Trash to Art to Trash


What to do with it all? Climb up from my basement dungeon studio… stacking and organizing and picking out what to paint over, what to trash.

So much stuff.

Think I’m gonna start taking pieces to A-Space and leaving them in the take-it-free-or trash-it corner. A lot of early assemblages–a few have held up, but they were all experiments (big grown-up word for ‘play’); making them was fun and gave me courage to go on to do other things–but I have to do something with the clutter. The nicer pieces get coated with cement dust from the walls.

Really depressing.

This weekend. Take maybe a dozen or so pieces to A-Space. They’re all at least interesting, in a conceptual sort of way. Compositions of street debris: old can lids, stucco flakes, roofing tar, nails, cigarette butts… dirt. Glued, nailed, tied with string to trashed pieces of weathered plywood or composition board. Capitalism in decay.

What ever possessed me?

I’ve got the larger pieces and paintings stacked face to the wall. Keep them a little cleaner. Some nice pieces. Come see them. Make me an offer and they’re yours.

Important correction to 1st Printing of Ari Figue’s Cat


MIssing epitaph! First printing of Ari FIgue’s Cat. Head of chap. 41, A Game of Pool, should be a quote from Plato’s Gorgias:
“…he who does injustice, the unjust man, is utterly wretched.”
Polus is incredulous, when Socrates tells him that the tyrant, who wields power freely and takes what he wants–that his life is wretched.
Ari Figue tells a story — seems he met Socrates in a bar in Overbrook (in the guise of Rufus). In the story, they play a game of pool as they consider the merit of this claim.
There are other errors (there always are)–but this one bothers me more. I think it’s important to the content.

Nature’s Mirror

I see these wonderful patterns in the pavement when I walk down the street–where the pavement is brocken. I’ve been doing art from this, from what I see, and what happens in my visual mind between seeing and rendering those patterns in ink or colors. Last night I brought some of these pieces to the book launch for my novel, Ari Figue’s Cat. A man came in early, no one else there. All he could see in the paintings were — human faces. Oh–there’s a nose! There’s the eye!
I don’t own anyone’s take on what they see in my art, so went along with him… but after a while, it got kinda anoying. When the fuck, I was thinking–are we going to stop seeing our own reflecdtion in everything? Maybe nature’s mirror isn’t there to reflect our own faces–or how we want to see them–but to reflect back at us–that we are of what we see–from what we see, and in seeing only the face that exists outside of those natural patterns, we are blind even to seeing our own truest image.

Review: Ari Figue’s Cat

A Library Things review of Ari Figue’s Cat.
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

24449754When I was offered this book to review I was genuinely excited. Any novel by a visual artist is likely to discard a lot of the tropes that professional novelists have bound themselves to and which frankly just get in the way of a modern take on literature. I first recalled Hebdemeros by Giorgio de Chirico and the novels of Alasdair Gray and Jan Cremer. I waited patiently and when the book finally arrived I started it almost immediately.
Russel does indeed provide a different take on the novel – abstract and fragmented the chapters, if chapters they be, do not narrate a story of any traditional mode. Impressions, memories, false and true, interior, visual description and musings on the nature of reality and perception drip through the book like Pollocks sprawling canvases and fragments like the cubist paintings of Braque.
Ari Figue’s Cat puts a marker in the ground for contemporary writers. I’l be revisiting soon.
papalaz | May 29, 2015 |

To be honest, I’m equally pleased with the two who didn’t “get it.” They got what I didn’t want to do.
Not everyone is going to like this book. 🙂

Barbara Nickles reviews Ari Figue’s Cat

Review on Forward Reviews

An experiment in poetic prose, nonlinear scenes, and even font style, this novel offers a tale of a vibrant city full of mystery.

Ari Figue’s Cat is Jacob Russell’s deep, perplexing novel of finding love in the least likely of places, and its complexity will either enthrall or completely alienate readers. But for those who enjoy experimental literature, this book will entertain.

Vanessa Place — Gone With the Wind

Vanessa Place Gone With the Wind.

In reading her her defense, it’s important to keep in mind that what a work is, and its intended goals, are always divergent: the work is always more than its intentions, or its interpretations. In this case, her stated purposes, however elegantly argued, can never be more than another one of an infinite number of possible interpretations, in this case, these stated goals are stripped of aesthetic insulation (not parody), and meant to participate in the ‘real world.’ There seems to be a not entirely explicit argument that the harm this work might cause is more than counter balanced by the unacknowledged (if not invisible) mastery it exposes… that is, exposes if you substitute her argument for the thing itself.
Many years ago (1971) there was a performance artist, Chris Burden who had a friend shoot him with a 22 rifle, I believe in the hand. His explanation was that shooting someone was ‘as American as apple pie.’
My reaction at the time was to ask how this would have been different had the friend been directed to shoot him in the heart, or had he himself gone out on the street, declaring this to be a performance, the central goal of which, was to erase the distinction between the aesthetic intention and its real world consequences. It seems clear to me, that in erasing the lines between the aesthetic and the real, subsuming the later in the former, we have annihilated human meaning on both levels, pretending to a god-like stance, as something akin to a pure act of nature, like an earthquake or lightning strike. In the face of this, those powerful lawyerly arguments sound to me as nothing more than defense of exactly this, on the grounds that, because the social conditions being appropriated are themselves presented to us as meta-human realities, it is justified to imitate them, even to creating the same kind of harm. Or maybe there is no implied justification, but rather, an assertion of art as pure nihilism.
I read her explanation. I am not convinced.

The Making of Ari Figue’s Cat

I got a notice from Tumblr, congratulating me on Barking Dog Annex being 4 years old. I’d forgotten it, after writing one entry. I’d given up on a novel I’d been working on for the last 8 years–working title, Found Things. It was finding a folder with my last effort to save it, that got me started reworking it from a whole different angle–thinking of it almost as poetry. I finished it in a few weeks… with a new name, putting it away as Ari Figue’s Cat as I set out to join Occupy Philadelphia on Dilworth Plaza.

This is what I found on Tumblr: 2011

Found Things
I spent the morning going over the growing collection of papers, files, notebooks, journal entries—all related this Poem to the End of My Days—thinking how I might organize them for search & retrieval. I found an empty box for hanging folders, but no folders not in use. The things are damnably expensive. Kind of thing I hate to spend money on. What about this novel-in-progress… this 8 year project, which, inspecting my garden earlier, it came to me that I would never finish, that it no longer represented anything I wanted to do? I have boxes of drafts… dozens of Pendleflex forders going to waste. I don’t throw this stuff out… one never knows when something will pop into mind—like a burst bubble…an aneurism of memory, & some passage or chapter written years ago will seem exactly what I need.


I can stack the file folders of draft chapters in a box, store them in the closet, free the hanging folders & use them to organize the collection of papers & notes multiplying like kudzu. & what do I find in the first folder I open, but something I’d started working on a year ago, April…”Found Things Versed” (“Found Things” being the working title of this novel). I’d had in mind rewriting the whole thing as poetry. There were trial efforts at paragraphs of prose poems interspersed with open & broken line verse, journal entries… the prototype for Poem to the End of my Days… & I’d totally forgotten it. Or rather, put it out of reach of conscious thought, but not at all out of mind. This kind of thing happens so often that it no longer surprises me—but never ceases to wonder & amaze me… at how the mind works. It took me … 9 months… yeah, think of that. Nine months. Before I took this idea up in a more suitable form. No wonder those first 100 pages came so quickly… like pulling them out of storage.

Found Things possess a strangeness that will not easily surrender to the death of ownership. Let go. Let go of owning & more & more of the world will give itself to being found… & what you find, in not being owned, will be more truly yours than any Thing you will ever call ‘mine.’
May 9, from Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog