Barry Moser on "Barry Moser: The Storied Artist"

Barry Moser on "Barry Moser: The Storied Artist"



Barry Moser: The kind of work that I do, in fact the
fact kind of work that all people do who are in my field, the work progresses in
ways that you never know that it's progressing.
I didn't suddenly one day start doing the kind of work that I'm doing now. I
mean the the work that I'm doing now is a slow attrition, a digesting, if you will,
of what's gone before, the distilling. It's not any just all of a sudden this
happened. It's-It's evolution. It goes from, in my case, it's gone
from complexity towards, more toward simplicity. If there's any one underlying
theme to what I do, it's honesty. There's no bullshit in my work. It's direct. Even in
drawing, it's black on white, well, you know, well, yeah, I do use grays, but
but engraving, it's strictly you cut something out of that block, and it's
white and that's it. The, uh, the question of influences is always an interesting one
to me because the glib answer to the question is that I'm influenced by
everything I see. I can't help but be. I mean I'm influenced, you know, by looking
at the advertisements in a magazine. In fact, there've been a couple of times
when I've stolen things from advertisements in magazines and applied
them to, to my own work, so but in terms of the real influences, in terms of
making images, I guess you have to go all the way back to Masaccio and the
early Renaissance and how Masaccio told stories on a, on one wall and
he tells three different stories, three parts of the same story in one
picture frame that has been a big influence on me.
And then coming up to the, to, you know, Germany and the 1400s, the-there, Mr.
Dürer sitting there who's a huge influence early on in my life. Still is
today, but not like that. Käthe Kollwitz. A huge influence on me.
Right sitting there over the mantle is her etching of the "The Downtrodden," which continues to be an inspiration for me. Then you get the people that I've worked
with who influenced me. George Cress. Mighty fine painter, dead now, that I
studied with in Chattanooga before I moved north. And then I moved up here and
I met Baskin, Leonard Baskin, and he became a huge influence, and that was in
the, in the late 60s, and I didn't outgrow his influence until probably 20
years ago. It's an influence that was very powerful
and stayed with me. But as a book designer, the influences are pretty
classic. The first book designs that I was aware of as book designs were from the
Gehenna press and Baskin, and that influence is still with me. Baskin's influences
influenced me. William Morris, the Doves Press, Emery Walker, you know,
the classic English printers, and I'm still there, I'm very very conservative
in my designs. Phil Salmon: Right. Good, clean designs. Moser: Less conservative in my image making. My image making is conservative in terms of figures being recognizable figures and
all of that sort of thing, but the underlying sympathies of those images
are not particularly conservative. In fact, they get pretty radical sometimes. Well, first of all, a story has to
interest me on a literary level, and, not that I'm a great literary critic by any
means, but I do appreciate good writing, and I am not drawn to written works that
are poorly written, that have, you know, obvious plots, so that doesn't interest me
at all. So I'm drawn to, to literature that has
indelible characters in them, and usually it's not the, the, you know, the
Hollywood hero type that I'm interested in it is the downtrodden, it is the
monster in, in Mary Shelley's book Frankenstein. I have no sympathy
whatsoever from Victor Frankenstein, he's a little asshole, he was, you know, he's a
sophomore in college. I have all kinds of sympathy for that monster. I have
sympathy for Jim in Huckleberry Finn. So it's those sources of characters and
things that I'm interested in. Even in, you know, when you come up to
children's books, the, the stories that I've been commissioned to do and the
ones that I've written to myself, they're they're the characters, the, the trickster
figures, you know, the Brer Rabbit, one of my favorites, and, uh, and even when I, when I rewrote my telling or when I wrote my
telling of the Three Little Pigs, you know, the one that I call Hi, H I, and then I
period Q period Hogg, H O G G, but old Hi I.Q. Hogg outfoxes the wolf. You know, it's
that sort of the, the, the underdog, the character that rises above the situation,
that's the sort of thing that I'm attracted to. Salmon: And so illustration pulls
out the character in these characters. Moser: Yes, yeah. The isolating out of a story specific
images is always a serious issue and a major problem at the, at the
beginning, well, at the beginning of a project, in the middle of a project, and
at the end of a project because I'm always changing my mind, redoing things,
throwing things away, and doing them again. Um, when I- let's just talk about the
big one. When I did the, the Bible, there are 262 images in that Bible. When I
started off, I took, I made a list of things that I wanted to do, I made a list
of images that Rembrandt had done, that Velasquez had done, all the people who
had limited the Bible one way or another to see what other people had done, so I
made a big list. I bought a huge paperback copy of the Bible, and I put
stickies in everywhere I had a note, and there were probably five hundred stickies
in there. So I studied where the stickies were in the book, and they were mostly up
front in Genesis. That's where all the great stories are, so I had to remove,
take stickies out, and I did that not by choice but by spacing, where those
stickies came up on the fore-edge of that book, so that when a reader is
reading it, you're not jammed up with ten illustrations in a row and then 15 pages
of text and then three illustrations then ten more. I wanted it to be paced out, and
