One of the earliest art books I received as a child was a gift from my mother. It was unusual in that it wasn’t for any particular occasion, she just brought it home for me one day. The Art of Andrew Wyeth1 is the catalogue for a 1973 Wyeth retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. My mother did not see the show; I don’t know how she became aware of the book or what prompted her to buy it for me, as I had no idea who Wyeth was. Being about ten years old, I didn’t think to ask, I just happily accepted the gift. When she gave it to me, she specifically pointed out that in the painting The Patriot, one can see the stitching on the buttonholes of the sitter’s World War I uniform – she liked the amount of fine detail Wyeth achieved in his major works, which were painted in egg tempera.2 He built up these pieces slowly, often taking six months to complete one; he also used this heavily-layered technique, which he compared to weaving, in his drybrush works. I did find this fascinating, and when I first had the book, it was this aspect of Wyeth’s work on which I focused.

Roughly a decade later, in the mid-1980s, I was given Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth,3 the catalogue to a another Wyeth retrospective. The “two worlds” of the title are the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford, PA, and the Olson Farm in Cushing, ME, the two primary places where Wyeth painted. This time the gift was from a consort – an old estranged fiancée of mine. I think the young woman was attracted to the work because of the rural settings, to which she could relate, and the fact that Wyeth had such a strong connection to those environments and to the people who inhabited them. I grew up in the suburbs, so the barns and milk cans and drying corn and bags of grain were all very foreign to me. Wyeth’s strongest paintings have a mysterious aspect, a gothic atmosphere, which is rooted in such imagery.

In 1986, there was an explosion of Wyeth hype when the existence of the “Helga Pictures” came to light. The story was, Wyeth had, for more than fifteen years, been secretly painting a neighbor, Helga Testorf, and putting the unseen work in storage. He was more than twenty years her senior, and they met while she was working as a nurse caring for Karl Kuerner, of the aforementioned Kuerner Farm. It was said that neither Andrew’s wife Betsy nor Helga’s husband had known about their artist/model relationship. When asked about the work, Betsy’s one-word reply was that it was about “Love.” It turned out the story was somewhat contrived, but nevertheless, during the week of August 18, 1986, Wyeth paintings of Testorf graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek.4

The next year, an exhibition of the Helga work was mounted at the National Gallery of Art, and a catalogue5 was published. A couple years after that, I was given the book by a woman with whom I had become acquainted. Her primary art predilection was for Art Nouveau illustrator Alphonse Mucha, but she was drawn to what she perceived as the romantic nature of the Helga pieces. Her favorite image in the book was Night Shadow – I prefer the similar, but earlier full-length Black Velvet. Although Helga appears to be asleep in both pieces, they are among the most physical of the series, which is made up of hushed, contemplative works. This quietude, coupled with the fact that she is always solitary and often nude, could certainly evoke a romantic impression.

Each of these books was given to me by a person who was attracted to Wyeth’s work, each for a different reason. I can appreciate all of their points of view, but am mainly interested in his draftsmanship. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any actual pieces by Wyeth, but I find his graphite drawings to be the strongest work of his oeuvre. Although they can be intricately detailed, they have a freeness to them that is not apparent in his tempera paintings. Many of the most engaging examples have an Ingres-like quality, in which parts of the image materialize three-dimensionally, while other areas drop back in outline.

In 2002, Andrew and Betsy, who was his business manager, set up the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, which retains ownership of some 7000 of his works, many of which are graphite or watercolor sketches and studies which Wyeth considered not polished enough for exhibition. Perhaps this work will go some way in revising the not unpopular notion that Wyeth was an “illustrator” rather than an “artist.” His rise to prominence took place more or less contemporaneously with that of the Abstract Expressionists, who brought the art world’s focus to the United States, specifically New York City, for the first time. Wyeth’s paintings must have seemed antiquated by comparison, but I do find a certain charm in someone working so against the grain. Although throughout his career he did occasionally drift into what I would consider illustrative territory,6 I don’t believe his artistry is in question.

