He paints, he draws, and he tells a great story. Agave Magazine's Artist-in-Residence Tony Luciani's Castel di Capestrano graces the front cover of the latest issue of Agave Magazine, so this week we've asked him to give us the inside scoop on the cover image and some more of his favourite works.
The Italian series
I spent three years in Italy. That is to say, one year, three separate times. Although I was born in Toronto to a family of Italian immigrants, I didn't go to Europe until my Ontario College of Art post-graduate year, in 1977-78. That year was spent mostly in Florence, studying the Renaissance masters. Needless to say, I was awestruck. I went back on my own in 1980-81, and again in 1984-84. Those two times, however, I lived in and painted the tiny village of Carrufo, high up the mountains of Abruzzo, where my family came from. It was during those extended visits that I came to maturity as an artist.
The study for Castel di Capestrano was done on a very narrow bridge in the village of Capestrano. I had to move my easel every time someone in a car wanted to cross over. It was this view I desired, and no car or wide mule-pulled cart full of kindling was going to dissuade me.
To me, Campo Santo di Carrufo is a spiritual painting. The mounds of earth on the graves roll like swells in the ocean, and the cypress trees remind me of souls reaching up to the heavens from their peaceful resting places. I kept the imagery in this work rather vague and purposefully flat, not wanting to lend this experience any sense of reality. My grandfather is buried there.
This series of charcoal drawings began as an observation over a period of two years. My excursions to the local township dump while I was living in the country were always interesting for me, and on every occasion, I would eye the mounds of scrap rubber piled high up against the expansive sky. This is where tires came to die.
One day I showed up with no waste to deposit; instead I had a sketchbook and camera. I asked the site attendant if it was okay with him if I spent some serious time with the mountain of rubber across the way. I explained that I was an artist and I thought the tires were beautiful. He took a step back and said, under his breath, "ahhhh... okay... sure."
All day long as I sketched, photographed and touched the tires, I could see the attendant, a hundred feet away at his booth, talkng to everyone who showed up to discard their garbage, pointing to me and bringing his other hand up to the side of his head, rotating an extended finger.
I heard the laughing... but I got four great drawings.
I had driven many times past a myriad of huge, grey-white turbines strewn across the open farmland outside Shelburne, Ontario. And then one day, taking a road less traveled, I came upon a small, steepled country church and saw the turbines from a new perspective. The scene, it seemed to me, was about the juxtaposition of modernity and antiquity; of furious, curious technological 'progress' and the resulting demise of acres of fertile farmland. In the century-old graveyard beside the church, the crosses on the tombstones echoed the shapes of the turbine blades, reminding me, ridiculously, of the tune from the last scene of the Monty Python film Life of Brian: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
A few years ago a major tornado came through the town where I live. The twister destroyed buildings, uprooted large trees, toppled hydro poles, and devastated parts of the surrounding countryside. Although its path was immense, there was only one casualty; sadly, it was a young boy from this area.
I began a painting with thoughts of capturing the tornado's aftermath. I was helping a friend clean up the debris on her farm the day after the storm and witnessed a scene of tranquility as well as destruction. The sky was the most beautiful blue, yet catastrophe was all around us. And so I painted with that thought in mind. I titled it Aftermath.
With the completed work now on my easel, I was entirely unsatisfied. I took one step back, and a deep breath in, and I knew I had to change it. It just looked like a fallen-down barn, a victim of abandonment.
My painted sky changed. The peaceful blue that had so captivated me became a dark, swirling array of greyish-black clouds. I inserted the twister in the distance. I brushed in sticks and lumber flying in every direction, and made the barn explode with power.
Now I had a painting I was happy with. I called it Twister.
I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia a few years ago and was overwhelmed by the depth of emotion I felt while standing at Pier 21, overlooking the water. This, I thought, is where my father, traveling on his own from Italy at the age of 40, first set foot on Canadian soil in 1950. I imagined the magnitude of his journey. He arrived at one end of this vast country, unable to speak English, and from there made his way to Alberta to work in the coal mines so that he could make enough money to get settled and bring over his wife and children. It took four long years.
My mother and my two brothers, Domenico and Terenzio, arrived at the same Pier 21 in November 1954. I wanted to document this achievement and used an old photo of the actual ship my family sailed on, the Saturnia, as my model. I also used typical Halifax homes of the time to represent what the city must have looked like back then.
When they arrived, my mom and brothers boarded a train from Halifax to Toronto, where they met up with my dad and settled in the city. I was born 17 months later.
