It was in February 2014. I had just finished my first novel, I love you more, which will be released that summer. I was in the first phase of formulating a new novel in my head, a dark and confusing process. I kept seeing a mother and daughter running from a ghost man, but they looked more like fugitives than just runners, two innocent souls who, through no fault of their own, needed to hide or disappear. of life to survive. As a writer and artist, I knew the term little-known art fugitive pigment, paint that fades over time due to light and atmospheric conditions. I felt that term might define their experience. But I wasn’t sure.
At the Chicago Art Institute, while wandering through the works of Van Gogh and Matisse and Seurat, I came across an adjoining exhibit titled Renoir’s True Colors. The exhibition featured duplicate paintings by Pierre Auguste Renoir Ms Leon Clapisson. The canvas on my left was noted as the original painted by Renoir in 1883. The one on the right was a scanned reproduction. I was struck by the brightness of the reproduction. Confused, I started reading the explanation of the exhibit posted on the wall. On removing the canvas from its frame to clean it, the restorers discovered that the paint had faded considerably over time due to the artist’s use of fugitive pigments. A few months later, my new novel, scarlet in blue, began to take shape.
There is a long tradition of writers exploring art in literature. The reason they choose art as their goal is different for each of them. But based on my findings and the ten novels I’ve included below (in order of publication), there are similarities as well. For readers, there’s a hint of synchronicity in these novels, a sense that we stumbled upon them for a reason. There is also an ominous fascination, a hope that we are entering an exotic world, which offers the voyeur in us the opportunity to safely watch characters engage in situations that are both beautiful and dangerous. But above all, these novels do what the art itself does best. They intrigue. They seduce. They grab our attention and pull us inside.
Laura by Vera Caspary
Laura Hunt, a successful and attractive young advertising professional, and fatal Woman, was murdered, shot as she opened the door to her apartment. Set in the sophisticated world of New York journalism, the novel has been described as both a detective story and a love story. Told from alternating points of view, it begins with the first-person narration of Waldo Lydecker, a prominent journalist and friend of Laura, followed by Detective Mark Mcpherson, and then two witnesses. During the investigation, McPherson becomes obsessed with a painted portrait of Laura, falling prey to her wiles even in death. Critics praised the story’s surprising ending and Caspary’s use of multiple perspectives as a means to create an unreliable narrative. And many, including me, were more drawn to Caspary’s use of a painting to woo McPherson, and therefore readers.
cat eye by Margaret Atwood
cat eye tells the story of Elaine Risley, a fictional painter, who returns home to Toronto, Canada, for a retrospective exhibition. The novel’s title comes from a cat’s eye marble, a special possession that Elaine kept from her childhood while playing marbles with her brother. The cat’s eye is a continuous motif in her paintings, and she doesn’t know why. Shortly after returning to Toronto, lost memories begin to surface of a girl named Cordelia who led a group of girls who treated Elaine cruelly. In honest and elegant prose, Atwood probes the psychological ramifications of bullying on Elaine’s life, from her childhood to her successful painting career, but also, in Atwood’s true form, uses fiction to deliver a timely social commentary. I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood and this novel does not disappoint me.
a girl with an earring by Tracy Chevalier
a girl with an earring is a historical novel about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his painting of the same name. In 1664, following an accident that blinded his father, 16-year-old Griet left home to earn money as a servant with Vermeer. Griet became increasingly interested in Vermeer’s paints and began to mix and grind his pigments. Griet soon finds himself mingling with Vermeer’s wealthy patrons… with no way to escape given his status. Chevalier’s reimagining of the story behind Vermeer’s most recognizable painting is a joy to read and offers a look at the art and social structures of the Baroque period.
The goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The goldfinch is primarily a coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Theodore Decker, whose mother is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he survives. Just before the bombing, he was obsessed with an old man and a red-haired girl. As he leaves, he meets the old man who is dying under the rubble. The man gives him a ring which he is to give to a man named Hobie, and points to The goldfinch painting, prompting Theo to grab it on the way out. We follow Théo in the years following the attack, and the hidden theft, which weighs more and more heavily on him over the years. Tart’s novel is a complex examination of how tragedy and loss, and a painting, affected the trajectory of a boy’s life.
