Process and Perfection in Matisse’s Red Studio

Last week, I saw the Matisse’s Red Studio exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The show features the painting after which it is named, but also focusses on the artist’s other works, especially those featured in the Red Studio painting. It is a really good exhibition and I enjoyed it immensely as an art lover. I also learned a lot about Matisse’s creative process, and as I often do when examining another creative’s method, found things I can incorporate into my own writing process.

The MOMA’s gallery cards are exceptional. Instead of just listing the name of the piece, the artist, and the medium like most museum’s do, the labels which accompany the art at the MOMA often include full paragraphs about the work which contextualize the piece and give some insight into both the importance of the work and, when known, the artist’s process or artistic vision.

One can learn a lot by reading the cards. For example, I learned that not only was Matisse a tinkerer, he often left vestiges of the original, or drafting, stages of his work in the final piece when he revised. Take, for example, this painting.

The position of the leg was obviously changed, which can be seen in the extraneous line near the lower half of the extended leg. There is also evidence that Matisse tinkered with the position of the figure’s arm (on the same side of the body), which he attempted to disguise in the shadows.

Here is the same painting with the relevant areas highlighted.

In many of the other paintings, the viewer can see pencil lines, presumably from the sketches he made on the canvass before he started to paint. They are not noticeable at the distance from which one usually photographs a painting, but up close, you can see them clearly. Here is an example:

What struck me most about these pieces was not that Matisse revised so much as part of his process. The world of the writer–and I assume the artist as well–is oversaturated with advice about revising one’s work. Revision is part of the process and it is par for the course. Rather, what stood out to me was that these vestiges remained in the final piece.

Many writers, many artists, many creative people in general, will work on their pieces in a futile pursuit of perfection. I have been guilty of doing so myself, working on a piece right up until the deadline, trying to make it as perfect as possible before submitting it for publication. I make sure to give myself deadlines, to seek out open call with hard deadlines, and rarely self-publish because I often get in my own head about revision.

There is an old saw in the creative world, “Finished, not perfect,” and like most oft-repeated advice it has become cliché and, in doing so, has lost much of its impact. It’s something people say, post about on social media, and hang up on posters in their classroom, and then ignore when it comes to their own practice. Seeing the Matisse pieces on the wall–and reading the gallery cards–is much, much more impactful.

Because, here’s the thing: No one notices the mistakes when looking at the paintings on the wall. Those who did not take the time to read the gallery cards, most likely, did not notice them at all. I certainly did not until I after the labels pointed them out to me. As someone who sees every mistake in everything I write, even–and especially–after its published, there’s a powerful lesson in that.


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Remnants: The Kings of New York (Excerpt)

As I continue to recover from my broken hands (I start occupational therapy today), here is a free excerpt from my story, The King of New York, which was published last in the Remnants shared world, post apocalyptic, science fiction anthology from Fedowar Press. This is the second edition of Remnants, and the new edition includes some stories which were not included in the original, Kyanite Press edition. You can purchase Remnants in both print and ebook editions by clicking any of the hyperlinks on this page.


The Kings of New York

By A. A. Rubin

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces—Lamentations 1:1

At midnight, the oracle climbs her tower and sings her lamentations to the stars. Her skyscraper no longer pierces the heavens; its massing is no longer symmetrical. The Art Deco spire lies in pieces, scattered across the rubble that used to be 5th avenue. The pinnacle, incongruously complete, sticks out of the wreckage, piercing the carcass of a monster more dangerous than any Hollywood gorilla, like a lightning bolt from Olympus or a spear thrown down from heaven.

The observation decks have long-since fallen, so she stands atop the tallest remaining setback in the open air, like a prayer-caller on a minaret, singing her story, and searching for signs of The Swarm through the night, until the sunrise.

We call her Cassandra. We do not know her real name. She does not speak coherently about the present. She sings of the past and of the future in riddle and metaphor. Everyone she knew is gone, killed by The Horde because they did not heed the warnings of the dead she claims speak through her.

That she is alive and so many are dead is her proof of her prophecy, and so we listen, and on nights like this, when she’s silhouetted by the full moon against the midnight sky, we almost believe.


To read the rest of the story, buy Remnants in either print or ebook editions.

