Review: Cascadia Subduction Zone, October 2012

Kristine Campbell

This latest issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone is one of their best, IMHO. The emphasis this time around is on the creative process with visual art taking center stage. Two essays stand out: Kiini Ibura Salaam’s “Painting and Writing: My Yin and Yang,” and Mark Rich’s “Line Improvisation: Notes by the Fly in the Web.”

Salaam’s beautifully written personal essay describes how the author—a writer—came to be a painter. She depicts her conflict between painting and writing, and how the two processes actually complement each other.

What struck me is the description of the household Salaam grew up in. There was art everywhere in all its forms: literature, music, dance, visual art. More importantly, though,  creation of art was everywhere as well. “Art was something you made, not just appreciated.”

What a privilege to come from such a background. It gave her the courage to take a leap to become a painter after she’d already decided she was a writer. She had never studied painting and knew she would be considered unsophisticated. Regardless, she jumped in and discovered “when an artist surrenders, truly surrenders, to the artistic impulse, there’s no telling what will emerge.”  What a beautiful way to describe the creative spirit: a surrender to the impulse.

Salaam grew up in an environment that encouraged participation in art. Surely such a background helped her overcome her fears when taking up painting. She knew her efforts would not be met with success, but the impulse was there because as a child she was encouraged, not by being bought a pad and pencil, a set of paints, a book with instructions, but by witnessing parents who themselves followed their own impulses. We should all have been so nurtured.

Mark Rich’s approach to the artistic life couldn’t be more different than Salaam’s. And yet he seems to have reached the same artistic conclusion.

He showed talent as a writer, artist, and a musician right from the beginning. Unlike Salaam who follows the impulse, though, he stresses his achievements. When he was younger, he felt successful when others in some way recognized his talent. He says about his college years “…as a writer my force on campus was nil…” as if that meant he had no skills at the higher level.

He concludes he wasn’t as successful as he could have been because he didn’t specialize. He had too many different artistic outlets and that hurt his output. “Even my dream-floating self could wake up, now and then, to my situation of being greatly talented and even more greatly wanting in saleable abilities.” He implies that art must mean something to other people for it to be valid. Salaam’s search, in contrast, was for her to create something that had meaning for herself.

In the end Rich comes around to Salaam’s way of thinking. He accepts himself and his various talents as being a total package and all good. “Each time I leave a practice—setting aside music for a time, for writing; or writing for artwork; or artwork, for music—I lose, and I gain.”

He seems to be struggling with guilt at not specializing enough to soar in any one discipline, but at the same time accepts himself. “I am split, as a child may be split by a tongues…I acknowledge and accept.”

I need to point out that Rich also grew up in a household where creating art was practiced, so it is no wonder that he is artistic in so many ways. Somehow, though, he got stuck in the idea that art must be “good”, i.e. acceptable to others, for it to be valid.  In my opinion that idea will crush any impulse you hope to have.

That would be sad. Art is not only what makes us human, it’s what makes us happy. Not the acquisition of art, but the making of art. We all need to be doing it without asking why.

Points go to the issue for including   Remedios Varo’s name in this group of essays with emphasis on visual art. Nic Clarke does just that in the review of Birds and Birthdays by Christopher Barzak. This collection of three stories includes “The Creation of Birds” inspired by Varo’s painting of the same name.

Varo moved in the Surrealist circles of the early 20th Century. She knew Dali, Breton, Max Ernst, everybody. She didn’t find her true voice, though, until she dumped that crowd and became a commercial artist. Very quickly after that she developed the signature  mix of fantasy, humor, and hidden meaning that made her famous.

Varo’s path differed from those of Salaam and Rich both. She followed her impulses early on, experimenting relentlessly with the Surrealists. Only after being faced with the strictures of the advertising industry, though, did she break through to the other side where her work became the magnificent (i.e. communicable) stuff she’s known for today. How did her impulse lead to such success after the commercial experience? Did she learn to polish, hone, discipline herself? What? Whatever it was, the process brought her to who she was and how to communicate that to us.

Also included in the issue is a review of Le Guin’s Lefthand of Darkness by Suzy Mckee Charnas; David Findlay’s review of Lady Poetesses from Hell; Deb Tabor’s review of Three, by Annemarie Monahan; Karen Burnham’s review of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, by Nicholas de Monchaux; Victoria Elisabeth Garcia’s review of Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities, by K.C. Ball; and poetry from Sonya Taaffe and Catherine McGuire. The issue is rounded out with images of Kristine Campbell’s Dress Series (see the graphic above).  Love those striped socks and classy gloves. Rock on!

You can get the October 2012 issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone at the Aqueduct Press website.

Thanks for reading,

Sue Lange



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