By Deb A.
Roald Dahl's beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and the occasion is being marked with hints of controversy from both a half-century ago and today: a chapter that didn't make it into the final version–it was considered too scandalous and immoral for British children of the 1950s–was printed in The Guardian on Saturday, and the cover of the new edition, published as a Penguin Modern Classic, has been roundly criticised as more appropriate for Valley of the Dolls or Lolita. (Making Dahl's name even more ubiquitous is a recent uproar over the use of the word "slut" in another of the author's books, Revolting Rhymes.)
The previously unseen chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reveals some of the major changes that were made before the final draft went to print. Initially, Charlie brought his mother, not his grandfather, along for Willy Wonka's tour, and was joined by eight other children instead of four. In the unpublished chapter featured in The Guardian, two unruly boys nearly meet a gruesome end: after clambering onto the wagons that transport chunks from a fudge mountain, Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck disappear off to "The Pounding And Cutting Room", to the horror of their parents. Willy Wonka reassures them, in the least reassuring and most Wonka-esque way, that there's a strainer in place for just this sort of occasion, and it's always worked: "At least it always has up to now." It's probably better for Wilbur and Tommy that they didn't make the novel's final cut, in more ways than one.
By Deb A.
Christopher David DiCicco writes short fiction in his attic. But he also mumbles it to himself in grocery stores, so if you run into him in Pennsylvania, don't be alarmed. He is a proud member of the online literary community whose piece, "Life Where You Want It" brings an upside-down world to the pages of Agave Magazine's Summer 2014 issue. (He would probably not mind you thinking he wrote Amy Hempel's "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" as well: "I can read that story over and over and you know what, so could you.") This week we are proud to introduce to you the fascinating Christopher D. DiCicco.
Where did you come up with the idea of a short story about being upside-down on a roller coaster?
I think in stories, so it just kind of came to me like a lot of mine do, but then like a lot of my ideas, I married it to something more important that interests me or haunts me or hurts my damn soul. You know what I mean, one of those deeper themes that occur throughout most literature because we’re all so similar, I married it to one of those guys. I’d been talking to my writer friend Matthew Kabik and he’d been reiterating his hate for his cubicle life; every day he’d look at this awful inspirational poster of a mountain biker riding down a hill with the words “Go for it” at the bottom of it or something like that. He said it crushed his soul, the stupidity and corniness of his corporate job trying to inspire him, and I thought about it, how odd and scary it is that we get stuck in these daily loops where we end up doing the same thing over and over again that we’d rather not do, and how that’s probably as weird as the rain hitting the ground and drying it right up. So, I guess the piece is a reaction to that. It’s my way of trying to make the reader look at things in a different perspective, maybe notice how weird things already are.
What would your upside-down life be like?
Upside down, when I kiss my wife, it’s because I’m angry. I step into a room and walk outside into the sun.
Hanging there no longer right-side up, I feed strays, starving them until I can see their ribs.
And when I dance, I stand completely still, and when I’m sad and cry upside down, little words in the tune of a happy jingle come singing out my eyes letting everyone know what it’s like to be me.
You sometimes write by dictating into your iPhone – does that change the nature of your final draft compared to things that start on a screen/a sheet of paper? Do you use this method because your brain is bubbling over with ideas, or because your life as a father/husband/teacher means you have to make the most of every minute... or just because you like to?
No, not really because even if I start a piece on screen or paper, I like to hear it aloud. I’m very interested in how my writing sounds, the flow of it. If I’m typing the thing, I’m saying it aloud and if I’m recording it, then it’s only a matter of time before I’m typing it anyway, so I don’t see a real change in the nature of the writing, not really. But it’s terrible at Starbucks. People probably think I’m whispering to myself. Although it’s probably worse when I’m at the grocery store talking into my phone about life on an upside-down roller coaster. And it’s not like I voice it aloud because it has to sound beautiful or anything. It’s more of it sounding right, to fit what I’m trying to capture for the particular piece. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s my voice. I know how I sound or the narrator should sound, and if it’s not right, then I want to fix it. For me, dictating into my phone or reading it aloud as I write helps ensure that I’m writing it as it should be. I guess that kind of answers the second part of your question in a way, but not completely, so here goes...I think my style and my process are reciprocal in nature. My style is as much a product of my process as my process is a part of my style. And I’m overflowing with ideas, so I say into my phone, “New story idea” or “Continuation of…” and then I start listing the details, and then I’m like, the hell with this, because the details start taking form and then I just can’t help myself and I start telling the story, which is me writing. I think that makes sense because that’s the kind of the voice I have, some sort of weird casual storyteller. Isn’t that what writing fiction is anyway? Storytelling? I mean, the same way a singer or musician might emphasize a certain note, holding it out or cutting it nice and tight, that’s what the fiction writer does. He or she decides where to cut a word or splice in a phrase, where to emphasize a detail no one cares about until the storyteller decides it’s important, and in doing so the writer produces something of his/her own creation... and what the hell am I talking about, so yeah, being a father/husband/teacher reinforces my approach to writing. It’s old-fashioned storytelling, parenting and teaching—I’m always telling them a story—and if I tell it well enough they’ll listen.