Andrew Wyeth, after a short illness, passed away in 2009 at ninety-one. Betsy Wyeth, whose health had been declining for some time, died eleven years later at ninety-eight. Helga Testorf still resides in Chadds Ford, PA. Wyeth’s studio, the Kuerner Farm, and the Olson House have all been registered as National Historic Landmarks, and can be visited by the public.

My mother continues to be impressed with the detail in Wyeth’s paintings, although she doesn’t recall why she decided to purchase the book for me. It’s been over thirty years since I’ve seen either of the two women from whom I received the other catalogues; I hope they’re both doing well.

All three books are still in my possession.


1 Wanda M. Corn, et al.; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California (1973).

2 Egg tempera is dry pigment mixed with distilled water and egg yolk. It takes months to dry completely, but once it does, it is hard and durable – think about how difficult it is to wash yesterday’s breakfast dish with your half-eaten sunny-side up eggs on it. Wyeth initially saved the whites, with which his wife Betsy would make angel food cakes. Eventually, their friends and family all got tired of that and he started simply throwing the whites away.

3 Thomas Hoving; The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1976).

4 Just like Bruce Springsteen, baby, eleven years earlier.

5 John Wilmerding, et al.: The Helga Pictures; Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (1987). Although the exhibit did travel, and came to San Francisco’s de Young Museum in 1988, I did not see it.

6 See Christmas Morning (1944), The Revenant (1949), Day Dream (1987), and Omen (1997), for example.

On Saturday, September 12, 1964, Alberto Giacometti had planned on spending the afternoon in his Paris studio doing a quick oil sketch of his friend, American writer and art historian James Lord. The painting he started that day ended up taking eighteen sittings and nearly three weeks to complete. Lord wrote a slim volume, A Giacometti Portrait,1 about the experience. Each of the short chapters chronicles a day that he served as the model for the piece.

I first became familiar with the book in the early 1990s; I’ve since read it six or eight times. The title has a double meaning – the book is about the painting, but Lord’s observations also serve as a written portrait of Giacometti himself. He documented their discussions about not only the painting at hand, but personal matters, Giacometti’s work in general, and other artists, as well. On day nine, their conversation turned to Picasso:

“He’s done everything,” I said. “It reminds me of a story Dora Maar once told me. She said Picasso had said to her, ‘Being unable to reach the top of the scale of values, I smashed the scale.’”

Alberto snorted. “That doesn’t mean a thing. It’s like all of Picasso’s remarks. At first they seem full of wit, but in fact they’re empty of meaning.”2

I laughed out loud the first time I read this, because it’s pretty much exactly how I feel about Picasso.3 It was so refreshing to hear from someone who wouldn’t even figuratively bow down to him – Paloma Picasso said as a child she would see people literally doing so.4

Giacometti’s post-Surrealist oeuvre is one of the most distinctive of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of his actual work in many years – I did attend the retrospective Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in late 1988 or early ’89. Although this was prior to my becoming enthralled by his paintings, which happened a few years later, even then I preferred them to his sculpture, for which he is most celebrated. I especially like the later paintings, where the figure dominates the picture plane and the ground is an amorphous space with the room and objects in it merely suggested. There is very little in the way of traditional modeling in these paintings – Giacometti used line, value, and muted, minimal color to create the illusion of form. I understand the elements he used to achieve this, but how it coalesces – how a figure can actually emerge from a tangle of linear brushwork in such an evocative and engaging manner – is a mystery to me.

Giacometti would paint, paint out, and re-paint a head over and over again, dozens of times. Lord described their artist/model relationship as somewhat sadomasochistic – he postponed his return flight home to New York several times to continue to sit in an “aura of anxiety” for the portrait. Although he liked that Giacometti was not only painting him, but had promised to give him the piece, the fact that often seemingly no progress would be made after hours of modeling started to wear on him. Giacometti insisted that what he was attempting to accomplish – capturing in paint how he saw, his vision – wasn’t even actually possible, which led to this drawn-out process. His wife Annette, who often sat for him, told Lord it could go on indefinitely.5 He often kept a work in progress over a period of years, re-painting or re-sculpting until some outside deadline forced him to let it leave the studio. What Giacometti wanted may have been clear to him, but getting there was apparently a futile endeavor.

