By Deb A.
Summer is always a good time to catch up on some reading — the weather is just right to relax under a tree in the park or wiggle your toes into a sandy beach and turn the first pages of the book that's been sitting on your shelf, waiting to be read, for months.
By now, you may already have devoured a few of the books you've been meaning to read; in case you're wondering how to fill the rest of the season, here's what the staff of Agave Magazine will be tucking into the sides of their picnic baskets.
Ariana: I'm working my way through Harvard's annotated Jane Austen editions. Gorgeously constructed square-format volumes that are both highly informative and insightful, ideal for any Janeite. I'm also reading The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch and catching up on finishing The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.
Anna: At the top of my summer reading list are Grace, A Memoir by Grace Coddington and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
Issraa: On a maternal kick this summer with the late Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom and Hanan Al-Shaykh's retelling of her mother's story, The Locust and The Bird on my reading list. Meanwhile I'm slowly getting through What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff. No new titles here I'm afraid. But I did just give these two books by Sweden's new bestselling author as a summer reading birthday gift: The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.
Deb: Apart from marathon on-demand readings of the Dr. Seuss classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (does it count as reading if you' can do it with your eyes closed?), I've got Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's reflections on his time in hiding, in my carry-on bag. That should tide me over until I get to my favourite bookstore, Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal, where I always find at least a half-dozen titles I can't resist.
Grant: I'll be reading California, Edan Lepucki's debut novel about post-apocalyptic America, as well as How The World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through The Science Of Fascination by Sally Hogshead.
Tony: There's a tiny paperback that I keep coming to (a lot) it seems. I decided to pull out a slim 122-page paperback that lives on my hefty studio shelf, next to all the massive, hardbound, thousand-page art books filled with glossy reproductions of the inspirational Renaissance Masters. Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bales and Ted Orland was given to me years ago by a fellow artist who, after I confessed to him that I was "stuck", figured this book might be of some use. It was. Still is. Every person, creative or not-so-much, can benefit from a few key words of high-minded wisdom, or just a low-winded kick in the ass. Although with time, I usually find a way around dilemmas of creative emptiness, this book tends to speed up the process. A quick read for a prolonged journey of elevated bumps and bottomless hovels along the way to wherever.
Happy summer everyone — what will you be reading?
By Deb A.
For Leah McFarlane, a camera is an adventure. Her photograph, 'On The Line', is a fanciful, thoughtful image that enticed the readers of the Summer 2014 edition of Agave Magazine to join her on her journey. We are pleased to provide a greater insight into the woman and her work here.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: You’ve said that photography is your “journal without words” – what draws you to using imagery to record your life and thoughts?
LEAH MCFARLANE: I love detail, and photography can capture it so quickly. I like to imagine, but it’s the physical part of bringing my mind visually to life that pulls me in. I can read or write something, but with a picture, I can actually see it in front of me. I think that’s why I’m more drawn to imagery. I want to look at things. Study the details. I can remember more things visually than if I would have read it.
I’m not saying I don’t like to write, because I like poetry or writing down something so I can refer back to it if I can’t photograph it at that moment, but many times I will just write little notes with a basic sketch of the shoot I want to create.
Personally, I would rather be shown how to do something, than told or have the directions read to me. I’m a visual learner. For example, to remember how to get somewhere, I know my way by the scenery rather than the street names.
Does your experience of growing up in the country get reflected in your work?
Absolutely! When I was a kid, my brother, sisters and I would go play outside, and we went exploring. We made our way through the swamp and woods. We caught frogs, bugs and butterflies. We picked wild strawberries and bouquets of flowers. We even looked for mice, snakes and salamanders under pieces of wood on the ground. We also made a wood teepee structure against a birch tree that’s still there today. There were so many things we could do so there was never a reason to be bored. I didn’t care about getting dirty or getting scratched up by sticks in the swamp. We enjoyed ourselves.
With my imagination, my determination grew too. If I want to do something, I’m going to do it or work to make it happen. When I get an idea for a photograph, I have to shoot it otherwise it nags at me. Exploring as a kid and searching for things brought curiosity into my photographs.
Do you still remember your first camera?
I honestly think the first camera I got was at Christmas when I was about five years old. It was a disposable camera, and that was the same day I got a big, fluffy, white teddy bear I named Snuggles. I took a ridiculous, might I add blurry, picture of cut up ham on my paper plate at my grandparent’s house. I photographed my cousin, my brother playing with his new remote control racecar and other family members caught off guard by the flash of my camera.
I truly believe my mom had a big, but subtle, impact. She was always taking pictures with her Konica FC-1 35mm camera. Even though it was always fun to get my picture taken and to take photos myself with my disposable cameras, the best part was getting to look at them after they’d been developed and printed.
I think it’s funny looking back when I was younger, either everyone says cheese and smiles when you want to take their picture, or they try to cover their face. That was fun for me. The minute people see you have a camera, they notice what you are doing and it’s like you become important.
What inspires you to take a photograph? Do you tend to stage things carefully, or do you usually work more spontaneously?
There are many:
What’s your favorite subject to photograph?
People. I want to make people happy and comfortable, and whether I’m taking their picture because they asked me to or they were just up for doing a shoot with me, my hope is that I can inspire and encourage those I am privileged to photograph, and maybe show them another way to look at life.
By Deb A.
This week's post was written in honour of the birth of the newest member of the Agave Magazine team. Congratulations Ariana and Grant!
1 This song was mentioned more than any other in literature as of 2012, appearing in 55 books including Paradise by Tony Morrisson.
