Some were newly photographed. Other shots were older. I chose seven as sufficiently mature to include. With their addition, I have forty pieces (or their digital equivalence, anyway). The ones under glass have a camera and tripod reflection. It wasn’t a big enough issue to warrant taking any frames apart.
A theme has emerged. I preferred to portray, when I had a steadier hand, decay and desolation. It isn’t always so hopeless, I have found. A world of forgotten worth, a junkyard or even a single antique is alive with residual energy.
After a while, it was sort of funny how little seemed to work. From erratic e-book formatting to low toner levels on the first batch of printed copies, a licensing dispute and the title getting attributed to a different Colin Turner, there were so many complications that I had to laugh at the latest. Admittedly, it’s a minor glitch.
“Los Angeles, California: A nude woman recorded in a series of photographs starting in 1899 hasn’t aged a day by 1946, the year of her most compelling picture.” So began the product description for my new book, IMAGE: An Illustrated Novel. The Amazon page where the Kindle edition was featured included “More items to explore” below the details. To my dismay, the recommendations bordered on pornography. Maybe removing the adjective “nude” from the introductory sentence would solve the problem, I had reasoned. I was wrong. The metadata keywords are the next to undergo my scrutiny.
In the meantime, it’s a reminder that a woman’s bare body, in our culture, is automatically sexual. Either a female is sufficiently dressed and decent or she reveals too much of herself and is seen as sleazy. Those who’ve volunteered to model for me were amazingly beautiful but ashamed of how they looked underneath their clothes.
IMAGE is an effort to portray the figure by focusing on its absence. Seventeen of its eighteen illustrations are of antiques, the last one of nothing at all. Completing the project was a challenge. A movement disorder made drawing difficult. I finished the final picture in March of 2020.
Releasing the novel wasn’t any easier. Even after exchanging twenty-one query letters for rejection notices and deciding to publish the manuscript myself, a number of issues arose. I wrote about the paranormal and have jokingly said that a ghost was out to get me. The likelier scenario is scarier. Many people with my condition develop dementia. The dumb mistakes that I have made lead me to wonder if my cognitive decline has already begun. If so, the clock in the illustration for chapter four is appropriate. Maybe it’s only a matter of time.
While connecting the communities of Gold Hill and Eagle Point, Oregon, State Route 234 passes through Sams Valley (the basin was named after Chief Sam of the Rogue River Tribe). Impressive views of Upper and Lower Table Rock dominate the nearby horizon. Turn North from the modern highway, however, and the weathered remains of the town appear. It’s only a short drive from our neighborhood so Lisa and I venture there on occasion to admire the still-intact schoolhouse. Up the road, the ruins of a gas station sit alongside the shoulder. Follow the main thoroughfare east and a Chevron is immeasurably more convenient — especially given how the older pumps are rusted relics now — but I’ve never stopped to snap a picture of the up-to-date facility.
In my previous post, I called myself an accidental blogger since I had only joined WordPress to get a website. Even so, as a means of cataloging my three novels and thirty-three pieces of art (the only ones of which I still have photographic records), colinturnerswork.com had finished serving its purpose long ago. My first blog post was dated August 15, 2020. Here I am, eighteen entries later, still claiming that I don’t have very much to say. It has become a kind of creative outlet. I may not have foreseen the blog feature’s utility but, to be honest, I have enjoyed being my own biographer.
How does it relate to a broken-down gas station? Eventually, the future won’t include us. Who doesn’t dream that, after we’re gone, somebody will appreciate our accomplishments? I don’t expect to see my work hanging in The Louvre. No, my little corner of the internet is the digital equivalent of an out-of-the-way place where a traveler might happen to stop and discover that I had done something worth remembering.
In 1992, when I was a college senior, the internet hadn’t even crested my conceptual horizon. I could have had no idea that, almost three decades later, I would be an accidental blogger (I only joined WordPress to get a website). Back then, as a twenty-one-year-old art student, I had created a final project in photography that would have fit nicely with an essay that I had written for English 103A. How could I ever combine those words and images? Such were the limitations of either medium at the time: short of getting published as a book, the projects were bound to remain separate. More recently, I found the aging pages and pictures and thought, why not post them together?
For two weeks now, I haven’t completed a drawing. To keep from wasting illustration board (it isn’t cheap), I had to erase a couple of false starts. Maintaining a positive attitude, along with learning to cope with my compromised dexterity, is a challenge. A larger project would help me stay focused. The last few were novel-length. My latest manuscript included seventeen images of antique objects. It’s still at the query stage. I’m waiting to hear from a handful of publishers. In the meantime, I feel adrift. Reviewing my recent work, I began to wonder if I had ever depicted vintage collectibles in the past. The answer involved digging up a newspaper article that featured my design for the logo of a store.
The Davis Enterprise clipping is dated September 19, 1999 (I’m not a believer in numerology but find that pretty cool). I was, at the time, a scruffy-looking twenty-nine-year-old. The sandwich board in the foreground had been printed. I had painted the sign on the building by hand. My reasons for helping the proprietor — behind whom I appear to be hiding in the photograph — were not entirely professional. Regardless, she exhibited my art in her showroom later on.
What’s important to me, in retrospect, is how the antiques that I portrayed at the end of the twentieth century found their way into the pages of my third literary project after twenty years had passed. There is, it turns out, a precedent for my subject matter. Furthermore, I have rediscovered a memory as well as a title that I had forgotten: “creative assistant”.