Giacometti’s obsessive nature also influenced his conversation. On day two, Lord asked him if he had ever thought of suicide, and Giacometti responded that he thought of it, and how to do it, every day. Not because he didn’t want to live, but because he thought dying would be a fascinating experience. He told Lord that for months, he spoke about burning himself alive at four a.m. on the sidewalk in front of his studio. Annette eventually became so exasperated that she yelled at him “Do it or shut up!”6

Giacometti did not set himself aflame in the early hours of the morning outside his studio, but he didn’t have much longer to live. On January 10, 1966, a little over a year after Lord sat for him, while in the hospital being treated for exhaustion and heart and circulatory issues, he was diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart. He passed away the next day at sixty-four.

In 1985, James Lord’s comprehensive Giacometti biography,7 which Alberto’s brother Bruno praised as “nearly an autobiography,” was published. Lord passed away in Paris from a heart attack in 2009 at eighty-six.


All artwork © Estate Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti + ADAGP).


1 Originally published in 1965 by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, my copy is the Revised Edition; The Noonday Press (1980). I have no idea what was “revised” – I do wish Lord had written a more detailed overview of the time to give context, rather than the brief note included at the end of the book.

2 Ibid, page 53.

3 Although some of my favorite painters – Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein – held or continue to hold at least part of Picasso’s oeuvre in high regard, I’ve never seen a painting by him that really engaged me, and I, too, find his quotes insufferable.

4 Paloma Picasso, Pablo’s daughter, recounted this in an interview I read, in the early or mid-’80s, probably in Interview magazine.

5 James Lord: A Giacometti Portrait, page 64.

6 Ibid, page 14. Call or text 988 for the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline; it’s free and confidential.

7 Giacometti: A Biography; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1985).

My first favorite artist was Rembrandt van Rijn. Apparently, even as a young child, I didn’t fool around; I just went with the best. I remember being awestruck by The Night Watch when I was about five years old – at that time I probably didn’t know the word epic, but I did know that this painting had to be bigger and better than anything else in the world.

I became familiar with The Night Watch when an aunt gave me the book The World of Rembrandt.1 I don’t remember if I already knew who he was when I received the book, but afterward I thought Rembrandt must be the greatest painter to have ever lived, and The Night Watch was obviously his masterpiece. There are three full-page details of The Night Watch in the book; I would just sit and stare at them – I was amazed that someone could actually make such a thing. It’s a monumental painting, with sixteen near-life-size figures of the militiamen who commissioned the piece, plus fifteen “extras” whom Rembrandt added to the composition.2 One of these “extras” is probably my favorite figure in the painting – a young girl, a dead chicken tied to her waist, scurrying through the scene. I have no idea why she’s there, and I certainly don’t know why she has the fowl, but I do know she was not a random addition. The way she seems to glow makes her as much a focal point as the two main figures in the middle foreground.

At that time I definitely didn’t know the word chiaroscuro, but I did love the deep shade and brilliant light in The Night Watch. While the rest of the company is in varying degrees of shadow, the captain and his lieutenant – quite the dandy in his feathered hat, yellow brocade jacket, and sash – almost seem to be under a spotlight. In a piece filled with texture, the lieutenant’s sartorial elegance, along with the way he is lit, provides the brightest and showiest details. The manner in which Rembrandt depicted light and shadow does not always necessarily make strict literal sense, but the power of what he invented is undeniable.

Despite the book’s black and white reproduction, The Slaughtered Ox became another favorite. As a child I was fascinated by skeletons,3 and Rembrandt’s Ox is perhaps the most visceral depiction of flesh and bone I’ve ever seen in a painting. The sheer mass of the animal, hanging suspended by its hind legs from a large wooden frame, is palpable – I could feel the weight of the carcass, as well as the dank atmosphere of the room. Whether or not it was intentional, Rembrandt’s treatment of the subject is much like that of a crucifixion – a startlingly modern take for an artist working in the seventeenth century. This piece was also almost certainly the first in what for me would become a long line of beloved paintings with untraditional subject matter.4

At that young age, drawing was already all I wanted to do,5 and as a result of the book, I knew I also wanted to paint, and I wanted to paint like Rembrandt. I still kind of do, although when I eventually did start painting I never attempted to emulate Rembrandt’s work.6

