recorded and performed in Natal, and their 1939 South African hit, "Mbube" (The Lion) eventually became the 1961 a.m. radio hit, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It's accessible on Yazoo's "The Secret Museum of Mankind Ethnic Music Classics: Vol. 4, 1925-48" DVD. The original is decidedly superior to the American versions, although the Tokens' hit carries a lot of nostalgia.

Wikipedia has a wonderful page on Solomon Linda. Be sure to follow the link to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It tells how Linda's creation was brought to America by that tireless collector, recorder, and publisher of obscure and beautiful music, Alan Lomax, and was kept alive and passed along by the eclectic folkie, Pete Seeger.


I discovered Sandow Birk when I happened into the generally deserted and generally undistinguished Palm Springs Art Museum a few days ago. There hidden away in a pedestrian collection of western (as in cowboy) art was his "Great Battle of Los Angeles."

Birk is young (I can't find his exact age) and decidedly post-modern, which as nearly as I can figure it, means all his work is referential, frequently in a mocking but also reverent way. He sends up famous paintings and imitates without exactly copying the styles of Caravaggio, David, Goya, Daumier, and many others. He has a special flair for a kind of mock-heroic mode in the manner of Revolutionary War painters such as John Trumbull, except in Birk Trumbull's grandeur is replaced by a sort of campy sleaze, even though the hyperbolic gesturing is the same.

Birk is prolific, technically adept, in demand, and represented by major galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. His website is here.

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