ARTISTS: Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis at his exhibition, “The Dream in the Orchard”

June 2017, Below 65 Gallery, Maidstone, Kent, UK

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  “In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.”

-Bill Lewis

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Part of the thrill of being involved with the international art movement Stuckism is getting to interact with talented artists from around the world. Through the group, we start off with much in common already. Stuckism appeals to those with a passionate belief in art as means of communion. It encompasses an idealistic view of what the arts mean both personally and for society as a whole. It’s exciting to see how every person contributes their own vision within the framework of these principles.

I discovered Stuckism, and its overarching philosophy of Remodernism , during some late night web browsing. I worked up the courage to ask to be an official part of the movement in 2010, and was granted the status of the Phoenix AZ Stuckists. We’ve hosted a series of exhibits in Phoenix in the years since, including 2014’s International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors, which featured 28 artists from across Europe and the United States.  Through the Stuckist group website and social media, I was soon communicating with people from all over the globe who had embarked on their own versions of the same artistic journey.

English poet and artist Bill Lewis  (see his website here) reached out to me initially about an idea we shared. He too saw Stuckism as just one facet of the broad potentials of Remodernism, a system of ideas that can renew our whole culture, a potent alternative to the deceits and manipulations of Postmodernism. I was amazed to learn this artist who was sharing his thoughts with me was one of the original members of the whole endeavor; in fact, was a big part of what had brought all those creative people together in the first place. For my part, I had one of the clearest episodes  of synchronicity in my life instigated by Bill. Something is at work here.

In his writings and art, Lewis is a story teller. He has a way of homing in on the significant expressive detail: with a gesture, an expression, an image created by either paint or with words, Lewis is able to capture the heart of the matter. I believe his spiritual sense of life and years of studying myth have trained him to look to the essence of things, and to present his discoveries with the proper sense of significance. The works are graceful because they are true. They are elegant because of the care shown in their creation. Despite their profound themes, these are not heavy and ponderous pieces.  They are enlivened with playfulness and rich colors. His poems use sly humor with great impact.

Bill Lewis ” Donde Esta Don Quixote

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Bill Lewis “The Sleeper”

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In 2017 Lewis produced a new book of poetry, “The Long Ago and Eternal Now” (Amazon Link Here). The work incorporates his own black and white illustrations.  It’s his second collection, and expresses his sensibility and interests in clear, evocative language. They say the way you do something is the way you do everything. When I look at the paintings of Bill Lewis, and read his poetry, I think of Magic Realism. Not just as a literary convention, but in the context of looking through the mundane and seeing the miraculous underpinnings of it all. It’s a gratifying experience to see the world as he presents it.

 

 

As someone who was there from the beginning of the ongoing revolution in the arts, Bill Lewis has much to say about how it has unfolded and influenced his creative work. In the interview below, Lewis shares stories and insights about his experience as a Remodernist poet and artist.

Question: You are one of the original members of both the Stuckist movement and its predecessor the Medway Poets.  How did you come to be involved with these groups?

Bill Lewis: First I should tell you how the Medway Poets came about. In the early 1970’s I was living in a little village outside of Maidstone (which is the County Town of Kent).  A small group of us formed a poetry reading group which met regularly at a pub called ‘The Lamb’, a Fifteenth Century building by the Medway River.  The group was called ‘The Outcrowd’ and the core of it consisted of me, my oldest friend Rob Earl and his wife Betty.

In 1977 I got onto the Art Foundation Course at the Medway College of Art and Design (as it was then called) in Chatham (one of the Medway Towns).  It was here that I met Billy Childish.

I invited Billy to Maidstone to read with ‘The Outcrowd’ and in exchange Rob came over to the Medway Towns and read with Billy and I at a gig at the college.  About this time Alan Denman who was a lecturer in English at the college, started a regular cabaret/poetry evening at a pub called ‘The York’ near Chatham railway station.  Incidentally, ‘The York’ was not only one of the roughest pubs in Chatham but in the whole of South East England.

