I just heard that B.K.S. Iyengar died. Strangely, one of the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks is making drawings of yoga poses. Here’s me working on one last Thursday.
I studied Iyengar yoga in the late 1980s and early 90s, and have kept up a minimal practice ever since. Several years ago I got out Mr. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga, and started doing quick brush drawings based on the lovely black and white instructional photos of him in the book. It was very fun and freeing, and really loosened up my drawing. Now I have found my way back to a similar project. I started by doing giant life-size charcoal sketches of myself in various yoga poses. It’s an interesting challenge to draw on this large scale, without preparatory sketches, just trying to draw from my whole body the way the pose feels.
I haven’t really thought this through intellectually…I guess it’s something to do with the body as a signifier, as a sort of unmediated vessel of meaning. But mainly I have just experienced a lot of joy doing these poses, and I feel grateful to Iyengar for his carefully codified teaching methods. I’ve tried other kinds of yoga, but nothing else has ever felt quite as deep or precise.
After drawing myself in a few poses, I got some other people to do their favorite poses for me. I did a quick sketch, took some reference photos, then later made a more careful, but still quick and spontaneous ink drawing—not life size but still much larger than I am accustomed to drawing.
It’s been a really fun and rewarding drawing project, plus I’ve been constantly googling images of B.K.S Iyengar doing the poses over the past week, since he is the gold standard. So it’s especially strange to hear that he is gone.
I am at an artists residency in Italy. I was magically given a fellowship to spend 6 weeks at this crazy castle in Umbria, a place called Civitella Ranieri. (See me poking my head out of the battlement window? My bedroom is in that tower.) There are a dozen or so of us—writers, visual artists, and musicians. (I count as a writer.) We get studios, amazing rooms in the castle or on the grounds, and they feed us wonderful local food every day. It’s pretty unbelievable.
I’ve never done an artists retreat of any kind. I’ve listened to my writer friends talk about their stints at various places, and it sounded nice, but not worth the hassle of packing up and leaving home. Now I understand why people do it. In recent years I’ve been feeling so raveled and shriveled and creatively wrung out. But with all this open time and generous space, I feel like I’m reviving a bit. I can just do whatever I want whenever I want. Here’s one of my rooms–a tall tower with a great old drafting table in it. I got myself a giant roll of good white paper, and I’ve been doing big drawings on it. First cartoony things in ink, then more naturalistic, life-size figure drawings in charcoal.
They take us out on field trips once a week. Last week we saw Piero della Francesca frescoes in Sansepolcro. This is Saint Julian, after realizing that he just accidentally killed his parents.
Here’s everybody’s favorite, Saint Sebastian.
Here’s a little movie I made of this strange bird I hear in the mornings.
It sounds like someone tapping away on an old manual typewriter, this funny erratic rhythm. You can hear it and not see it in the first half, and you can see it but not hear it in the second half, because it stopped chirping in order to groom and fluff.
Another cool thing that happened since I got here was the announcement that Fun Home will move to Broadway next spring. Who would ever have thought that beginning a 6 week artist’s residency at a gorgeous castle in Umbria could get better?
I did a cartoon recently for the Cartoon Issue of my local alternative weekly in Vermont, Seven Days. It’s about the experience of seeing my book Fun Home turned into a musical. Well, it’s about a very small part of that process–to convey the whole bizarre experience in all its complexity would take a book. This is just a little essay. Every year Seven Days does an all-cartoon issue—they have journalists work with cartoonists and run all these great visual stories.
Also, here’s how to pronounce my name, in case you ever need to know. That link will take you to a site called Teaching Books. They have these audio links of all different authors telling stories about their names. Find your favorites here.
Yesterday I had to go to the DMV to renew my license. How many identification cards have I posed for throughout my life, how many moments of bureaucracy-induced anomie have been captured, laminated, and carried around in my pocket for years until replaced with the next iteration? Roughly seventeen, apparently. Here I am aging from 17 to 53 in 20 seconds.
I have a cartoon in the latest issue of The New Yorker. I happen to actually be in New York, for the Lambda Literary Awards last night, where I got to give Nicole Georges the first graphic novel prize, and an event with Alysia Abbott tonight to talk about her book Fairyland. So this afternoon I bought the magazine hot off the press at a newsstand in Columbus Circle. I’ve been reading the cartoons in The New Yorker since before I could read. So it’s very strange and wonderful to have my own work in there.
Hol and I are on our way to Charleston. So is the cast of the musical “Fun Home.” Tonight we’re going to do a presentation at the College of Charleston together. I think it’s going to be pretty amazing.
For a little context, here’s an article about it from the Times.
I’ve been posting stuff direct to Facebook about my marvelous adventures in New Zealand. Somehow it is just easier, sometimes. Anyhow, if you care to follow me there, uh…I’m not sure how it works…can you just click this link, I wonder? And then “like” it?
It’s a “fan” page, not a personal page, and I’m always very confused about it.