I’ve been a Kurt Vonnegut fan ever since I was told to read Slaughterhouse Five years ago (thanks Granny), and Bluebeard did not disappoint. It’s the story of Rabo Karabekian, an Armenian-American Abstract Expressionist painter. Vonnegut seamlessly blends reality and fantasy to create a larger-than-life but very believable story. I love how he weaves major figures and events from history into his narratives to create something entirely new to the reader. His ability to take intangible things and make them very personal is what made me a fan.
In Bluebeard, Vonnegut tackles the anxieties and insecurities every artist faces through his protagonist. He contemplates his experiences and his entire body of work, searching for worth and meaning. I feel to some extent Vonnegut is dealing with his own anxieties and insecurities through Rabo. It’s raw and honest and very relatable.
As far as developing a design for the cover, there were many symbols and images that stuck out in my mind when reading the book: his father’s cowboy boots, the locked barn, Sateen Dura-Luxe, his final masterpiece. But ultimately I felt these were too expected and literal. I instead decided to create a feeling instead of any one thing. I wanted to paint as I imagined Rabo would paint and ponder things he pondered.
I opened my giant art history text book, flipped to the Abstract Expressionists and let Rothko, Pollock, and De Kooning inspire my imagination of Rabo’s work. I zoomed into my painting, not having it be something so large and expansive to take in, but instead something more intimate, as the book is indeed intimate. I find the brush strokes and textures of the layers of paint building on on top of each other more effective at conveying emotion than the entire image. Like the novel, it’s a glimpse into how the artist works, their process, and what meaning they may (or may not) ultimately derive from their work.