The Three Capitalist Pigs (Excerpt)

My story, The Three Capitalist Pigs was recently published is Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy. I’ve included the beginning of the story below. You can download the rest–for free–by clicking on any of the hyperlinks in this post. Enjoy.

The wayward wolf wandered the enchanted forest. As the runt of the litter—abandoned by the pack—he had learned to live on his wits. He couldn’t hunt deer, that required a team, and the trolls and ogres were stiff competition for the other carnivorous forest-dwellers like himself. Though he wasn’t proud of it, the wolf sometimes scavenged amongst the humans. He had, on occasion, poached sheep from their farms, and for this, those uppity apes had labeled him “Big” and “Bad.” They made up stories to scare their young into obedience—stories that made the wolf shudder. Over time, people came to believe those tales, and he gained a reputation as a nefarious villain. Truthfully, it was the humans—those hypocritical alpha predators—who ate other species’ young. They even, ironically, made a hunter his nemesis in many of their fables.

Still, humanity wasn’t the enemy on the wolf’s mind that evening. No, the real villains were the capitalist pigs who set up shop at the edge of the forest. Those three brothers bought up land at an alarming rate, especially woodland, which contained an abundance of natural resources. Now, deforestation was becoming the most pressing issue for the residents of that enchanted woods.

The wolf, who had always had a way with words, started a petition amongst the forest’s residents. He collected signatures and filed the complaints with the proper authorities, but, alas, his pleas were ignored by the powers that be. It was almost as if the castle was still under the enchantment of the hundred-year-sleep. Truth be told, the bacon had greased the royalty by funding all their charming balls. 

To read the rest of the story, download the FREE ebook.

News and Notes: Publishing News and Broken Hands

I apologize for missing last week’s post. I recently broke bone in both of my hands, and typing remains difficult.

I do have some publication news to report: My short story, “The Three Capitalist Pigs” has been published in Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy, which is available for FREE download now on Amazon. The book includes stories by 13 members of the vibrant Twitter writing community, and can be downloaded here.

Nassau County Voices in Verse was also released this past weekend. The annual collection of poets from Nassau County includes my gothic poem, “The Wolf in Me.” It can be ordered directly from the publisher here.

I also received word that my poem, “When the House of Usher Falls,” will be published in volume 2 of Love Letters To Poe. My poem, The Widow’s Walk was published last year in Vol 1. More information to follow.

Here are a few photos from the poetry reading in support of the Nassau Country poets book launch on Saturday. I look a bit different because I was unable to put in my contacts with my broken hands.

News and Notes: Recent Interviews

If you’ve enjoyed the Surrealist Cadavre Exquis project I recently organized, be sure to check out my interview on Jon Black’s website. Black, who was one of the participants in the project, asks me about the philosophy and motivation behind the project, and provides some context and history surrounding the original surrealist cadavres as well. You can read the interview here:

I also have a story in the forthcoming Once Upon Another Time anthology, scheduled for release on May 23rd. As part of a series on the authors in this Writing Community fantasy and fairytale anthology, I was interviewed by RC Hopgood. You can read the interview here:

https://anothertime2022.blogspot.com/2022/05/five-questions-with-a-rubin.html

The Cosmic Fish

The cosmic fish swims the void. To him, space is tangible. He moves on currents of dark energy, eating entropy and repairing the universe.

The fisherman stands outside reality. He carves a hole through the frozen void, and stabbing his leister through the newly-cut wormhole, spears the fish, removing him from the cosmos.

The fisherman eats well that night, but without the fish, there is not enough dark matter to bind the stars together. The cosmos expands into the void, moving away from itself at an alarming rate. Eventually, it bursts, spewing spacetime hither and tither.

Everything dies, even the fisherman.

–A. A. Rubin


Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

A Surrealist Cadavre Exquis

By Lisa, Medha Godbole Singh, A. A. Rubin, Lesley Mace, and Anna Cavouras.

The following piece was composed by the authors as a surrealist cadavre exquis. The cadavre exquis is an exercise practiced by surrealist artists where an artist began by drawing something at the top of a folded piece of paper, and then refolded the paper so that only the bottom lines of their drawing were visible. They would then mail the paper to the next artists, and the process would repeat again, over and over, until the piece was complete. We have attempted to adapt the exercise for writers. The first writer composed a paragraph and then sent their final line to the next writer, who continued the piece using that line as their first line. The process continued until each writer had composed their paragraph. Each writer wrote with no knowledge of the content or style of the previous verse, save for the last line.

