Paintings Inspired by Literature:  My Sound and Fury Series

My work is about place -- an attempt to capture the spirit and ambience of places that hold  power in my life -- like my hometown in Alabama and the low country of South Carolina.  For me, "place" is much more than a geographical location.  It is the culture  and history of a place, the people who live in that place, its ambience in both current experience and in memories.

I want to paint works that capture all of this in a non-illustrative, or non-depictive, way.  I also want to arrive at new imagery that surprises me because this kind of imagery is always more interesting than anything I might "design."  One way to arrive at such imagery is to paint unfiltered responses to the stories, imagery and ideas found in literature.  

I found my literary muse in William Faulkner's novel, The Sound and the Fury.  The book is important to me for several reasons.  First, it was my mother who introduced me to Faulkner, her favorite author.  Delving into Faulkner through painting is a connection back to her.  Second, Faulkner's depiction of the landscape, culture and ambience of the deep South is second to none.  Third, his language is simply gorgeous.  For all these reasons, this novel catalyzes my creative energy very effectively.

Faulkner's novel is about a prominent but dysfunctional southern family that is in decline.  The Compsons are selling off pieces of their land little by little to keep their estate going, but the family's continued decline is inexorable and painful. The main characters include a cruel mother, a feckless father, three grown siblings living in the the family home, and a number of black servants who live in quarters at the back of the Compson property.  Of the three siblings, one is a cruel, tyrannical brother who makes life miserable for everyone; one is a 33- year old man-child, Benjamin,  who is profoundly intellectually disabled and is kept a virtual prisoner on the property; and the third is Benjamin's sister, Caddy, who has been exiled from the family for getting pregnant out of wedlock.  The book explores universal themes of cultural decline, racism, classism, loss, the suffering of innocents, and so on. 

The painting below is called "Where the Flowers Rasped and Rattled."

Like all the paintings in my Sound and Fury series, the title of this is Faulkner's own language.  In the book, Faulkner is describing a fence along the boundary of the Compsons' shrinking estate, separating what remains of their property from a tract of land the family has sold to try to stay solvent.  Benjamin, the mentally impaired brother, frequently runs along this fence in distress -- unable to comprehend why the family's home is shrinking or why he can no longer pass into the area where he once enjoyed playing.  Benjamin talks repeatedly about running along the fence "where the flowers rasped and rattled," in a futile search for a way to cross beyond it.

 This phrase really struck me, partly because of the beauty of the language but also because it so strongly brought to my mind a bedraggled wire fence between my childhood home and a vacant wooded lot next to ours, where tangles of weeds and wild shrubbery did indeed "rasp and rattle" in the fall.  I played along that fence all the time, and it is a powerful memory from my childhood.  This is the stuff of inspiration, and I like the mysterious, non-depictive nature of this painting.  I could have painted a realistic looking fence and weeds corresponding to my memory of that childhood fence in my yard.  But, for me, the above image is a more powerful way of conveying the feeling of my memories of that old fence and the desperate feeling Benjamin has running along his fence.

Here is another painting from the same series.  It is called "Hush."

In Faulkner's novel, Benjamin is always likely to become upset and start wailing and making an uproar.  He is constantly watched by family and servants,  so that any outburst can be controlled as quickly as possible. Throughout Faulkner's novel, all of the characters hovering around Benjamin frequently and desperately implore him to "Hush!"  The word is repeated scores of times in the novel.

While painting this piece, I am certain that I was channeling Faulkner's novel, but I was not sure until the end what it was all about.  When it resolved and I stepped back to assess things, it was the word "Hush" that came to mind as the right title for this work. The painting suggests a strange landscape.  Floating in the middle of this ambiguous space are  black forms, suggesting a figure or figures, constrained but liable to fly apart at any moment.  I get a sense of calm and quiet from this painting, but a tenuous calm that will not hold. Things are hushed, but not for long.

These paintings will be available in September 2023.   "Hush"  is 30 x 24, oil on canvas, $1100 .  "Where the Flowers Rasped and Rattled" is 36 x 30, oil on canvas, $1400.   Email me if interested: