“Virginia Woolf’s amazing essay ‘On Being Ill’—where she interrogates literature’s lack of focus on illness, the collective obsession with the drama of romance over the drama of often inseparable physical and mental ailments—has been a jumping off point. So, I’m writing though some of my own experiences via Woolf and also some other artists and writers.”
I’ve never seen the author of Tender Buttons and Three Lives look as she looks in this painting by Picabia from 1937. Her head is small, perched on wide and rounded shoulders draped in brown. Beneath the cloak, a soft blue blouse with a large brooch peeks through. On her face, a sort of “oh well” smirk on thin, taut lips.
The artists I know are perfectionists, heartlessly so, because that is required. They will paint right over a failed canvas; they will rip out every stitch and start anew. The artist comes to her material with an mix of control and surrender, and her success seems to rely on her ability to grasp a material’s specific demands, while reconciling those with her own vision. There is something there, in the material, that works against you—which requires rigor, but might bring relief.
“It was about showcasing a range of stories — from heartbreaking to absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite stories in Pen is of the woman who had ‘Pizza Party’ inked on her toes. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s your story?’ and she was like, ‘I just fucking love pizza.’ So, you’re trying to let the hilarity of something like that come through, too. We wanted there to be a bit of a narrative if you read it from front to end, but something you could also just pick up and flip around.”
Francesca Woodman was a photographer who is well known for her surreal, black and white photography of which she is often the subject. The daughter of a family of artists, Francesca studied photography at RISD and in Italy, ultimately settling in New York City, where she had a studio. She died in 1982 at age twenty-two by suicide, jumping out of the Barbizon building.