For more information about the Cadavre Exquis exercise, click here:

For the previous entries in this series, click here and here.

“In the beginning was the word. And the word was good.” The sounds echoed around, bounced off thick stone walls before some slipped into Charlotte’s ears. She was always a good girl. As the mob of children left their pews she walked without saying a word. It was 1978 most of the girls wore the same style of black laced shoe but hers although far from new were carefully polished and both were neatly tied. They tapped lightly on the uneven floor. Even when Gary tugged hard on her plaited pony tail she was a good girl. She didn’t turn and punch him in his smelly freckled face like she wanted to. She was a good girl back in class too. Wrote carefully in her exercise book, showed her workings for her sums and at the end of the school day tucked her chair slowly under her desk without a jarring floor scrape.

Charlotte always had the bus money but didn’t get the bus. She preferred to walk home she enjoyed being part of the bustle of the high street. Besides she was saving up. It was only March but she already had a reassuring weight of 2p’s in her pot pig. No one in her family knew that she did this long walk twice daily.

No one knew and no one cared which was exactly why Charlotte was not spending her bus money – she wanted to get out of there as soon as she was old enough to leave. 

She was waiting. The wait was excruciatingly painful. Getting to the right age and saving enough money – both seemed to be eons away to her young heart. The fact that no one cared was another reason she used to wander off on her own a lot. The bus money was kept safely, tucked in the inner pocket of her jacket for another day or perhaps, days. The days which would be blessed by freedom. Charlotte frequently fantasized about what she would do when the right time comes. She would revel in those thoughts and lose herself in them. Until, well, she met with the harsh reality at home. Her bubble of bliss was always invariably burst by her parents. The verbal beating that followed after she was back home from wandering off in the woods for hours was horrid, to say the least. She would cover her years tightly to block the yelling, run off to her room and shut the door. Hours later, her mother would find her asleep, cowered, under the bed. A stare-down and a meal was what she would get in response. “Why do you have to be such a difficult child”, her father would grumble. 

Nothing Charlotte ever did was enough. Even when she did exactly what was expected of her, she got glared at. Or simply ignored. Not a word of encouragement. The word ‘Love’ was missing from their life’s dictionary. Apathy was perhaps the word their life’s dictionary started and ended with. Charlotte had once popped a question to her best friend Nicole’s mother (who was a gem of a person), if she was really born to the people, she called her parents. Her eyes would sadden for a split second in response and then she would say, in an extra cheerful tone, “Oh dear. Of course they are. You see, they are going through a tough time. Adults sometimes cannot really say what’s happening to them. So, you know they behave in a weird way. But smart kids like you know that even though they behave like that, they love you. Right?” Charlotte used to nod in approval, thoughtfully.

She still wondered why there was never a single act or a word of empathy and love directed towards her by her parents.

Even now, many years after their deaths, it continued to affect her and profound and unusual ways. The ghost of her mother sat, constantly, on her shoulder, whispering criticisms in her ear, and second-guessing her every decision. Try as she might, she couldn’t get rid of her. Her mother’s specter was invisible to everyone else, but her coping mechanisms were not. The tick she developed,  swatting at something seemingly invisible, caused other (living) people to believe she was as crazy as she felt. Worse, it did nothing to get rid of her nuisance of a parent, and just opened her up to more scathing criticism—for her ears only—which reverberated across the catacombs of her mind (I told you it was empty in there) like the last bit of hope screamed, privately into the abyss. Once, she has even blurted out “will you please shut up!” in the middle of an important meeting. That had been three jobs ago, each more ignominious than the last. If anything, her father was worse.

He only appeared in her dreams, staring at her with his cold, judgmental eyes, from beneath his clouded brow. 

She always fought to wake from these recurring dreams. His telepathic abilities terrified her. There were so many secrets concealed in her mind, and if she met his gaze he would read them all. On the nights she succeeded in breaking free from sleep she would be gasping for breath and tangled in sweat-soaked sheets.