that goes back to my having spent six years in a military school when I was a
kid, grades 7 to 12. Everything is regimented, everything is
in a straight line, and in my book designs and all
that everything is square. So I've, I've removed all these images to space images- space the illustrations out, and then where there were no- no stickies in
there, which happened to be the books of poetry, I went back in and inserted
stickies randomly so that I had that pacing that that that cadence going from
page 1 to page 1500. So the choice of subject matter there was dictated by the
cadence of the book. In some measure, not altogether. So that's one thing and
that's really important to me, but the other thing I'm drawn to the bizarre, I'm
drawn to the strange, to the freak. If I have a choice to do a Frankenstein,
there's a good example again, I'm not drawn to Victor Frankenstein or
Elizabeth or any of the other normal characters I'm drawn to that monster, I'm
drawn to the, to the created one. And Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I'm drawn to Hyde,
all of that, that's my my interest and it's one of the things that I miss in in
doing children's books is that I don't often have the opportunity to confront
evil, and one book that just came to mind that nobody has ever seen is Virginia
Hamilton's Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny, which is an African-American scare tale,
and I was able to to do a particularly nasty witch. So yeah, those bizarre
strange things, I've been doing that ever since I was a kid. I've got a thing
hanging up on the wall up here that I did when I was 10 years old for the
famous artist's school, you know, down in Connecticut, and one of the things, it was a paid draw what you want to draw, there's a gargoyle, there's, you know, all kinds of
very strange, weird characters and stuff. I've been, I've been toying around with
with that kind of thing all of my life. It's like I have a, I'm drawn to Lennie in Of
Mice and Men, and if it were in the public domain I would have already done
that book a long time ago because I identify with with with Lennie like I
identify with the hunchback in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, so that's the sort of thing
that I'm drawn to. Well, going back and forth between
something that is so disciplined and rigid as engraving, which is orthographic,
I mean, it's either black or it's white, that's one way that I work, but when I get over
into watercolors, it's because watercolor is water, it's it is by its nature
fluid, so the the nature of the two different media is self-explanatory, I
think. However, that said, in my engraving occasionally I, well more than
occasionally, I am seeking a sense of fluidity in the image itself, but it's a
different kind of fluidity than I than I than I, from what I get when I'm laying
down watercolor washes. There you're actually mixing fluids,
whereas with engraving, it's a it's an it's a an implying the fluid and then you get
into how the lines actually move, the lines in my engraving typically are not
straight at all but are always curving and that's because the left hand is
turning the block into the right hand so it's always in a curving motion between
the two hands, they give those those telltale curving white lines, so there is
the element of fluidity there too Salmon: You've kind of anticipated the second
part of the question, which is do they inform each other in any way? So
I guess there is a little bit of- Moser: Well yeah, as far as I'm concerned the the
watercolor and washed drawings and engraving, and I don't do etchings anymore,
but if we were to flow, if we were to throw that medium in there as well then all of
those have influenced the others. Yeah, when I'm making an image for, uh, to engrave,
often as not, there is there are the the the sketch itself is very fluid looking
more like a wash drawing or watercolor than it does a line drawing, so yeah, they
they talk they talk to each other constant conversation back and forth and
I find that's true also between the the literature that I deal with and the
images. That's a conversation that's going on between me, the medium, and the
story, so it's a tripartite conversation that's always going on. Yup. Well, what does
politics have to do with my work, it doesn't really have a whole lot to do
with it, although I do every now and again dip into that world. I think my my
first political foray was in Through the Looking-Glass and I, I had, no, I guess, yeah,
Through the Looking-Glass, because I had Richard Nixon sitting up on Humpty, as
Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall then came the Wizard of Oz and The Wizard of
Oz was, it was populated by Ronald Reagan and his cabinet, with Mr. Reagan as the
the Wizard himself. So I've done all of that, I mean done things like that throughout my my latter years, uh, but the
thing is doing religious art and political art, if, Flannery O'Connor said, if you're gonna make political art or religious art, she said religious art, you
have to make it art first. There's so much poppycock going on, the the theme the the message of which I might agree with a
hundred percent, but, I'm thinking about a lot of political cartoons right now, but
I won't read them because they're so poorly done that you don't invite me to
read so I don't read them, so I I'm concerned, if I'm doing something political, I'm
concerned first with the composition, with the play back and forth, with
between black and white, in between pattern and simplicity, and all that sort
of thing, that's what I'm first of all concerned with. Then, if I have an image
of Donald Trump moving into a landscape as a, as a black planet or something,
well, that comes about later. Um… Salmon: So it goes back to good storytelling. Moser: Yeah. Salmon: It always
comes back to the story.

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