At one of these evenings we met Sexton Ming who was one of the most eccentric and funniest poets I have ever met.  The night he first arrived it was raining really hard and he asked if he could read and Alan said yes, but before he did so Sexton asked if he could bring his mistress, Mildred, in out of the rain.  We said of course, the poor woman must be soaked.  Mildred turned out to be a broom handle with a papier-mâché head and a wig.  Later whilst Sexton was reading a poem her head fell off.  The audience were in fits of hysterical laughter.  This became a pattern over the next few years; you never knew what Sexton was going to do next.  Everyone I know has a Sexton Ming story.

Billy and Sexton got on really well and started to produce fanzines and booklets together.  Billy was in a band at the time called the ‘Pop Rivets’ which later transformed into ‘The Milkshakes’.  Very soon a Medway sound developed and in the next few years there were hundred of bands in the Medway Towns playing the Medway Delta Sound. Lots of people read at ‘The York’ but gradually it became clear to us that several of us could work well with each other as a group.

The last two poets to join the group were Charles Thomson and his then girlfriend, Miriam Carney. At this time we still hadn’t got a name for the group but as were starting to be asked to read at other local venues, we needed to get a name.  I came up with the idea of calling ourselves ‘The Medway Poets Group’ because at that time the Medway Scene was becoming well know outside of the region.  We didn’t have a “house” style as we were all into very different things. Charles was influenced by Betjeman and Auden at the time and Billy had discovered Bukowski and Fante.  With Sexton it was Zappa and Beefheart and I was reading a lot of Neruda, Ted Hughes and French poets liked Jacques Prévert.  Miriam’s poems were very personal and about her relationships.

Medway Poets

We had started to get some interest from outside the Medway area, especially when a well known poet called Richard Berengarten from Cambridge (who was writer in residence in the nearby town of Gravesend) brought his entire creative writing class over to see us perform.  In 1980 Richard got ‘The Medway Poets’ their first major gig at the Kent Literature Festival and in 1981 at the prestigious Cambridge International Poetry Festival.

Whilst we were performing at Cambridge I met Robert Parker Sorlien who was a Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island.  It was Robert who was to arrange some of my first readings in the USA.

The Medway Poets split up in 1982 not long after a television company called TVS made a documentary about us.  By then Charles and Billy were not getting on and it was clear that the group couldn’t function with their animosity towards one another.

In 1987 ‘The Medway Poets’ attempted to get back together for a tour that I arranged with Amnesty International.  We were supposed to read in five towns throughout Kent but by the third town old animosities broke out and so it was only a part of the group that finished the tour!

We all carried on working separately over the next decade.  During that time I was doing readings in support of Chile Solidarity.  In 1988 Carlos Rigby, a Nicaraguan Poet and storyteller, performed in London where he came across some of my books.  He ‘phoned me from the Nicaraguan embassy before he left London and suggested that I might like to witness what was happening in the Revolution.  My wife Ann had just been made redundant so we paid the mortgage for 4 months and took ourselves off to Nicaragua Libre.  Whilst there I gave several poetry readings, met and became friends with Claribel Alegria (the award wining Salvadoran poet) and Alicia Partnoy (the Argentinean Writer whose book ‘The Little School’ gave a harrowing account of her incarceration in a concentration camp during the ‘Dirty War’).

Darwin J. Flakoll (Bud), Bill Lewis, and Claribel Alegria. Photo by Anne Lewis

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1989: Sandy Taylor, Bill Lewis, Alicia Partnoy, and Adriana Angel

 

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I also met Sandy Taylor, the poet, translator and co-founder of ‘The Curbstone Press’.  It was Sandy who arranged for me to read at a literary festival in Connecticut. Sandy, along with Robert Sorlien introduced my work to an American audience. Almost every year in the 1990’s I would do a mini poetry reading tour on the East Coast.

In 1997, a miracle happened.  Having pursued our individual careers for a decade, ‘The Medway Poets’ managed to get together for one last gig at a literary festival in Rochester, UK.  Charles and Billy seemed to be able to tolerate each other and there was a brief period of entente cordial.

Reunion Tour: Bill Lewis and Billy Childish

In 1999 Charles and Billy started a group called ‘The Stuckists’.  The group got its name after Tracey Emin (Billy’s ex-girlfriend who was now one of the ‘YBA’s’) left and angry message on his answer phone telling him he was “Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” in the past as he still painted. The ‘YBA’s’ didn’t think much of painting and were more interested in post-modernist theory and conceptual art.

Charles approached me and asked me if I was still painting (because as you know Charles, Billy, Sexton and I were the members of ‘The Medway Poets’ who also painted), I told that I was but didn’t show my work as I was primarily interested in writing. He then asked me if I wanted to join ‘The Stuckists’ and I thought, why not?

‘The Stuckists’ had their first show in the autumn of 1999.  It was called ‘Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” after Tracey’s angry ‘phone message.  ‘The Stuckists’ were billed as the first Remodernist Art Group.  We thought there would be lots of other Remodernist groups emerging but what actually happened was that lots of groups calling themselves ‘Stuckist’ began to appear all over the world, in part thanks to the Internet.

Q: How do you create your paintings?

BL: They usually begin with an idea or image that I can’t get out of my mind.  I attempt to put that image down on canvas and then quite often strange symbols and figures appear.  I don’t always understand what these mean.  I think of my paintings as magic mirrors that reflect back to me the inner working of my psyche.  Sometimes it can take years before I understand what a painting means in its entirety. For example, one of my better known pictures entitled “God is an atheists and she does not believe in me” has a woman wearing a blindfold whist applying lipstick, at her feet, kneels a man, holding a menorah and a crucifix.  The woman is sitting on a chair and under the chair is a small white dog, a bull terrier.  Years after I painted it someone pointed out to me that ‘dog’, in English is an anagram of ‘God’.  This never occurred to me when I was painting the picture.

Bill Lewis “God is an Atheist and She Does Not Believe in Me”

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Q: Do you feel your work as a poet influences your paintings?

BL: I don’t really think of myself as a painter.  I am probably the odd one out when it comes the original group of ‘Stuckists’ because I can go long periods without painting but not so with my writing.  I am always thinking about writing, working on things in my head even before it hits the page, but sometimes I need to see an image and I have to make it a visual image.  I have certain obsessions.  I think all artists, whether they write, paint, make films, are obsessive. The same images often crop up in my work.  I understand some of them but others are a mystery to me.  I actually don’t think I am a very good visual artists, whereas I do know that my writing is of a higher quality, although my friend, Simon Mills (www.simonmills-artist.co.uk) who is an absolutely brilliant landscape artists, tells me that he thinks my visual work is an extension to my poetry.

I think it is the poetry of things which is the truest part or reality.  I believe that reality itself is metaphorical. Once you understand that you can slide between metaphors you can avoid unnecessary conflicts.  The problem arises, of course, is when someone believes that their metaphor is the only true one and that metaphor is a fact.  A fact is of little use to me when it comes to art or poetry. I always prefer fiction to non-fiction because it is true and non-fiction isn’t.

Q: How do mythology and spirituality inform your work?

BL: I have studied mythology for about 40 years.  I am not an academic.  As I said before, my only further education is one year at Art College, but my study of myth has been extensive.

I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell about the same time that I read the work of the radical American theologian and Prophet Matthew Fox, who I later met and had many enlightening conversation with.  Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero with a thousand faces is something that I have used in my illustrated lectures on myth and Matthew Fox’s holistic and inter-connected view of spirituality is very useful when coming up against the ecological disaster that we call the modern world.  I gave my first lecture on mythology during one of my poetry reading tours of the USA.  I was due to read my work at the University of Rhode Island and it was suggested to me that the night before my reading I might like to talk to a group called ARIL (The Association for Religion in Intellectual Life).

I was a bit nervous as I had left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications but Robert Parker Sorlien said that it was a friendly group and that my extensive studies did not need pieces of paper to validate them.  I thought to myself ‘I can talk to a group of students’ but when we arrived at the hall and they started to file in I noticed that the youngest were in their forties.  I turned to Robert and said ‘you have got a lot of mature students at your university’, he replied ‘No Bill, they are all faculty members, they are Professors’ … it was my baptism of fire but the evening went well! Since then I have given talks to a very varied groups of people.