Where does your (presumably irrepressible) urge to write come from?
Urge? It’s more like an anxiety. I have this need to write, and when I do, I feel good. At least, most of the time. It’s a part of me. And the more I know about it, the more writing becomes interesting to me—it becomes something I have to do because I love it. It’s really a narcotic thing, my urge to write. It comes from this intense appreciation of writing as an art, and a sort of obsession over style and experimentation. Those things complete me in a very corny way—who wouldn’t have the urge to feel completed?
Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, but I never call it that. I’m not sure why. I know what it is. It’s when I write and hate every word I think of. I get so down on myself that everything seems wrong and I wonder why I write at all. To get over it, I read my favorite stories and they remind me of how good writing is, then I read something I’ve written that I know is good or at least has a good part to it, and when I come to that word or line or paragraph that sounds like it should and I’m proud of it and feel good, then my faith has been restored in me, not just in the written word. Then I can write again.
By Deb A.
The British Library is the home of two Gutenberg Bibles; one of da Vinci's notebooks; the only remaining manuscript copy of Beowulf; the earliest known printed book, the Diamond Sutra... and an impressive collection of comics.
Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK's largest exhibition of comic books, with the majority of material coming from the library's permanent collection. While comic books are often taken lightly in the realms of art and literature, The British Library aims to shine a spotlight on the art form's power, displaying comics that challenge the status quo in a range of social issues including politics, violence, gender, and sexuality. The earliest exhibit dates back to the 15th century, but the bulk of the display comes from the last hundred years, and includes contributions from Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Jamie Hewlett.
Co-curator John Harris Dunning, working alongside Adrian Edward and Paul Gravett, hopes "that this show will stimulate creative disobedience and throw down the gauntlet to young creators – as well as show audiences, who perhaps have not read comics before, what a diverse and exciting medium they are. The demystification of the process of creating comics is a key part of this exhibition, with once in a lifetime opportunities to see original artwork and scripts from comics greats."
Comics: more than mysterious men in tights, and definitely not just for kids.
Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK runs until August 19th, 2014.
By Deb A.
Thirty years ago, the pelican became extinct. Hardly a peep was heard from the Audubon.
This May, in what is more a miracle of modern readership than Jurassic Park-style DNA revival, it will soar the proverbial skies once more.
Begotten of penguins –more specifically, Penguin Books – the Pelican imprint, like its parent, helped make good literature that was previously the preserve of the upper classes available to the mass market. Pelican Books was hatched in 1937, just two years after Penguin had been founded to offer titles such as A Farewell To Arms and The Great Gatsby at irresistibly reasonable prices.
Its goal was to leave the entertainment to Penguin and instead focus on educating readers on contemporary issues. The distinct Penguin colour block style in Pelican-only light blue and white flew (apologies) off the shelves starting with the very first title, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism by George Bernard Shaw. Sigmund Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life sold out completely within a week in 1938. The trend continued for nearly a half-century, but Pelican books eventually fell out of fashion and, subsequently, out of existence.
Pelican books – whether sticking haphazardly out of a back pocket or casually lining a living room wall – were a signifier of (real or projected) intelligence and a willingness to engage with new ideas, much as, decades later, the first white earbuds indicated a passion for music and technology (and a sizable disposable income). As the pelican mimics the phoenix and rises from the ashes of its predecessor, it will be interesting to see whether it will once again become an icon in homes, residence rooms and back pockets around the world.
The first title of the new Pelican series, an original work called Economics: A User's Guide by Ha-Joon Chang, will be released next month. Five books are set to be published each year.
Literary, art and photography publications, and publisher of fine books. For current book titles, or for more information on our services, visit us online:
Copyright © Agave Magazine + Press, 2019