The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

I won’t lie, reading The Sound and the Fury was not the most enjoyable experience.  Even being a fan of As I Lay Dying and quite a few Faulkner short stories, this was challenging.  Stream of consciousness is one thing, but huge skips in the timeline without any indication is another.  Faulkner is a genius, but genius isn’t always agreeable.

While reading this book, I stumbled upon this quote by Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  The story of the Compson family is shrouded by their past; their place in society as aristocrats that has since crumbled.  They’ve lost their fortune, their reputation, their faith and they struggle to move on from and escape their past to create something better.

For the cover design, I wanted to, in some extent, express my own frustration and difficulty in reading this novel.  Reading it was a battle, but at some point I realized the battle was felt strongly in part because I felt the battles of the characters.  I felt their discontent, especially from the first narrator Benjy.  His was the character I felt the most, perhaps because he was the first, but definitely because Faulkner is fantastic at getting the reader into a characters' headspace.  His yearning to be heard and understood by those around him stuck with me throughout the novel and that’s what I decided to echo through my own frustration.

I found these two images on the Library of Congress’ image database (which, if you have never utilized, go do so immediately.  It is a fantastic design resource that I take advantage of constantly.) I searched for hands because I felt that they, sometimes more than any other part of us, can tell the most about our experiences.  We see our age, our posture, and our emotion through our hands.  I laid both images on top of each other to express frustration, confusion, and an overall feeling of discontent.

When the two images are laid on top of each other, the hands are  somewhere in between resting and stretching, holding back and reaching; a state I found the characters in the novel in and the state many may feel pondering Faulkner’s quote I iterated above.  The past is something we can become accustomed and comfortable with, scared to part with, or something we can acknowledge the pain and sting of, and flee at full force from to make the present better. 

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

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.