Over the years, many artists have become important to me, but Rembrandt has remained my favorite pre-nineteenth century painter. Although I continue to find The Night Watch an enormous achievement in art in general and group portraiture in particular, I would no longer cite it as my favorite Rembrandt painting. Since my late teens or early twenties, I’ve had a preference for his more intimate work, especially the self-portraits, of which he did many. One can follow him from the time he was a young man through the last year of his life, when he died at sixty-three. Rembrandt was not a classicist; he painted real people, not idealized figures, and in his self-portraits he did not abandon this tenet. Although his late religious paintings are often considered to be his strongest work, I believe his self-portraits to be his main contribution to art history. Neither his eye nor his hand wavered; Rembrandt documented his aging process in a more detailed and perceptive manner than perhaps any other artist ever.

After all this time, The World of Rembrandt still occupies a space on my bookshelf. I never got peanut butter and jelly on it or dropped it in the bathtub. I don’t look at it as much as I once did, but when I do, Rembrandt still seems like the greatest painter to have ever lived, and the book seems like one of the best gifts ever. Thanks, Joyce.


1 Robert Wallace; Time-Life Books (1968). She also gave me two other volumes from the Time-Life Library of Art series – the Van Gogh and the Titian – neither of which I liked very much. In time, I came to appreciate Van Gogh; Titian still leaves me a little cold.

2 Three figures, including two members of the company, were lost when in 1715 the painting was cut down to its present size. Yes, cut down to its present size. This fact does not appear in The World of Rembrandt; if it had, I would have been aghast.

 3 I also loved x-rays and other types of scientific imagery, including the photos of the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts, topographical maps, those clear plastic overlays in anatomy books, et al.

4 When I was a teenager discovering the work of Francis Bacon, including Painting 1946 with its butcher shop imagery, I’m sure it fell within my sensibility and was accessible to me at least in part because of my knowledge of the Rembrandt piece. Interestingly, I recall Bacon being quoted as saying he didn’t particularly care for The Slaughtered Ox – he felt it looked as if were made of wax, not flesh and bone.

 My older brother remembers when he would come home from a hard day at kindergarten, our bedroom floor would often be covered with drawings I’d made while he was gone. I was three years old.

6 I obviously had more good sense than did Van Gogh.

Richard Polsky: I Bought Andy Warhol. Bloomsbury trade paperback (2005). Design: Whitney Cookman.
Richard Polsky: I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon). Other Press trade paperback (2011). Design: Carin Goldberg.

Back in 2005, I read a book called I Bought Andy Warhol,1 a memoir by art dealer Richard Polsky, who, with his wife Lia, owned a San Francisco gallery called Acme Art. Early in 1987, they mounted a show of Warhol paintings, and on February 22, it was hung but had not yet opened. On that day, they were in Sacramento to buy a small Self-Portrait from 1967 to round out the show. When they got back home to SF with the piece, there were over a dozen messages on their answering machine saying Warhol had died.

Soon after the show closed, Polsky set aside $100,000 to purchase a Warhol not to resell, but for his personal collection. I Bought Andy Warhol is about his search for that painting. It’s a highly entertaining read, very chatty and funny, with a lot of anecdotes about the strange and often ridiculous world of art. At the end of the book, he, now divorced, buys a 12” square green “Fright Wig,” from the 1986 series of self-portraits that I consider to be among Warhol’s most powerful work. Polsky really seems to love the piece, which took him twelve years to acquire. I was happy for him – he bought a great painting and only used half the money he had earmarked to spend.

In 2011, I found out Polsky had a newer book titled I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon).2 I was naturally disappointed that, after his talk about the “Fright Wig” being his “ultimate Warhol,” he decided to sell it. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and read the book. Apparently Rachael, his new wife,3 liked to spend a lot of money, and asked, “What would you rather look at, your painting or me?” He sold the painting to placate her. I’m sure she was not without certain charms, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying he made the wrong choice. The Christie’s auction at which Polsky sold the piece takes place at the beginning of the book; by page 29, he and Rachael are divorced.

