Tag Archives: art

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

23rd May 2011

**UPDATE** Giveaway over. Using Random.org, number one commenter, Yvette, won! Congrats. I have sent an email to you to get your address. Thanks to all who left comments!

I can[not] conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is and isn’t a biography of a woman, Mary Delaney. What it is about is the quote above, about making art in the everyday, about life itself being a work of art.

As a young girl, Mary Granville is married off to a much older man. She is unhappy; he is a jealous (but wealthy) drunk who dies, leaving Mary to blossom in the independence of widowhood. She is unwilling to take another husband until Dr. Patrick Delaney proposes many years later. He is of low birth; her family does not approve, but Mary knows her heart, and as Peacock writes, Patrick encourages her craft: “She became his brilliant focus – and he became her vista, the expansive background that his generosity of spirit provided.”

The subtitle, though, is misleading for two reasons: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. First, as I mentioned, this book is and is not a biography because Peacock inserts herself into the writing, tracing the origins and processes of her research. To be frank, I could have done without this aspect of the book, but let me get that out of the way now because I adored this book. Second, I would argue Mrs. Delaney is an artist from a young age, designing dresses, embroidering, painting, even letter writing extensively (though Peacock is referring to the work for which Delaney is remembered).

Mary’s artistic endeavors remain in these areas for most of her life, but in 1772, “she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal …. she began … carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper. Then she snipped out another.”

To me, the magic of this book is in moments like this. What is Mrs. Delaney hadn’t snipped a second petal? Peacock deftly extricates the moments in Mrs. Delaney’s life she wants to highlight, and in the same breath, she reflects on the creative process.

For example, each of Mrs. Delaney’s collages is cut paper on top of a black background, like so, and Peacock observes:

But whatever the composition of the dry crystals she ground … its source is something burnt …. Is being burnt a requisite for the making of art? …. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.

And, noting Mary’s copious notes and letters to and from her sister, Anne:

In a way, Mary’s letters to Anne are a paper mosaick of days and weeks, hundreds into the thousands of sentences cut in organic shapes to form the art of living.

And aren’t her letters art? As Peacock points out to a friend who asked why Mary Delaney “really” made these mosaicks:

It evolved, first from silhouettes, and then from handiwork and collecting shells … and then from drawing and painting and gardening….and lastly from not being able to paint, from a feeling of the world dimming…

And from the last page, referring to the artistic spark when Mrs. Delaney spies the geranium petal:

Her whole life flowed to the place where she plucked that moment.

Isn’t that an incredibly beautiful thought?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and specifically Lisa Munley for seeking me out for this tour. Lisa, you were dead on with this recommendation.

P.P.S. If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment below (by June 1) and answer this question: What is artistic and beautiful in your own life?

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin – yes, THAT Steve Martin

24th March 2011

I know it’s confusing. There is also a Steve Martini who apparently writes legal thrillers. Then there’s the Steve Martin who plays the Banjo, and the Steve Martin who used to make people laugh with balloon animals and played in The Jerk. Oh wait – those last ones are actually the same guy. Steve Martin is one of those guys you love to hate – but only because you are completely jealous. (No, I am not speaking of myself).

I first saw Steph’s review of An Object of Beauty back in December and knew I wanted to read it. I read Shopgirl when it came out and didn’t love it. It was enjoyable, and I was suitably impressed, but there was just something off about it. However, I certainly remember the book, and it is on my contemporary outside reading list for my writing and lit class.

When I stopped by my lovely library week before last, they had this beauty on the “new release” shelf, and I grabbed it. Then I read the first line:

I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else.

I was hooked. What was it about this Lacey? Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her? WHO IS THIS NARRATOR? Then I got home and dove in. The narrator, Franks, tells us a little more, but he still doesn’t reveal much. Because, in essence, our narrator exists as a vehicle for Lacey’s story.

Who is Lacey? I think this passage exemplifies her best:

…she showed up at one of these lunches in a summer dress so transparent that when she passed between me and a bay window hot with sunlight, the dress seemed to incinerate like flash paper. Her hair was clipped back with a polka-dot plastic barrette, which knocked about five years off her age.

The connotations of some of the words are interesting; for the most part, they are positive. Lacey is basically a tramp, but we don’t get a whole lot of judgment in her description. Maybe the “incinerate like flash paper” refers to the fact that she’s fast and loose. You guys know I can’t stand awful similes, but I rather like this one and find it to be an apt description. Lacey is knowingly devastating, yet at the same time, there is a part of her that seems unaware of her true beauty (thus, the child-like imagery of the barrette).

Lacey works in the art industry, at Sotheby’s, and starts off at the bottom, in the “bins” where the less-valuable paintings are housed. She pays attention to what sells and what doesn’t. More importantly, she pays attention to why certain paintings sell and as the narrator tells us, “her toe crossed ground from which it is difficult to return: she started converting objects of beauty into objects of value.” Once Lacey stops appreciating beauty for beauty’s sake, everything is up for sale, and Franks follows Lacey through the next decade of her life, bound inexplicably to this creature who is both fascinating and appalling.

An Object of Beauty was a captivating read, and I think the distance between the narrator and Lacey added to that. You are conscious of the narrator, yet he tells parts of the story he cannot know, and that tells us more about him than he ever could. The inclusion of paintings and discussions on art simply added to a book I found to be wonderfully hypnotic. Steve Martin, you’ve come a long way, baby. I’ll take this over comedic adventures with balloon animals any day.

Read this one: immediately / asap / when you get a chance / if you’re bored

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. In an attempt to shorten the actual review, I didn’t include one of my favorite paintings and its description. Read on if you like that sort of thing or wish to indulge me.

On viewing El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent:

At almost twelve feet long…she felt now that as she approached it, the picture would engulf her. A Spanish dancer, her head thrown back, and arm reaching forward with a castanet, her other hand dramatically raising her white dress, steps hard on the floor. Behind, a bank of guitarists strum a flamenco rhythm that is impossible for us not to think we hear, and one hombre is caught in midclap, a clap we finish in our minds….In Lacey, the picture aroused her deeper hunger for wild adventure that could not be filled by a trip to Boston in modern times. She longed for wanton evenings spent in a different century, her own head tilted back, flashing a castanet and a slip of leg, and sex with young men no longer among the living.

Read other reviews:

Nonsuch Book

Unputdownables

Steph and Tony Investigate

Book Page