The painter by Peter Heller
Peter Heller tells the story of successful fictional painter Jim Stegner, whose life takes a turn when he shoots a man in a bar for making lewd comments about his daughter, a scene he later paints in a “explosion of colors”. His marriage is also over. He leaves New Mexico and starts a new life in Colorado where he tries to lose himself in his paintings and his fishing. Heller does an incredible job of using his protagonist’s paintings to reflect the violence in his life. The prose has a hard-core detective edge, infusing the novel with mystery and urgency.
station eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
station eleven chronicles the effects of a pandemic on the world. The story begins with the death of a famous actor named Arthur Leander who has a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. Shortly after the play, a deadly flu ravages the entire world, killing almost everyone. Fifteen years later, we follow a group of traveling Shakespearean actors, performing around Lake Michigan in stride. The currency of the groups is a line of star trek: “Because survival is insufficient.”
Mandel weaves together several seemingly disparate stories, each with its own cast of characters. While the whole journey is captivating, what I find most extraordinary about this novel is Mandel’s claim that, in a time of unimaginable destruction and loss, it is art that ultimately gives hope.
Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Tripp reinvents the relationship between current painter Georgia O’Keefe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Tripp’s fantasies seem so real that I, a painter and student of art history, familiar with the affair between O’Keefe and Stieglitz, believed, or at least wanted to believe, that it was all true. An author’s note prefaces the novel, explaining the detailed research Tripp conducted to describe the artists’ relationship and lives. The second paragraph of the novel says: “This is not a love story. If that were the case, we would have the same story. But he has his, and I have mine. Those words set the tone for the relationship itself: the initial attraction between O’Keefe and Stieglitz, their passion and turbulence, and their lifelong affair. And along the way, thanks to her courage and undeniable talent, Georgia O’Keefe becomes a strong, independent woman and a renowned artist. This story and its authoritative prose sometimes took my breath away.
Small fires everywhere by Celeste Ng
The story begins with a house on fire. The house belongs to the Richardson family. It’s 1997. They live in Shaker Heights, a real neighborhood in Ohio, chosen by Ng because, as Cosmopolitan the magazine said (in a quote Ng uses in the book) it’s a “utopia” and its people are well off and “happy”. The story goes back to a time before the fire. An artist photographer named Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, move into an apartment building owned by the Richardsons. We learn that Mia and Pearl move a lot, for inspiration.
Before long, the Warrens and the Richardsons become entangled in each other’s lives, leading to a strained relationship. Tensions rise when friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese baby who belongs to a friend of Mia’s. And all the while, Mia is keeping a big secret. Ng’s characters are drawn so well we think they could be our neighbors, and his story of a community divided by opposing beliefs is both heartbreaking and timely.
Still lifes by Maria Hummel
Hummel introduces us to the LA art scene and fictional, avant-garde feminist icon Kim Lord, whose new exhibition features fascinating and disturbing self-portraits of herself as famous murdered women such as Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy and Nicole Brown Simpson. All of LA is buzzing with the opening of the exhibit and the appearance of Hummel. But the artist does not show himself.
The story is told in first person through the eyes of Maggie Richter, who works at the financially-troubled Rocque Museum, where the exhibit is set. What follows is a gripping whodunit mystery surrounding Lord’s disappearance, a commentary on society’s attraction to violence, and the money and secrets inherent in the art industry.
Hummel tells a compelling story of the Los Angeles art world, basing it on references to famous artists and their artistic styles. Her biography indicates that she worked as a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
The silent patient by Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson is a painter, who usually takes a long time to sketch out the images for her paintings beforehand. Out of nowhere, or so it appears, Alecia brutally murders her husband. Alecia is silent when the police arrive on the scene and does not speak afterwards. She is sentenced to a mental institution where her paintings become more expressive and spontaneous.
Over time, the initial sensationalism and interest in crime fades. But forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber remains fascinated by both the crime and the woman. When a position becomes available at the institution Alecia has been sent to, Theo applies for the position. The story is told in first person through Theo’s eyes, intercut with journal entries Alecia made before the murder. The silent patient is a gripping tale of violence and obsession with a surprising and memorable ending.