Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Monday, February 8, 2016

THE MURALIST: Art Lovers Everywhere Lap it Up

Need something fast, hot, and downright good? You could hit up the Shake Foundation in Santa Fe...or you could just head on down to the library and pick up anything by B.A. Shapiro. I fell in love at The Art Forger, Ms. Shapiro's 2013 page-turner about fraud, all-nighters, and painting. So when Peg at the SFCC library put The Muralist, Shapiro's latest, into my hands, I dashed home, prepared tea, and began to devour.

The Muralist  doesn't disappoint. It's paced deftly, darting between 2015 New York to the tumult of the city in the 1940s. Shapiro characterizes well the cast of characters at arty bars and crammed, frigid studios: the alcoholic, say-anything Pollock; the supportive, sensible Krasner; the darkly sensual Rothko.

Among them is Alizee, their lesser-known (and wholly imagined) comrade, perhaps the most talented but also, arguably, the most troubled. Fighting to bring her Jewish family from France to New York, Alizee loses herself in her work...and ultimately loses her mind. Her 1940 disappearance anchors the book, providing a quiet mystery that undercuts the narrative, past and present.

Best of all, the book is fast and fun. It's light, the type of narrative you fall into after a long day of grading papers, barking at students, hustling to meetings...all the hours spent NOT reading. This is no Charles Dickens (happy belated, my fellow Aquarian friend!), but Give me something easy, I said to Peg, and she did.

To me, The Muralist's greatest strength lies not in the tense letters Alizee exchanges with her family in Europe, nor in the vivid descriptions of drunken nights with the (soon-to-be-filthy-rich) gang of artists. No, Shapiro's writing grabs ahold of me because of the way she writes work, the artist's work: frantic at times, possessed, as if she's no longer herself but the paint and the brush. The artist is gone from the world; she's left the building. The paint is her food, the hours her caffeine, the energy of the painting her fuel. I love reading about this lustful, crazed work - the same that defined the protagonist in The Art Forger, because when making art is good, it feels this way. You're not you anymore, and yet you've never been more yourself than in that moment.

Shapiro, in sensible, accessible prose, writes on the nature of art, and on the artist's life. It's one of trouble, anxiety, fear, and despair, but the moments of sheer beauty make it worth it.

Friends, hustle on down to your nearest book purveyor, and snap up a copy of The Muralist. Not in yet? Take The Art Forger instead...you'll probably need it for one night only.

Happy reading, my loves! Now carry on.

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