I think all great art is spiritual.  I don’t believe in God in the way that most people would use the term but there is a mystery at the centre of all things.  Sometimes I call the mystery ‘the Universe’ or sometimes just ‘the Great Mystery’.  You can find this mystery in religion but not always.  I think we need more spirituality and less religion.  I think my personal view of reality can be summed up in a line by the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardinal.  He writes in his long poem ‘The Song of the Cosmos’, “When I look at a star, it is the star looking at itself with my eye”.

An installation detail from the exhibit

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Q: What are your observations on the renewal of the Arts?

BL: I am not sure how we can have post-modernism because it implies that Modernism is dead and yet there are really great modernist writers still writing.  Jeanette Winterson, for instance, refers to herself as a Modernist and the late, great, Angela Carter also referred to herself in a similar way.  The fact is the Establishment never liked the idea of Modernism because Establishments by their nature are conservative.  They claimed that the writings of James Joyce made an end for Modernism this just isn’t true.  Stuckism and Remodernism for instance have within their rank and file Neo-Expressionists, Neo-Cubists, Neo-Surrealists, in fact, all of the styles of painting that came out of the Modernist experiment.  Modernism was not a movement as such but an umbrella for all the experimentation of art that emerged in the 20th Century.  In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.  If you make a Cubist painting no other Cubist will have made a Cubist painting exactly like that before because it comes through your own personal intelligence.  The same goes for all the other styles and “isms”.  There are as many styles of paintings as there are human beings.

One of the things that I think Stuckism achieved is a renewal of interest in figurative painting which only a decade ago we were being told was dead.

One last point; most people think that Stuckism was anti-conceptual art but in fact we were conceptual artists but we painted our concepts instead of putting a found object in a gallery and sticking a piece of paper on the wall explaining why it was art.  Damien Hurst claimed to be a conceptual artist and yet in a recent interview he said ‘I don’t like art that makes me think’.  I wonder what kind of conceptual artist would say that.

Bill Lewis “Feathers”

Inspired by the novel “Night at the Circus” by Angela Carter

 

ARTISTS: Joseph Cornell

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Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Hotel Eden)”

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“Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys.
To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.”

-Joseph Cornell

After I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 2000, and spent some time absorbing the local art scene, I noticed something very different than what I was used to. I had come from Richmond, Virginia, where at the time painting was the predominant art form. In Phoenix I saw lots of assemblage. Assemblage Art is like making three dimensional collages, creating composed groupings out of just about any object imaginable. I’ve become a huge fan of this technique, which can be utilized to create such poetry: visual fragments shored against our ruins.

On thinking of assemblage art I think of Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972), the undisputed master of the genre. Looking at the mysterious little worlds he evoked out of dime store trinkets, you would never imagine the seemingly mundane life the artist lived. He spent his entire adult existence in a tiny suburban home in Flushing, New York, which he shared with his mother and invalid   brother, for as long as they lived. His workshop was in the basement. Here he created the shadow boxes that described his romantic dreams about legendary ballerinas, faded Continental hotels, contemplative aviaries, and the celestial heavens themselves. This painfully shy self taught artist was accepted as a colleague by the Surrealists during their War World II exile in New York City. They recognized true vision when they encountered it.

Untitled (Tilly Losch), c. 1935 - 38 Box construction 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 inches (25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm) The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman, Washington, DC Photograph by Mark Gulezian/QuickSilver, Washington, DC © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Tilly Losch”

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Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Celestial Navigation)”

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Joseph Cornell Naples, 1942 Box construction, 28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015 Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Press use is considered to be moderate use of images to report a current event or to illustrate a review or criticism of the work, as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Chapter 48 Section 30 Subsections (1) - (3). Reproductions which comply with the above do not need to be licensed. Reproductions for all non-press uses or for press uses where the above criteria do not apply (e.g. covers and feature articles) must be licensed before publication. Further information can be obtained at www.dacs.org.uk or by contacting DACS licensing on +44 207 336 8811. Due to UK copyright law only applying to UK publications, any articles or press uses which are published outside of the UK and include reproductions of these images will need to have sought authorisation with the relevant copyright society of that country. Please also ensure that all works that are provided are shown in full, with no overprinting or manipulation.

Joseph Cornell “Naples”

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Observatory: Corona Borealis Casement, 1950 Box construction 18 1/8 x 11 13/16 x 5 1/2 inches (46 x 30 x 14 cm) Private Collection, Chicago Photograph by Michael Tropea, Chicago © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Observatory – Corona Borealis Casement”

EXPLOITS: Artist Bill Lewis and the Cosmic Unconsciousness

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Remodernist Painter and Poet Bill Lewis at a recent exhibit in the UK

But where does imagination end and reality begin?

-Dr Julian Karswell                                                    

Carl Jung was a visionary psychiatrist who understood religion, spirituality and mysticism as key elements of the human experience. In his work he developed the concept of synchronicity, the significant coincidence. It’s when things happen that seem meaningfully related, but which happen without any apparent cause. For Jung it was a demonstration of the collective unconscious in operation, a universal awareness that everyone shares. In my life experiences synchronicity is a common phenomenon.

I recently experienced an amazing moment of synchronicity. It involved artist and poet Bill Lewis. Bill is one of the original  British Stuckist artists, having been part of the seminal Medway Poets group even before the art movement began. Bill Lewis has continued his work as a Remodernist artist, and as I got involved with the international movement, I made his acquaintance through Facebook of all things. Since then we’ve exchanged books and our thoughts of the mysteries of art and life. It’s one of the wonders of this age, how we can connect with interesting people half a world away.

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Reading “The Book of Misplaced But Imperishable Names” by Bill Lewis at a Phoenix AZ poetry event

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Bill Lewis with The Secret Kingdom

Bill has had many intense moments of synchronicity, so his role in my recent experience is no surprise. One evening just before Christmas I was coming home from work, driving down a short cut through the alley behind our house, when one of the neighborhood feral cats ran in front of my car.

The cat was far ahead of me, it was in no peril. In the dark twilight all I saw was the indistinct bobbing of its mostly white body. The sight reminded me of a creepy passage from an old favorite story of mine, “Casting the Runes,” by M. R. James.

At the beginning of the story an evil warlock puts on a magic lantern show that traumatizes the local children. The images included “a horrible hopping creature in white.” The glimpse of the cat in motion triggered a memory of that description, although I haven’t read the story in ages.

When I got home moments later there was a package waiting for me that had arrived that day in the mail. It was an unexpected Christmas gift from Bill Lewis. I couldn’t wait until Xmas, I tore right into it. It was a DVD of the classic British horror movie, “Night of the Demon,” and the recut American version “Curse of the Demon.” This film is based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James.

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I was so moved by this experience I ended up creating a painting about it, featured in the current exhibit “BOOKED: Contemporary Literary Art.”

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Richard Bledsoe “A Horrible Hopping Creature in White” acrylic on canvas 16″ x 20″

The connotations of this event are very interesting to me. A key plot point of the story is how the attention of paranormal forces get passed along by means of a rune inscribed slip of paper delivered to an unsuspecting recipient. In an interview, Bill Lewis describes inspiration being passed along like a virus between carriers. I see a connection  in these models.

I don’t see the demonic content of this particular transmittal as an ominous thing. If anything, it’s a cautionary example, a call to examine my own motivations and actions.  The warlock in the story and movie abused his knowledge selfishly, evoking energy in an effort to build his own power, and he was destroyed by it. In this unexpected and meaningful gift, I saw not a demon, but a demonstration of wisdom. Thank you Bill!

BOOKS: The Journey to “The Secret Kingdom” Part Three

secret front cover
PART THREE
We stuck to the plan. Only after a month’s worth of production, when we had more than enough content to create the book Michele had in mind, did she turn her attention to finding a publisher.
We already knew we were going to self publish, which fits our DIY philosophy.  The traditional publishing house model is dated, and increasingly unnecessary.  Advances in technology are removing the barriers to independent artistry.  With enough determination and labor, creative people can now reach a worldwide audience, without having to submit to the machinations of the establishment’s filters.
Why humbly petition for the approval of others to determine if we could release the book we wanted to make, a process that could take months, or even years? We didn’t seek permission from anyone to express our creative vision. Rather, Michele just researched what print on demand publishers offered the best terms for us.
This could have been another stumbling block. Despite the joy and momentum of the project, Michele was still facing intense inner doubts and fears. Such a major decision, which would lead to such a big commitment, was intimidating. Going with the wrong publisher could ruin everything.
The project could have ended right there, with us so paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong choice that we’d make no choice at all.  Michele chose to have faith. She set another aggressive one month deadline, and threw herself into publishing industry research. She compared companies, consulted blogs, researched complaints, calculated costs and returns, educated herself on copyrights and technical specifications. She was determined: at the end of the month she would make the decision, and we would move on, without wavering or second guessing.
It was helpful Michele had a clear vision of what she wanted the book to be like. Even though it would add to the cost, she knew it should be a hardcover. This would give it more presence as a beautiful object. Each painting would be printed with a simple black border around it. This is the same way her original art is displayed, in plain black frames, which she has learned is an effective and elegant presentation for her paintings. In a way the book would be like visiting a gallery full of her artwork.
The research we started doing into other contemporary children’s books showed there was nothing else like Michele’s paintings being offered. Everything seemed to be illustrated  with cartoons, doodles, or computer generated stuff. It was all overwhelmingly generic and forgettable.
We felt, why shouldn’t children get exposed to real art too? Art is for everyone, even kids. Exposing to them to enriching, surrealistic visions from a young age can only reinforce their powers of imagination and creativity. If the atmosphere is a little dark or eerie, then the art totally partakes in the tone of the fairy tales everyone grew up with. The writings of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are full of darkness and the bizarre, just to name a few of the prominent examples we were inspired by. The fact these disturbing stories are universally understood  to be intended for children reflects a kind of wisdom our politically correct age  recoils from.
Basically, Michele designed the kind of book we would have both loved when we were children. The kind of book that creates future artists.
The publisher Michele selected ended up being a good choice. During the preproduction phase, she communicated with them on an almost daily basis, asking questions, giving clarifications, making decision after difficult decision, each one a step towards finishing the project. The level of fear and intimidation remained high, but with prayer and each other’s unwavering commitment, we trusted we were moving in the correct direction.
 Such was Michele’s determination throughout the entire process that it came together more quickly than we ever imagined it could. On March 5, 2014, Michele had the conversation with her sister Patricia about using existing paintings for a children’s book. On July 9,2014, Amazon listed “The Secret Kingdom” as published, available to a worldwide audience. From idea to completed book took about four months.
Of course it helped we had twenty years worth of Michele’s artwork to draw from. But in only a third of a year, to enter the entirely unknown realm of children’s literature, and to utilize an entirely new means and medium to share our creative work, still feels miraculous to me.
This was only the beginning of many new and exciting challenges in our lives. We’ve done book signings now in venues ranging from a museum to a coffee house, from an elementary school to an upscale art gallery. As anticipated, we are reaching an audience far beyond the market for original artwork; many moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, poets, and even children themselves have picked up copies of The Secret Kingdom. They’ve  listened to us read from it, and tell the story of how it came to be. We’ve received reviews both good and bad; some worry the strange paintings will somehow frighten children. Comments like that makes me wonder how well those people remember what being a kid is like.
But even the negative reviews mention the intensity of the art, and the unusual nature  of the book. This is the type of work that would have never been released by timid and conventional commercial publishers. And there’s plenty more where that came from: we are already working on our next book.
Whatever comes next, for us The Secret Kingdom represents what can happen these days when vision is coupled with drive and the possibilities inherent in our technological age. We are standing on the verge of a new Renaissance, where independent creatives have a new freedom to bring their ideas into reality and  disperse them all across the globe. The opportunities are amazing for those who will take action.
Past Installments of The Journey to the Secret Kingdom

Books – The Journey To “The Secret Kingdom” Part Two

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Michele Bledsoe “Lupus in Fabula” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

THE JOURNEY TO “THE SECRET KINGDOM

PART TWO

We’d talked before of creating a children’s book together. Michele decided it was time to work towards this goal. Michele had a story idea,  but since she did not think of herself as an author,  we would collaborate on the writing. Michele would create all the paintings for the story; aware of her methods and pace in regards to the number of paintings she wanted to illustrate the book, we estimated it would take about two years to complete.
This seemed like a good solution. Although we have no kids of our own, we both loved children’s books; in fact, it was the beautifully illustrated books of our youth that inspired us both to become artists. We reasoned a book could reach a larger audience than an original artwork could, and the cost would be more reasonable.  Michele could keep her paintings and still share her art. Best of all, we hoped that some of the kids who saw the book would also be inspired to become artists.
Despite the extended timeline associated with the project, it felt good to have a specific goal, and a new direction to explore. We knew nothing about publishing , so we assumed a big part of the time would be spent researching that industry.
The day after we decided to pursue this course, Michele was sitting in her art studio, painting and talking on the phone to her sister Patricia in New Jersey.  Patricia is a blogger who reviews many  books, including children’s literature. Michele was hoping to get some insights from her on how the market works. Michele shared the idea for the children’s book and anticipated completion date, and asked Patricia for her thoughts.
Patricia basically told Michele she was being stupid.
Patricia did not mean this in a derogatory way. Instead, this was just her strong reaction to the fact we were overlooking something so obvious. “You are already surrounded by the pages of a children’s book,” she informed Michele.
Michele turned her head and looked around the room, surveying the walls of our studio, which are lined practically floor to ceiling with dozens of her paintings. “I don’t have a story for these,” Michele said.
“It doesn’t need to be a story. Just write some poetry,” Patricia replied.
The Secret Kingdom was born right then and there. Michele was so excited by the new insights, after she got off the phone she wrote three wonderful poems before she remembered she wasn’t an author.
During her talk with Patricia, Michele came to realizations about the steps forward needed. She recognized until we had a complete book ready, any research about publishing would be a distraction. Before we did anything else, we needed to write the book. I was still recruited as co-author, but now I would be creating poems inspired by Michele’s art, instead of creating a narrative for her pictures to illustrate. In The Secret Kingdom, the art came first.
To go along with momentum this new idea inspired, Michele set a very ambitious new deadline: we would write the content for the book in one month. Every day we each selected a painting of Michele’s which might be incorporated into the book and wrote a poem about it. In the end we would have plenty to chose from, and only pick the best ones.
Each painting poem took on its own character: some were guided by the imagery of the piece, others just by the mood the art suggested. Michele’s signature surreal and dreamy style set a perfect tone for a most unusual bedtime book, which we imagined both children and adults could linger over and enjoy.
I needed some initial guidance. I take part in spoken word events and poetry readings, so I was used to writing for an esoteric literary audience. My first efforts were long, complicated poems full of obscure references. But once Michele managed to convey to me the nature of what she wanted her book to be, I was able to get into the spirit of it. I came to understand it as a matter of rhythm mostly, and the power of the brief but evocative phrase. It was an enjoyable challenge, the effort to be direct, thoughtful and beautiful all at once.
In the meantime Michele continued to produce amazing poems of her own, experiencing a surge in her hitherto unknown talent for writing.  She often had complete poems suddenly occur to her, fully formed and without any need for editing. She even had to get up in the middle of the night to capture ideas that came to her. The Muse doesn’t keep predictable hours.
With practically daily  production from both of us, within the month we had plenty of accomplished poems to accompany Michele’s intense paintings. It was a wonderful project to go through as a couple, as we remained delighted and surprised by each other’s efforts throughout the process.
We were ready for the next step.