Sometimes she failed and then the dream turned darker, twisting into a fiery nightmare of burning and torture. But she always refused to meet his gaze.

In reality he was searching for her, and she fled before the sense of it. Moving fast and moving with minimum baggage, frequently changing her appearance and her accent, for months she believed she could outrun him. The Network helped her, she was smuggled from safe houses to cellars and attics, to priest holes and on one occasion to a cave in a cliffside.

She tried not to get involved with anyone, to stay aloof, and apart. But eventually a young man broke through her barriers, and she trusted him. The dream became reality. Handcuffed and roped to a chair she waited for him to arrive. Two men guarded the door, their breath fogging into the stench in the room, and their faces expressionless.

Closing her eyes she shut out her surroundings. The cold helped her to still her mind; she built walls, raised defences and hid what she must never tell behind them.

Not all the secrets she held were her own, and she couldn’t allow him to uncover any of them. 

She reminded herself of this as she approached airport security clutching her passport and her yellow carry-on bag. The bag was gaudy, ugly even with large pink peonies on the side. Her passport was slightly sweaty in her palm and the hum of the airport activity filled the background with familiar sounds. Her bag held everything that mattered to her and her family. The only unknown in this plan was the next two minutes and what this security guard might do.

Security passed uneventfully. He waved her through, no secondary search. She let out a long exhale and wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans.

She had moved things before, money usually, drugs occasionally, once a selection of rare orchid pods for a wealthy collector. This time was different. Three uncut gems were sewn in to a small beaded purse and blended in perfectly with the glass ones that surrounded it. The purse was nestled in an ordinary small black duffel, surrounded by other ordinary carry-on items. Once she got these gems home she would be able to pay off the debts her family had incurred and everyone, including her, could start over.

After she boarded the plane she lifted her carry-on into the overhead compartment and quickly removed the yellow floral bag revealing her black duffel with the precious items inside. She scanned the compartment quickly and then grabbed a small backpack left there trustingly by another passenger, stuffing it inside her yellow peony bag. Her plain black duffel sat there, unassumingly.

Having made the switch, she sat down and buckled her seatbelt dutifully. She puts her phone into airplane mode. The dry unscented plane air blasts down from the fan above her head, and reaching up to adjust it, she does not make eye contact with her brother sitting three seats to her right and he ignores her. Other passengers board and she hears the pilot welcoming people. Grabbing the magazine from the seat pocket she flips the pages without catching any of the content.

A flight attendant approaches her, flanked by two plainclothes officers.

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to step off the aircraft.” One of the officers shifts his jacket revealing a glimpse of a pistol holstered under his arm.

“Why? What’s going on?” She protests as she knows she’s expected to.

“We just have a few questions for you before you leave.” The other officer reaches up into the overhead bin and pulls down the yellow floral bag. “This one?” The flight attendant nods.

Collecting her magazine and her phone, she unbuckles her seatbelt and follows the officers off the plane. Everything had gone exactly as she had hoped.

The paragraphs were composed in the order indicated in the byline.


Lisa writes mainly microfiction. You can read her work on her website, and follow her on twitter.

Medha Godbole Singh is a professional content creator with a penchant for creative writing. She has been a part of several anthologies and her short stories and poems have been published in online journals. She can be reached on twitter, instagram, and facebook.

A. A. RUBIN surfs the cosmos on winds of dark energy. He writes in many style, ranging from literary fiction to comics, formal poetry to science fiction and fantasy, and (almost) everything in between. His work has appeared recently in Love Letters to Poe, Ahoy! Comics, and The Deronda Review. He can be reached on social media as @TheSurrealAri, or right here on the website which you are now reading.

Lesley Mace’s writing ranges through many genres. She is the winner of the 2015 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story prize. Also loves making hedge-wine, sloe gin and sourdough bread. She can be reached on twitter.

Anna Cavouras is a writer living in Toronto. She writes diversely. Her most recent publications range from memorial jewelry made with cremains, to sideshows, to poetry on living with a disability. In the background she is working on a project set in the future about tattoo artists. 

Beneath the Robot’s Net (#NationalPoetryMonth)

The sentinels protect us
From danger from above–
They have no sense of duty
They have no sense of love–
But their programming’s infallible,
We know, our leaders said–
It better be, ‘cause if they fail,
We will all be dead.

The aliens are coming,
I heard the newsman say–
They’re flying here to get us
From a planet far away–
So to protect my freedom,
So I don’t have to fret,
I must learn to live contentedly
Beneath the robots’ net.

I used to dream of traveling
Up there among stars–
Of mining fields on Venus
Of colonies on Mars–
But my dreams have now been grounded
My thoughts are nothing worth,
My ambition’s now been bounded–
Down here on this earth.

–A. A. Rubin

A Surrealist Poetry Cadavre Exquis

By Colin James, Cecilia de Vos Belgraver, and A. A. Rubin

Happy #NationalPoetryMonth!

The following piece was composed by the authors as a surrealist cadavre exquis. The cadavre exquis is an exercise practiced by surrealist artists where an artist began by drawing something at the top of a folded piece of paper, and then refolded the paper so that only the bottom lines of their drawing were visible. They would then mail the paper to the next artists, and the process would repeat again, over and over, until the piece was complete. We have attempted to adapt the exercise for writers. The first writer composed a stanza and then sent their final line to the next writer, who continued the piece using that line as their first line. The process continued until each writer had composed their stanza. Each writer wrote with no knowledge of the content or style of the previous verse, save for the last line.

For more information about the Cadavre Exquis exercise, click here:

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Lividity

Pursuing the narcissists,
I found them behind a bush
flayed with blackened curly hair
voices gone, throats cut
replaced by gravitas
and spicy margaritas

for any impassive thespians.

You wouldn’t think it, guess it, their dramatic trade
You wouldn’t feel it, see it, their ability to fade
away into the shadows after performing acts under lights
to recede, become themself, go from being someone
an adopted persona, another entity, an author’s creation
to merely, superficially, an apparent no one,
in charcoal jeans, hoodie, coat, scarf and trainers

rushing on by towards the Underground station.

And descend like Dante
Through the gates of Dis into the darkness
Where dreams are quelled in silver streaks
As the grey minions of conformity
Hustle back and forth through the bowels
Of the great Capitalist beast

The verses were composed in the order indicated in the byline.


Colin James has a couple of chapbooks of poetry published. Dreams Of The Really Annoying from Writing Knights Press and A Thoroughness Not Deprived of Absurdity from Piski’s Porch Press and a book of poems, Resisting Probability, from Sagging Meniscus Press. Formally from the UK, he now lives in Massachusetts.

Cecilia de Vos Belgraver is exploring fiction writing in its various formats after many years of writing professionally for corporate publishers of newsletters and magazines in South Africa. She can write short- and long-form nonfiction copy and particularly enjoys doing magazine-style features. She is a highly experienced copy editor and proofreader. Cecilia holds a Bachelor of Journalism Degree and a Master of Arts Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rhodes University in South Africa. For her Bachelor Degree she majored in Journalism and English Literature. She lives in Bishop’s Stortford in England.

A. A. Rubin surfs the cosmos on winds of dark energy. He writes in many style, ranging from literary fiction to comics, formal poetry to science fiction and fantasy, and (almost) everything in between. His work has appeared recently in Love Letters to Poe, Ahoy! Comics, and The Deronda Review. He can be reached on social media as @TheSurrealAri, or right here on the website which you are now reading.

A Sonnet for Opening Day

Happy #OpeningDay and #NationalPoetry month. Continuing a tradition I’ve established over the last few years, here is my “Baseball Sonnet” to mark the occasion. Play ball!

Baseball Sonnet

by A. A. Rubin

That time of year thou mayst in fans behold
That malediction, fever of the spring–
Surrounded by lingering snow and cold,
We dream of pennants and World Series rings.
With pride we root our noble heroes on,
Eating hot dogs, peanuts, and crackerjacks–
And all our worldly troubles fade, are gone,
When that first pitch is thrown and bat doth crack.
But Lo! When April fades to crueler months,
We reach the summer of our discontent–
Like Mighty Casey in the Mudville ninth–
With hearts bereft of joy and merriment.
Yet hope springs eternal for one and all,
When that blue-clad umpire calls out, “Play Ball!”