I still keep a few announcements in a cigar box in our office. They remind me of the last time that I had fully committed to having a gallery show. The paintings were almost abstract although with a depth that suggested fantastical landscapes. What bothered me at the opening reception was how many people wanted me to explain what the pieces meant. If I had to speak at length then why hadn’t I just written my thoughts out instead? That occasion had a lot to do with my pursuit of fiction. Words, I decided, were more effective than images. My work has always straddled the line between the two. In high school, I won an essay contest (“What America Means To Me”, sponsored by the Cameron Park, California Rotary Club). At American River Community College, an English professor urged me to major in his subject instead of art (after reading my paper on Lolita where I had compared America to the supposedly naïve teenager from the story by citing the roadside culture from the book). In my senior exhibit at U.C. Davis, more people were drawn to my artist’s statement than my paintings (including the faculty member whose studio classes I had taken the most; he said, “Man, you can really write!”). If I still had any doubts about which direction to follow, I received another sign a few months after the date listed on the postcard in our office.
It was Spring of the year 2000 when I hung the same series in a corridor at the beautiful new alumni center at the university. There were picture rails that required the use of wires attached to hooks higher up to avoid hammering nail holes into the walls. Of course, I suspended my heavy pieces with strands of fishing line instead of something stronger. They broke. Within a week, four or five of my paintings had fallen to the floor. The frames were smashed. Whether it was a message from the universe or an act of self-sabotage, I lugged my ruined carpentry home in disgrace. Almost twenty-one years later, though, I see that episode as a clue. When I look at the tattered announcement on which a good example of my style at the time is reproduced, what’s striking is the title (and also those of the body of work as a whole).
Despite the vague depictions of otherworldly scenes, I had chosen lines from The Odyssey to identify each. I might have already considered my work illustration, not fine art. More recently, I came across the original, hand-written rough draft of a sheet of details for the show:
The book and line numbers were enumerated, also. A few more options spilled onto another page. I especially enjoy the misspelling of Hue in “Every Hugh Would Hang There Ripening” as if it referred to a bunch guys with that name instead of colors.
Others are equally cumbersome — “This Present Dark and One Day’s Ebb” (now, “Day’s Ebb”) and “As The Sunwarmed Earth Is Longed For” (now, “The Sunwarmed Earth”) — yet also literary (the notes below are an already edited version). Displayed on placards, the random quotations read like captions across a printed page. At some point, however, they became even more abbreviated, which is how they appear in the gallery here. Lengthy phrases were pared to one-, two- or three-word combinations. Now, I feel like the compositions can speak for themselves without Homer’s intrusive input. Why, though, would I shorten them? Novel-length creations, where every sketch is assigned an entire chapter of its own, have occupied me ever since. Maybe I needed the words and the images, both, to be my own.
Last week, Google Maps had worked. Why not use “Street View”, I had thought, to go on a virtual road trip and draw what I saw? Although it was a decent idea, the details were vague. As it turns out, a closer look means relying on other material. A specific style of architecture, Queen Anne, has intrigued me lately. My third (yet-to-be-published) novel, IMAGE, features a mansion built along those lines. I was aware of a similar structure nearby, looked it up and roamed alongside the property via my computer screen. The grainy glimpse that I got betrayed the technology’s limitations. A little more research yielded a lot of additional history.
At the next exit up the interstate from where I live, this home is familiar to me in a different guise. It has been restored. The photograph above is spookier, though. I sketched it instead of its current, picture-perfect incarnation. What astonished me, however, was reading the National Register of Historic Places website:
“The Chavner residence was built in 1892 in the Queen Anne Style for Thomas Chavner who founded the town of Gold Hill.
Chavner, who had been born in Ireland, began accumulating land as soon as he came to the Rogue River Valley in 1856. After the discovery of the Gold Hill Lode on his property in 1859 the surrounding area became a center of interest and vitality. He built one of the first toll bridges across the Rogue River.
In 1884 Chavner and his second wife Rosa filed plat for the town of Gold Hill with the county commissioners.”
Such a peek into the past would have been impossible without digging further. The house and the town where it’s situated are linked in a way that I hadn’t realized. What else have I been missing? By the way, here’s the beauty nowadays:
I’m exploring a sloppier style. Some results are better. Some are worse. I did try a new idea, though. It involved taking a virtual road trip by way of Google Maps. I can use “Street View” wherever I decide to go, look around, stop and draw what I want. Travel is rare these days so it’s a manner of interacting with a distant environment. This time out, I only ventured to Ashland, Oregon (about twenty miles away). I like how the fish-eye perspective forces everything into weird angles.
Shortly after I moved to Oregon fifteen years ago, my dad and his wife (at the time) paid us a visit where my wife (at the time) and I had settled down. Some sightseeing was in order. We drove to Golden, a ghost town north of Grants Pass. Afterwards, we stopped off for lunch at the Wolf Creek Inn where they sell Golden memorabilia in the gift shop. I hadn’t realized that our visitors had bought a postcard until after they had returned to California. We found the souvenir in our guest room with a message on the back.
It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally gotten around to honoring their request.
In March of 2020, I finished illustrating my third novel, IMAGE. Seventeen of the pictures were of antiques, the eighteenth of nothing at all. It took almost a year for me to complete another sketch: a sloppy rendering of a car. I needed to learn to get the chaos under control. With that accomplished, I can move ahead. What to portray is a different question. Abandoned buildings are appealing (I’ve included a recent example here). My work has always dealt with desertion. It’s why old objects have such a mystique, I believe. They speak of the lives that were lived around them.