Books – The Journey to “The Secret Kingdom”

AndThenYouBlink
Michele Bledsoe “And Then You Blink” acrylic on canvas 11″ x 14″
THE JOURNEY TO “THE SECRET KINGDOM
PART ONE
“We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not.”
-Maurice Sendak
Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of being both a participant in and witness to a remarkable artistic transformation. I am referring to the creation of The Secret Kingdom, the first children’s book completed by my wife Michele Bledsoe.
Michele is a self-taught artist. Without any formal training in painting, she developed her own techniques through patient practice, determined to bring the clearest expression possible to her vision. This pursuit began before I met her, when she didn’t even know any other artists at all.
Her art during this phase was mainly a night time activity, and not only because she was employed in various full time day jobs. In this era Michele was an insomnia painter. Unable to sleep, she would approximate the dream state in front of her canvases, depicting slow wave depths that remained inaccessible to her physiologically. The images she created fulfilled the missing sensations normal dreaming would have provided.
Being conscious so much of the time gave Michele powerful awareness of her own inner configurations. This awareness was translated symbolically into the iconography she developed. Michele’s pictures came to represent an imaginary terrain she describes as the inside of her head. It’s Wonderland in there, peopled by assembled beings, fantastic creatures, and self-absorbed toys with expressions that range from the bemused to the serene. The repetition of certain pictorial elements speak of a consistent underlying comprehension, obsessively depicted. There is a sense of decay made restful with soft cool colors. The depictions are rendered with realism, but they are not naturalistic; curling leaves, ribbons, tangled twigs, rough hewn lumber, planes, pedestals, and layered walls  are exquisitely arranged in front of an ever-present darkness. There is always an opening left that beckons towards the mystery.
Michele wasn’t making her art for public recognition; for a decade, she worked without anyone other than family members seeing the results of her nocturnal explorations. Her isolation kept her pure.  Detached from commercial pressures, careerist ambitions, and art world tropes, Michele simply concentrated on giving her paintings the aspects and resolutions she desired. The results of her extreme focus were remarkable.
When Michele finally did begin to publicly show her work, she was surprised by the intense reactions it caused. It’s when I found her, at her first art show. Her paintings were a love at first sight experience for me, and once I encountered the artist, I wanted it all. I needed the totality of this fascinating woman in my life. I drew Michele into my lifestyle of a DIY artist and gallerist in the energetic Phoenix art community. Her previously unseen talent caused quite a commotion.
There was nothing else like her paintings being displayed, which brought a lot of attention and spontaneous appreciation. But she had no interest in taking part in the art world cant  that drives the contemporary gallery scene, the high-flown but empty rhetoric others used to justify high -flown but empty art. The current wordy academic approach to art making was alien and irrelevant to her. Her work came from intimate, genuine experience, not theories and references. She saw no need to talk about what she had already made visible with her imagery.
Even more importantly, Michele realized she hated parting with the paintings she had created. Despite demand, Michele was very reluctant to sell her work. Purchases evoked emotional distress in her; to this day, she mourns the loss of some of the pieces that enthusiastic patrons were able to obtain from her.
So the question became how to cultivate Michele’s  life calling for art without having to compromise the integrity of her outlook and approach. For 10 years we experimented with various approaches.  The jaded institutional art world felt too small and elitist, its priorities unsatisfactory. But to continue to treat her painting like a hobby for weekends and evenings would never give it the emphasis it deserved. We needed a solution. So we took a leap of faith.
In early 2012, despite the wretched economy, Michele left her corporate job to focus full time on creativity. Her art was already mature and accessible. The key was finding a way to connect with a supportive audience for it.
We tried many plans along the way. The books of Steven Pressfield were inspirational, and set realistic expectations about what happens when you commit your life to your art. It was comforting to understand the trials we were facing were actually signs of progress. Most importantly, we prayed. We needed to, with all the uncertainty and doubt that challenged us.
It was in the hardest time yet, a crisis where our dream was almost abandoned, when Michele’s prayer was answered. She had hit her limit and surrendered; she had to turn over control. Very difficult for someone with such an iron will. However, It was that letting go of personal control that finally revealed a new possibility.
NEXT: PART TWO