2. This tale by Thomas Hardy is one of a young man whose ambitions extend well beyond his means.
3. He wrote one of the shortest books of the New Testament: a single chapter with 25 verses.
4. This surrealist poet is sometimes associated with the Beat Generation; his last volume of poetry, Daisy in the Memory of a Shark, was published posthumously.
5. This American landscape artist was largely self-taught. He is best-known for his marine subjects; his 'Breezing Up' was featured on a U.S. stamp in 1962.
6. This Scottish author and poet was a leading figure in fantasy literature as well as Lewis Carroll's mentor.
7. The work of these two sisters became defining features of the Glasgow Style during the 1890s.
8. This birthday is shared by poet John Gay, author Georges Duhamel, and the subject of this quiz!
Looking for hints?
Answers after the jump...
By Deb A.
Rees Nielsen started writing poetry in the late 1960s, found his first short story lurking in his brain in the 1970s, and has been painting seriously for the last twenty-five years. A former farmer, he has followed his own advice to "follow your passion, no matter how absurd that way may seem to everyone else," for which we at Agave Magazine are thankful: his 'Moonlit Woman' and "Yab Yum' both appear in the most recent issue.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Why did your wife originally encourage you to start painting?
REES NIELSEN: We had moved into a new house. Riina didn't care for prints; she preferred original pieces. Of course we couldn't afford to collect, but we did have a few paintings. Rollin Pickford, the great San Joaquin Valley watercolorist, was a family friend. When we were first married, Rollin and his wife Glenna brought over a stack of paintings and said, "Pick one." We spent hours going over those paintings.
Years later my wife walked up and said, "Paint me something I can hang on the wall." You have to understand, this wasn't a request, this was a challenge. She was saying, paint me something I think is good enough for my wall. It became something we collaborated on. Sometimes she might ask for certain colours or a certain style. She had natural sense of colour and form. Also she knew when to quit. I was always adding one more thing. Riina would look at what I was doing and say, "Stop right there." She taught me much of what I know about painting, just from her own instincts. Coupled to that, my children were a captive audience and as children they were less critical. If I painted them something for Christmas, they were excited whether it came out or not.
You've been painting for the last quarter-century; you also write poetry and prose. Is there one medium you prefer?
I don't know that I prefer one to the other but there are different challenges and rewards. Prose is work. It's fulfillilng, but its a task. It's building a house. Everything has to fit in a logical manner. The plot and characters have to come up to code. You have to have a foundation. You have to frame out the shell. Poetry is more like a journal, a witness that follows you around. Poems are a conversation you are having with yourself.
Painting and printing are the most fun. Writing you can tinker with forever; painting has a life cycle. It has a beginning and an end. It is completely inspiration-driven. There is this image you have in your head, followed by the struggle to bring that image to life. Once you put down the brush it's over and if you like what you have created, you give it to somebody who appreciates it or, if you have the space, you hang it on the wall. If it doesn't come out, well, that can be painful.
What are the easiest and most difficult aspects of your artistic process?
The easiest part of the process is that rhythm of purpose you develop while taking on a project. The hard part has always been stealing the time. By the summer, my cousin Alfred Hanson and I were working 70 hours a week. We were on the road to the farmers' market three days a week, packing our own fruit and running water at night. The summers were consumed by work, but in the winter the pressure wasn't as bad. We were up by 5, I got Riina's coffee going, took a quick spin, if we had crews in the field, then headed home where I could work on something for an hour or two before the kids had to go to school. At lunch I was through the door, ate quick and worked for 45 minutes or an hour. On the weekends, if I could snatch a moment, I worked on whatever was currently at hand. Needless to say I worked very very slowly. At that time my goal was to paint 150 canvases that I was satisfied with, finish my novel and short story collection and keep writing poetry.
How does your background as a fruit farmer inform your art?
The great thing about farming is it forces you out the door before the sun comes up and you are out there till it goes down. In the summer you have water running and you're out there fixing gopher holes at midnight. You become a functioning part of the changing seasons. Alfred and I worked that land for years. I grew up on that land. I played there as a kid. I hunted there. I did every task there was to do on that ranch. It was a way of life. I still remember the roll of thunder and the hail from a passing cloud that destroyed our apricot crop in less than a minute. I remember the price dipping so low we let the crop fall in the field. It was a humbling experience. However on those spring mornings when the orchards were in bloom and the bees were working and those first shafts of light struck through the trees, it was like a walking into a cathedral.
My high school friend and later boss, Harold McClarty, put it like this, "Farmers are clod kickers." A farmer just wants to be left alone by the world so he can roam his land from sunrise to sunset. Similar to artists in that way.
'Moonlit Woman' and 'Yab Yum' were created at around the same time. What sorts of things were inspiring you at the time, and how does your incorporation of curves fall into your portfolio?
Both 'Moonlit Woman' and 'Yab Yum' were created when I first started out. I was attempting to suggest form by using line and silhouette. My figures were usually stylized. The idea of 'Moonlit Woman' is that the line hints at the woman, whose form is filled out by light. If you look at [my son] Nathan's "Syncronicity," that is a different road. It's intricate and complex. I couldn't do something like that.
I have wanted to capture a feeling of movement in a lot of my work, as if there was a sense of wind moving through. Linoleum blocks were easy to cut and I could capture that feeling of motion. I was happy with the play of line on the blank page. The mediums you use do influence your work. I can still see the lino cut influence when I'm painting. When I moved out to Indianola, Nathan built me a bookcase. There was a bunch of wood left over so he constructed a series of wooden canvases. All the painting we have done on these panels have come out differently somehow, darker and more vibrant.
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