Most of what follows is about how prices for blue-chip art escalated at an unprecedented rate in the late 1980s. It is entertaining, but while I Bought… is about art, I Sold… is all about money. It’s no coincidence that while the first book has the Warhol Self-Portrait on the cover, the second cover features the etching of George Washington from the dollar bill. Greed, and maybe fear, made him sell the painting. He says he immediately experienced seller’s remorse and that he had violated the cardinal rule of art dealing: never get emotionally attached to the inventory. He seems to have forgotten the piece wasn’t “inventory,” it was part of his collection, “part of [his] soul.” He sold it.


1 The title is a pun on I Shot Andy Warhol, a 1996 film which I had the distinct displeasure of seeing at a sneak preview with what seemed like an audience/mob of 800 militant lesbians rooting for wackjob Valerie Solanis, who they thought was making some sort of feminist statement by shooting Warhol and art critic Mario Amaya. Being in that theater was truly one of the most unsettling experiences of my life – I have no recollection whatsoever of the movie.

2 It was originally published in 2009.

3 I Bought Andy Warhol is dedicated to her.

“I never considered the Stones drug music. They were the drug itself.” – Patti Smith

All the art that has affected me in any meaningful way has been a psychedelic experience. I don’t mean that it was all drug-induced; I don’t even mean it’s all “hallucinatory.” What I mean is, it has all taken me to unexpected and unfamiliar places, expanded my consciousness, allowed me to view things in a broader or more concentrated fashion. Growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, I was obsessed with finding new sounds and visions which would bend my mind. Citizen Kane; Bob Dylan’s 1965-66 three-album run of Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde; Andy Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” paintings; Animal Farm; the “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” single; Jasper Johns’ Target with Four Faces; David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” – they have all been milestones in my life.

John Tenniel's drawing of Alice the Red Queen
John Tenniel: “Faster! Faster!” said the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872).

Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books certainly belong in this company. I’ve read each probably thirty-five or forty times, and keep coming back to them for any number of reasons, not the least of which is their quotability. It seems one can find an applicable Alice line for almost any situation, an indication of on how many levels the books can work. Alice has been viewed as a socio-political satire, a Freudian study, a hallucinogenic binge, a philosophical treatise. That Carroll himself certainly saw it as simply a children’s story is beside the point. I consider them to be tales of the heroine negotiating her way through anarchic, alarming, ridiculous, lonely, confusing, beautiful environments – in short, as metaphors for life. Contrariwise, they also serve as escapes from the same – they are two of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It was Carroll’s intent not that Alice educate, but that it entertain – this was unheard of in Victorian England, when children’s books were meant only to teach and/or moralize. Carroll succeeded brilliantly in much more than making the books entertaining; what he created 150 years ago was magical, something that even he would manage to equal only once more – when he wrote The Hunting of the Snark.

How Alice has affected my work is difficult to pin down. I’ve done a few pieces which explicitly reference the texts, but the real influence has been much more indirect. Oblique communication is a major theme in Alice; in my work, quotation, reference, and transformation – the subjects of which are generally well-cloaked – play important roles. Many years ago, these books irrevocably altered my thought process – they have contributed to not only the painter I am, but also the person.

When I was maybe ten or twelve years old, an uncle gave me the book The Art Treasures of Europe by Charles Wentinck,1 which was my introduction to a lot of artists, some of whom would become favorites of mine. At the time, Rembrandt was my art hero2 – there are two of his pieces in Wentinck’s book: The Night Watch and Portrait of Jan Six, but as I was familiar with both, I turned my attention to the rest of the tome, which covers prehistory all the way up to the 1960s.

Although I liked many of the paintings illustrated,3 I had very visceral reactions, which I can still feel today, to five of them. These pieces played a large part in the development of my personal aesthetic.

Parmigianino: The Madonna with the Long Neck (1534-40).                                                                                                      I know next to nothing about Parmigianino, only what I read in this book and that he also painted the lovely Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, but this piece continues to captivate me. I was fascinated by the Mannerist proportions – I loved the Madonna’s neck and hands. I loved her gesture and the whole attitude of her posture. I loved the infant Jesus, who appears to be about six years old. I loved everything about this painting except the small figure in the background at the bottom right of the piece. He bothers me now as he did then. I’m not very knowledgeable about religious iconography, but I’m sure he’s a specific person, probably a saint, with a reason for being there – nonetheless, I find he distracts from the breathtaking delicacy and beauty of the Madonna, child, and attendant angels.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Ecce Ancilla Domini: The Annunciation (1850).                                                                                This is an early painting of Rossetti’s, and although I prefer his later work, it was a fine introduction. I had seen enough Renaissance “Annunciations” to know this was different; I’ve forgotten all the others, but this one has stayed with me. I found the color scheme striking – the painting is predominately white with splashes of the three primaries, which was very unusual for the time. The tight composition and vivid palette are indicative of Rossetti’s sensibility – much more modern, I think, than that of the Impressionists, who worked more-or-less contemporaneously.

Gustav Klimt: Salomé (1909).                                                                                                                                                          When I received the book, I had no idea who Salomé was, but I loved the tall thin undulating composition Klimt utilized, which I later learned was related to the “Dance of the Seven Veils” – studies for the painting indicate he arrived at the dynamic pose via sketching a dancing figure. Klimt’s use of ornamentation was also very attractive to me; the integration of the figurative and the decorative in this piece is particularly arresting. In the book, the Klimt segment appears in a chapter titled “Art as Experiment,” and by this time I was ready for the more modern work which would eventually inform my own. Klimt’s evocative imagery did so perhaps as much as anyone’s.

Otto Dix: Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden  (1926).                                                                                              This painting intrigued me to no end. Had it not been for the title, I wouldn’t have known if it were of a man or a woman. Her whole appearance – the mode of dress, the Bryan Ferry hair, the monocle, the positioning of her hands – drew me in. I don’t know that any other portrait, before or since, has made me so curious about its subject. Who was she? What was her life like? Although she sits in a bar or club, she is the only visible figure, alone in a corner with no window. There’s a feeling of liberation in the face of bleakness and desperation, which I would later learn was part of the bohemian culture of Weimar-era Germany, that I found very compelling. 

Francis Bacon: Two Figures (1953).                                                                                                                                                      What made Two Figures so captivating were its dualities. It looked like a photograph, and yet, with its bravura expressionist brushwork, was obviously not one; the bodies were convincingly fleshy, despite the grisaille palette; the private act seemed to take place in an artificial space, as if it were a performance. I loved the blurriness of the faces and how it was offset by the bold strokes demarcating the bed. I was also fascinated by the “space frame,” which I initially thought delineated the edges of the room; upon closer inspection, I found that to be only partially true, while at points it is superimposed on top of the image. 

I don’t know what it was about me that I was so powerfully drawn to these five particular paintings – I do remember I found them all slightly disturbing and strangely alluring, which in retrospect seems like a pretty good combination. I don’t think I analyzed the formal qualities of the work until a little later, but by the time I started painting, I had studied Rossetti, Klimt, and Bacon, and they had become profoundly important to me. All three continue to be among my favorite painters. Had I never been given Wentinck’s book, I’m sure I would have discovered all this work eventually, but seeing it when I did was pivotal in my growth in viewing art, and eventually making it. Thanks, Tom.

1 Simon & Schuster (1974).

2 An aunt had given me the Time-Life Library of Art book of his work. I don’t remember if I was already aware of him, but I loved that book, much more so than the Titian and Van Gogh volumes she also gave me.

3 A list of which includes Velasquez: The Royal Family (c. 1656), Ingres: The Turkish Bath (1863), Degas: The Blue Dancers (1890), Gerhard Richter: Ema, Nude on a Staircase (1966), and Richard Hamilton: Swingeing London 67 (1968).

