My novellete, The Exiles, is about to be released from Ricochet Editions! Order it here.
I’ll be reading here at AWP on Thursday at 6:00 PM from The Exiles (with Anomalous Press/Les Figues/Gold Line/Tiny Hardcore/Rose Metal Press)and on Saturday at Noon at the FC2 Reading (part of the conference this year instead of offsite) with other FC2 authors.
“This small, frozen, frightening world, this gapped, intense, ferocious world, this world of tremors, of shiverings, of longings stripped bare and desires reclothed, this world of muted visions and vivid nightmares, of terrible tenderness, this world of exile, The Exiles, by Matthew Kirkpatrick, this strange and powerful work, this world.”
This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with visual artists. I’m interested in the work people do in media other than writing, and often find inspiration there, so I want to reach out to those people and, as best I can, talk to them about their ideas and work. I met Bill Dunlap at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts in 2006; we’ve stayed in touch since. I’m a huge admirer of his paintings and drawings and have wanted to talk to him about his art for a while now. I’m really happy he took the time to answer my questions. More of Bill’s work can be found at www.billdunlap.com
Can you talk a little bit about the line—I’ve followed your work for some time now, and have noticed the importance of lines in your drawings (obviously) but also your paintings, many of which are intricate linear systems. In some of your later paintings (I’m thinking your ‘Black Paintings’) the absence of lines seems to be important, that lines are deliberately smudged. And, in your newer work, the quilt-inspired stuff, you seem to be back to lines, but simpler geometric shapes. Perhaps this is just the influence of illustration on your work, but it seems like more than that–I wonder, too, about your interest in music and writing—mediums also fundamentally built from lines.
I’ve thought that if an artist has some affinity for line, then the work tends to look more like graphics, decoration, illustration – often with areas of solid color. On the other hand, if an artist has greater interest in tone or shading the work tends to look more painterly, “realistic”. This is true even for drawing: line drawers tend to make discrete outlined scenes and figures, while tone drawers use shading to make more rounded-out objects emphasizing changes in light. Line work tends to be bolder and more immediate, shaded work tends to be more mysterious. Grosz and Goya, two of my favorite artists, embody these differences. Grosz’s drawings from around WWI are a kind of genius stick figure drawing that has always amazed me. I continue to marvel at how much power he achieves with such an economy of means. Goya’s etchings (The Disasters of War, especially) use loads of cross-hatching, stippling, washes, and other effects to achieve their dark chiaroscuro. The ambiguity of scene and lighting adds to the terror of the compositions.
So I’ve often thought how these two extremes could play out in my own work. I’ve found that it tends to be either/or. When I work in a way where lines are dominant, tonal changes and lighting don’t seem to play much of a role. At times I can combine the two styles, but currently I’m feeling that those works have a kind of add-on quality that I’m not so interested in right now. Usually, the way they come about is that I do a rather loose “painterly” thing, then lay out areas of line work on top of the paint areas. Lately, I’ve come to feel that those pieces have a kind of “futzing around” quality to them, as if I do something spontaneous, then start doodling on top of it. If the spontaneous areas were truly strong, they wouldn’t need the decoration on top. This has led to how I’ve been doing the black paintings lately. I try to use no lines at all, but still they show up now and then. I think of those lines as being more functional, rather than decorative.
I assign a lot of writing in my creative writing classes in the form of exercises–I suspect I’m not unique in this. I’ve found that creative writing experiments are sometimes the most interesting writing a student will do all semester–the most generative, creative, and energetic writing, but also the writing that often takes the most risks. Exercises encourage a sense of play and exploration that, hopefully, teaches creative writing as a practice.
I typically see the most improvement in a writer’s work in their exercises. Because of the size of my classes and the length of the quarter, students’ writing experiments tend to define an arc of improvement in a way that is more clear than in students’ workshop pieces. So, I’m wondering if others feel this way–if others have seen this with their students, but more importantly, I wonder how teachers of creative writing capitalize on the energy they see in their students’ exercises. I have a few ideas–one would be to redesign the arc of a course, perhaps following Brian Kiteley’s methodology in the 3 AM Epiphany by integrating more tightly students’ experiments with what they eventually turn in for workshop–creating, say, an arc in which students are guided through the process of writing a story rather than simply being taught fundamentals–focusing on the genesis and development of stories rather than end products by making the experiments the focus of the course rather than the workshop. I’m thinking about implementing this, but wonder–do others do this? Thoughts?
I’m launching a new project in 2013—a series of brochures lovingly (if not quite professionally) designed and mailed to subscribers. I’ll do a new pamphlet once a month starting in January (ending in December 2013). It’s difficult to discuss the content of the brochures without ruining the surprise(s)—these aren’t short stories in anything but the loosest sense. Some of them may seem like promotions for actual goods and services, including tourist destinations, non-profits, etc. Some correspond to things I have written about in stories and the novel I’m working on. Some will come with supplemental materials (websites, photographs) and some will be distributed in and around Chicago (I plan on handing them out). Each is a formal experiment: an interrogation of pamphletness, a hybrid of fiction and marketing material, an exploration of the brochure form.
“While Light Without Heat delights in the high-concept story and does not hesitate to challenge the reader intellectually, Kirkpatrick doesn’t lose sight of the thinker thinking the thought, the rememberer remembering. These are moving stories, as funny as they are sad, as full of death as they are of love.”
“The nineteen stories in Matthew Kirkpatrick’s Light Without Heat are disorienting. They employ a series of devices—photographs, diagrams, side-by-side points of view, multiple nameless characters, big blocks of unattributed dialogue, and pleasingly unusual plots—to either defamiliarize the reader by making the familiar strange, or jar the reader, often into laughter, by making the strange familiar.”
“It’s difficult to speak in absolutes or generalities about a writer or collection so versatile and adventurous. This isn’t to say the pieces are listless or incompatible; Kirkpatrick simply refuses — and good for him — to ignore any corners of his palette.”