In 1982, a young woman I was dating gave me a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was, and continues to be, one of my favorite books. It was a newly-published edition, illustrated and designed by Barry Moser, with whom I was not familiar. I’d seen many versions of Alice, but John Tenniel was not only the tale’s first illustrator, but also, as far as I was concerned, the preeminent one. A lot of illustrators apparently feel similarly, as so many other versions are strangely adherent to his vision, not only in terms of look and feel, but even in composition. Moser’s work, however, was different – it was strange and it was off-kilter and it complemented the anarchic text in a manner completely unlike that of any other illustrations I’d seen. His is also the only version, as far as I know, in which all the images are from Alice’s point of view – it is her dream, after all. Moser’s eye for the bizarre yet humorous made him an ideal illustrator for Alice. I became a fan at first glance, and the next year, when his Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There was published, I immediately bought it for myself (the gal was out of the picture by that time). These two volumes also sparked my interest in the art of book design, which was something I’d never really given thought to, prior.

Several years later, there was an exhibition of Moser’s work at the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art, which was then in Nevada City CA. Sadly, I was unable to attend the reception, although I was fortunate enough to see the show, which was comprised of wood engravings from both Alice books. I haven’t done a lot of printmaking, but I do know a little about it and find it fascinating. Wood engraving is a relief process done on the end grain of the wood, so much finer detail is possible, as compared to a woodcut. Moser’s prints were technically exquisite and beautifully pulled, and his richly detailed and inventive imagery was aesthetically awe-inspiring. It turned out this was not only true of of his work on Alice.

Barry Moser show catalogue (1987). MAMA.

The museum shop had some of Moser’s books for sale, and I purchased his Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, and was told a story which he had related at the reception regarding his images of the monster. Apparently, he constructed his model by covering a human skull with raw chicken, sewing it together, then leaving it outside to rot. That his depiction bears no resemblance whatsoever to the ubiquitous Boris Karloff image again attests to the singularity of his vision.

Since then, I have assembled a small collection of Moser-illustrated books; his work – drawings and watercolors as well as the engravings – is consistently captivating. This is especially noteworthy considering the broad spectrum of books on which he has worked: The Divine Comedy, The Three Little Pigs, Moby Dick, Just So Stories, The Scarlet Letter, The Holy Bible, the list goes on. To date, he has illustrated and/or designed over three hundred books – I would feel comfortable recommending any of them; such is my regard for him and my confidence in his work.

Thank you, Marie, wherever you may be, for the introduction.

One of my earliest memories is my mother reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm to my older brother and me; I was about three years old. In junior high school, when I read the book myself, it all came back to me. I asked my mother about it, and she confirmed that she had, saying “It’s kind of like a children’s story – it’s a fable; the animals talk.” She also told me, “I used to read all kinds of stuff to you – not just books for kids.”

Storytime (2011).

Orwell’s tale made a big impression on me – it revealed the lying, the backstabbing, the lengths to which some pigs (or people) will go to gain power, how that power is abused, and how some sheep (or people) are so easily led around by the nose. It could have been the beginning of the distrust of authority figures that has stayed with me my whole life.

That distrust was fueled by the behavior of some teachers and school administrators. As a child, I attended a small elementary school with only one class for each grade. When I was in fourth grade, there was a new fifth grade teacher who was a bully and a jerk – among other things, he once told several of his students to beat up a younger boy. I told my mother I wanted to go to a different school the next year. The other school was a lot bigger and at first a little scary, as I didn’t know anyone, but I was happy my parents entrusted me with making my own decisions about the teacher and which school to attend.

Things weren’t any better in junior high and high school. I was treated to a vice principal announcing, at an assembly regarding the dress code, that “Jap flaps” were not acceptable footwear. I saw a teacher grab a student by the hair and stick his hand in the kid’s mouth in an attempt to find some non-existent gum. One teacher called on me and asked what the price of tea was in China. Two female friends of mine were told by a vice principal that they couldn’t hold hands on campus. I was repeatedly asked by a teacher what day it was, before he finally hissed “It’s Pearl Harbor Day!” Things like this happened all the time.

It seems I’ve always known that just because someone is in a position of power, it doesn’t mean s/he is competent or has anyone else’s best interest in mind. I was still young when I’d seen enough to know that no mere title deserved any respect from me. It’s possible the seed of that knowledge was inside Orwell’s little book, or, given my background – my family was interned by this country – maybe it was just built into my DNA. Either way, Animal Farm spoke to me, and over the years, I’ve re-read it several times. It is always emotionally engaging because it is always pertinent. Some animals continue to be more equal than others.